Asking the stupid questions

2023-12-01

Asking the stupid questions

Written by: Venkat Bitla

In software development, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question. I said it there. There are no naive questions—although there may be some that you feel the person did not really try to figure out on his own before coming to you. Asking questions, especially the seemingly “dumb” ones, is not only acceptable but essential for all  employees, regardless of their experience level as staff engineers or junior developers.

No one knows everything, and if senior developers show “vulnerability” of admitting stuff they don’t know, they pave the way for junior devs to feel comfortable asking questions. It’s a win-win.

Ditch the fear of looking dumb. If you’ve spent a solid 15 minutes trying to figure something out on your own, you’ve earned the right to ask that question of your peers. And hey, if your question leads to more questions, that’s even better — that means there’s even more stuff you will learn today.

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: which is that many engineers have antisocial inclinations. True, some engineers might prefer to remain to themselves, but you can get over that by demonstrating that you’ve done your research before reaching out to them. It conveys the idea that you value their time just as much as your own.

There is a Slack channel concept where any kind of question is welcome. No matter how foolish you find it, you can still do it. Junior to mid-level developers can question anything in this safe place without worrying about being judged, and they frequently figure out the answers together. It functions by taking away the burden of upsetting someone who might be busy and encouraging a community where asking questions on this channel is not frowned upon.

So, let’s change the narrative: there are no “stupid” questions, just opportunities to move forward with real interest and a desire to learn. Let’s push engineers to adopt this perspective at every level. It’s straightforward but difficult, but it’s what drives us in the ever changing IT industry.