Sunk costs, timeboxing, and asking for help

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One of the biggest struggles I have with programming (or anything I'm trying to learn) is knowing when to ask for help. Ask too soon, and I might miss an opportunity to grow in self-reliance and self-confidence. A little struggle is necessary for growth. But ask too late, and I might just be wasting time and missing the opportunity to learn from others.

Last week, I was updating some of our DevOps builds for a new environment (if that's a new term for you, read more here), when one of our team's jobs to deploy some code to a server began failing. I thought maybe the wrong version of the code was being deployed, but that wasn't it. I redeployed a couple times, then started digging into the logs on the server.

After several hours and no answers, I reached out to someone else on the team. She asked where the job was deploying the code to. Was it pointing to the new environment?

No. No it was not. ๐Ÿ˜

The code I tried redeploying several times would've fixed the original issue, but unfortunately it was being deployed to the old environment. It had taken me longer to explain what I'd tried than it did for my coworker to find the thing I'd missed!

And that's the struggle. How do you know when to reach out? It's so easy to feel like you've already invested time in finding a solution so you can't stop now. Just one more thing on google to try, just one more hour (then one more, and one more) and you'll have a solution. Almost there...

The best thing I've tried so far (when I remember to do it!) is to time-box my efforts. If it seems likely that you'll find a solution in an hour, and still reasonable that it might even take a few hours, then make a deal with yourself to re-evaluate where things are at after 3 or 4 hours. If you've exhausted the obvious things to try, or you're just going in circles, it's time to tag someone else in. Sometimes, putting your thoughts in order is enough to realize what you missed. And when that's not enough, a second opinion never hurts.


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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