A pretty typical beginner dilemma: you’re completely stumped by an issue with your code. You’ve tried multiple solutions, but nothing is working. You’re stumped.

But, you’re also worried about reaching out for help because you don’t want to reach out too often. What can you do?

Well, if you’re in this situation, I hope firstly that you have someone more experienced you can reach out to. That helps tremendously. Mentors can be found at local usergroups (you can check meetup to find usergroups in your area) or even online using coding forums.

If you’ve already secured a mentor, you’re ahead of the curve! But if you’re worried about asking too many questions, it can be tough to know when you should keep working on a problem versus when it’s been long enough and you should ask.

Some people advocate a time-based system. Something like, “don’t spend more than X hours on a problem.” I propose another system – one that isn’t time-based.

A system that has worked for me in the past is to try three things before asking any question. It’s important to also write down what you’re trying and the result you’re getting.

This has multiple benefits. Firstly it gives you an exact template to use if you aren’t sure how to ask your question. You can simply tell your mentor that you tried X and then Y happened, but you were hoping for Z outcome. This will help your mentor because they can review what you’ve been attempting and put themselves into your mindset. They’ll understand better where your confusion lies and be able to explain the issue – and hopefully the solution – in a way you’ll understand.

The other benefit is, in my opinion, even more important and beneficial. I’ve found this method very helpful because usually the act of trying something and documenting the outcome will give you something to search for online. That, in turn, will point you in another direction – quite possibly the direction you need to go! Oftentimes I didn’t even need to ask for help because this method would lead me to an answer, or at the very least a different problem. Often when you’re stuck on one problem, getting a different error will feel like progress!

One last point I want to make is how important your mentor is. A good mentor will be able to tell you to take a break and come back to the issue or tell you to keep working on a problem because you’re close. They won’t belittle your attempts or make you feel stupid because you didn’t come to the answer on your own.

It’s perfectly fine, even encouraged, to be conscientious of someone else’s time. However if you feel like you can’t approach someone because they make you feel less than, go find a new mentor.

I hope this helps. If you have questions, feel free to tweet me!