Grokking OpenStack

OpenStack - little pieces

Asking for Help

One of the consistent feelings that I have when working with any technical project is that I don’t know enough. There is always more information, a better perspective, another layer, something I hadn’t thought about to come to bear on the work that I am attempting to do.

One of the skills I do recognize that I have is the ability to ask for help, and the technique for doing so.

I didn’t always recognize this as a skill, indeed for a long time I was trained to believe that asking for helping was indicative of failure.

I have been working on this skill for quite a while without even recognizing it as a skill. Just today I was able to perceive the behaviours I am about to list and describe as a valuable grouping of actions which can be considered a skill.

The hardest part of asking for help is knowing when to ask for help. This is the part with which I still have the most difficulty, but I am getting better. I used to “fall down the rabbit hole” without recognizing the situation and spend hours if not days wandering around in the dark convinced that the answer was down here somewhere (which it often was) and was up to me to find it (that was the error in my thinking). I guess you have to make the mistake several times before you recognize it when it is happening, so now I have a clearer sense of when I have fallen into the rabbit hole. I have several timers around my workspace and when everything starts to feel surreal, I set a time limit and a timer. If I can’t locate the solution I think will work during the time allotted, I have to retreat, come back up for air and re-think it. Re-thinking it includes asking for help.

One of the other qualities about asking for help is the assumption about what form that help will take and what it will mean. I used to think that asking for help implied a commitment, that it was a de facto agreement. That once I described my status as background to asking for help that I couldn’t change my status until “help” arrived. I have now realized that creating a situation and describing it as a work in progress allows me to continue to work on finding a solution while maintaining a landing area for the “help” when it does arrive to be included. So asking for help is less waiting at the alter looking expectantly at the doors of the church and more setting an extra place at the table in case the invited guest arrives and allowing the meal to proceed should the guest’s timing be asynchronous with the meal. I guess it is just a change in mindset.

Another thing that I notice I am doing is that I am doing less directly asking for help and more presenting status updates with my current status (new direction, obstacle) and my intended direction to locate a solution or meet a goal. This enables me to set my own agenda, incorporate direction, guidance, feedback and support if and when any is offered and continue to make progress on a goal or task while allowing for course correction consistently should more efficient methods arrive. For me it provides a better flow of energy and less stop and start that comes from hitting a wall and asking for and perhaps waiting for help.

Sometimes help can come in the form of encouragement and support perhaps not in receiving an exact or expected answer. Maybe my peers are encountering the exact same issue and a good solution hasn’t been located. In this case, support and encouragement is the help in and of itself. This can be a very useful and beneficial offering.

There is always more to know and more to learn, but the more I recognize the useful skills I already have the more confidence I have in what I do bring when I apply to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women.

Thanks for reading,
Anita Kuno.