January 28, 2023


Technology Room

Blocked: Methods to Ask For Assist as an Intern

9 min read

You grinded LeetCode, nailed the interview course of, and received an internship at a tremendous firm. Congrats! However now it’s week three of your internship, you haven’t any concept how something works, and also you’ve written one line of code up to now two days.

How do you ask for assist? Whom do you ask for assist? Do you have to even ask for assist?

Working at Slack, I discovered that realizing how one can navigate these conditions and unblock your self is crucial to having a profitable internship. Studying how one can study usually felt extra vital than studying the technical materials itself.


  1. I’m going into my final yr on the College of Virginia, majoring in Pc Science
  2. Earlier than Slack, my solely work expertise was at a small startup the place there was just one different iOS engineer; this summer season was a totally new expertise for me.


My undertaking

  • I interned on the iOS Utility Infrastructure staff. My undertaking centered across the Mentions tab (often known as the Actions tab)
  • I used to be tasked with altering the info supplier for the Actions tab
    • Earlier than: information refreshed from an API name triggered by guide pull down, or 60 second timer
    • After: use incoming WebSocket occasions with message information to replace the display, as an alternative of ready for the following API name

The primary a part of my undertaking centered round including listening for updates to message fashions related to present actions. The technical a part of this undertaking was not that tough by itself. It nonetheless took me round half of my internship, although, as a result of I used to be familiarizing myself with the codebase and — extra importantly — studying how one can study.

The second a part of my undertaking concerned including a brand new information supplier that streamed all actions from WebSocket occasions, after which mixed it with the present information stream. This was a a lot tougher job than the primary half, however as a result of I had discovered how one can unblock myself, every thing went lots quicker; I used to be by no means caught for that lengthy.

Hopefully, a few of the issues I discovered this summer season can assist future interns get to that time earlier of their internship!

When to ask for assist

Step one to realizing when to ask for assistance is studying that the business is a totally completely different world than faculty . There is no such thing as a dishonest, there aren’t any particular person grades, there aren’t any exams. All the pieces, particularly at Slack, is collaborative. If it’s going to take you two days to repair a bug, however one other engineer can let you know what’s fallacious in two minutes, you ask for assist.

Crucial query to ask your self when deciding whether or not to ask for assistance is:

Will I study something from spending extra time on this?

Your job as an intern is to study as a lot as you possibly can. Typically, you’ll study lots from taking the time to step by an issue. Different instances, you would possibly waste an entire day within the debugger on a easy downside that may be solved with a one-sentence clarification out of your mentor.

Forms of issues you shouldn’t spend important time tackling by yourself:

  • Formatting
  • Syntax
  • Which operate to name to get a sure kind of knowledge

Forms of issues you would possibly need to spend a while tackling by yourself:

  • How a operate you’re calling truly will get the info you want
  • How modifications within the state of part of the app get mirrored within the UI

The important thing distinction between these two forms of issues is the distinction between data and understanding. It’s best to solely spend the time to step by an issue by yourself if doing so will depart you with a greater comprehension of how issues work.

Even when approaching issues by your self can assist you study, typically you continue to would possibly need assistance from another person to maneuver ahead. That is completely effective! Apps like Slack are extremely difficult, and interns should not anticipated to have the ability to perceive every thing by themselves. So long as you ask for assist in the proper method, there’s nothing fallacious with it.

Methods to ask for assist

Ask questions which might be simple to reply.

Should you’re asking a knowledge-based query, that is fairly straightforward as a result of there’s usually one simple reply. For instance, this can be a query I requested in the beginning of my internship:

When you find yourself blocked on a extra difficult downside, asking the proper query turns into lots tougher. I positively had bother making an attempt to seize the complexity of issues whereas nonetheless offering an easy method for another person to reply.

Step one that helped me was merely spending time making an attempt to grasp the issue. Should you perceive 95% of the change you’re making an attempt to make, clarifying that final 5% is lots simpler for another person to do than stepping by the whole course of. In my expertise, individuals are very keen that will help you if it’s clear that you simply’ve hung out gaining understanding of the methods you’re working with earlier than asking them for assist. Typically, you’ll even reply your individual query within the technique of making an attempt to grasp the issue!

Should you nonetheless need assistance after making an attempt to achieve an understanding of the issue you’re engaged on, the following step is to supply as a lot context as you possibly can when asking your query.

This may contain describing:

  • What you perceive about the issue
  • What you don’t perceive about the issue
  • What you’ve modified
  • The anticipated conduct vs. the precise output

As a substitute of claiming one thing like, “I’m having bother implementing <characteristic>, are you able to assist?” say one thing like, “I attempted utilizing <operate> to implement <characteristic>, however as an alternative of <anticipated conduct>, <precise conduct> is occurring. Do you might have any concept how one can strategy this?”

One other technique for unblocking your self is pair programming or calling with somebody in your staff. I might positively advocate doing this as a lot as attainable, particularly to your tougher issues.

Whom to ask for assist

At my final internship, my supervisor was additionally the one different iOS engineer on the firm. In different phrases, in 99% of conditions the one particular person I requested for assist was my supervisor. This summer season, I discovered myself on a staff of 14 folks, all with data in several areas. It was now not simple to know whom to ask for assist.

What I discovered:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for assist in a channel. Should you don’t know who to ask, it’s significantly better to ask in a public channel than to DM half of your staff till somebody can assist you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or supervisor whom they assume it is best to ask.
  3. If somebody helped you with a sure space earlier than, don’t be afraid to ask them for assistance on the identical matter once more.

Evaluating two examples

Let me offer you two examples from this summer season. The primary one is a scenario the place I ought to have requested for assist earlier however didn’t. The opposite is one the place I efficiently took time to grasp the issue earlier than asking for assist.

State of affairs 1

This case is from the very starting of my internship. For context, in Slack’s iOS app there are completely different information fashions for a Message and an Exercise (aka a message that mentions you or a response to your message). For every Exercise, we now have an related id that appears one thing like:


I used to be making an attempt to alter the actions information supplier to hear for updates to any messages related to actions. Messages even have a id, so I added a stream of Message fashions with the identical id as the present Exercise fashions. Unexpectedly although, the stream wasn’t returning any Messages. I stepped by the debugger for some time and finally noticed that in different elements of the app that used MessagesDataProvider, Message ids regarded completely different; all of them had no kind and simply regarded like:


I wasn’t certain if this id discrepancy was from a mistake I had made when making native modifications to Message information, or if it was as a result of ids are completely different in Actions and Messages. At this level, I ought to have merely requested, “Are Exercise and Message ids completely different?” to see how one can strategy this downside. As a substitute of asking a clarifying query, I jumped straight into discovering an answer. I ended up utilizing one other Exercise discipline messageIdentifier because the ID to stream Messages, which appeared to work.

The issue was that as a result of I by no means requested a query, I didn’t actually perceive why the ids had been completely different, despite the fact that it appeared I had discovered an answer. Afterward, I ran right into a bunch of issues as a result of once I began creating Actions from Messages, I copied all of the Message fields, together with id! This prompted issues with duplicate actions, as a result of I used to be writing the identical Exercise with two completely different ids (one with the kind, one with out).

It seems, as you’ll have guessed, that Exercise and Message ids are simply formatted in another way and I wanted to transform between the 2. I ultimately clarified this by asking somebody. Nonetheless, I might have saved myself hours and hours of time if I had merely requested this query as quickly as I noticed the id discrepancy. This was a data-based query and never an understanding-based query, so I ought to have requested as quickly as I wanted clarification. I’m glad this occurred in direction of the start of my internship, as a result of I used to be capable of study from it and be extra keen to ask data based mostly questions sooner or later.

State of affairs 2

This case comes from midway by my internship. I had simply completed the primary a part of my undertaking and was beginning the second half: including the flexibility to stream Actions created from a special supply (WebSocket occasions) than we usually do.

Based mostly on a suggestion from my supervisor, I took an entire day simply to put in writing a doc that defined precisely how information flows from the community request that returns actions to the UI within the mentions tab. Doing this gave me an immensely higher understanding earlier than I began the issue. As soon as I did begin, I spent a number of days implementing a primary resolution that appeared to work from my exams. It was at this level, after gaining some understanding of what I used to be altering, that I requested for evaluation on my modifications.

The PR evaluation got here again, and it turned out that I did it fully fallacious. Nonetheless, as a result of I had a strong understanding of the system, I instantly requested for assist and joined a Huddle with two employees engineers on my staff. We mentioned one of the simplest ways to strategy the issue; it turned out that I needed to write a brand new information supplier for the actions tab that mixed a stream of actions from the final API name with a stream of actions filtered on the final timestamp of the opposite stream.

This one Huddle most likely saved me weeks of time that I might have spent if I had tried to simply sort out the issue and create an ideal resolution by myself. Nonetheless, if I had requested for assist earlier than I understood the issue, I wouldn’t have been capable of acquire a lot from the decision.

The takeaway from this example is that it is best to attempt to discover the candy spot of asking for assist: it is best to perceive sufficient that different folks can effectively aid you, but additionally ask early sufficient that their assist saves you time.

Large takeaways

Studying how one can work within the business is as vital, if no more, than studying the technical aspect of software program engineering. I additionally discovered myself lots much less burdened once I turned extra snug asking for assist. As soon as I turned snug, I felt like far more of a staff member than a person engineer and had much more enjoyable day-to-day.

My remaining recommendation is simply to take pleasure in your time as an intern! Twelve weeks flies by and it truly is such an superior alternative to be an intern at Slack. I’ve had a tremendous summer season and I hope any future interns studying this can too!

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