2 min read

Pairing is asking for help

It's hard in the way I imagine being a tiny plant sprouting in the desert is hard, or a succulent clinging to a seaside cliff. It is growing hard.
Pairing is asking for help
Photo by Nao Takabayashi / Unsplash

Hey there– Nat Bennett, once again, writing about software engineering, but really about being a person who makes things with other people.


Is it easy for you to ask for help? For me, it's hard. What if the person I ask thinks less of me for not knowing? Resents me, for asking? These kinds of fears are both ridiculous, and true. Most times I ask for help, the person I ask is pleased to be able to help. Occasionally, they're not.

Growing up I learned to identify as a good student. Not necessarily a diligent one, but quick to pick up an idea, quick to make connections, quick to bring new and interesting ideas into a conversation. Fun to teach, and rewarding. When I'm asking "good questions," I'm inhabiting a familiar role. It's harder for me to ask simple questions, questions that might reveal that I'm struggling to learn.

Now, often, instead of good student I want to be a strong engineer. Sometimes asking for help is part of that, but only when I'm confident that people see me as competent to begin with. When I'm not sure of that claim on that identity, I'm more cautious. And pairing is harder.

But it's hard in the way that exercise is hard, and meditation is hard, and solving puzzles and telling someone that you love them is hard. It's hard in the way I imagine being a tiny plant sprouting in the desert is hard, or a succulent clinging to a seaside cliff. It is growing hard. Not too much, and not always, and not without enough rest and care for myself, but good for me. And, in a small way, good for the world.

Because pairing means asking for help, over and over again, for hours, and that means that it is practice asking for help. It is practice being asked for help.

Let's solve a problem together. A problem that we know is manageable, that we know must have a solution, because it is a problem with a computer. Let's get practice asking. And let's get practice giving.


I've had conversations with a few of you about writing, so I want to pass on this link to coaching from Baldur Bjarnason. Bjarnason is, like me, a developer with a humanities background, and he's now offering dedicated help with writing, research, a note taking. Check it out if that's an area where you're looking to spend some professional development budget.