Written by Sebastian on Sep 4, 2015 in Community
What did you do last time you had a problem? The last time you couldn't figure something out? Some people quit. Others try to force a solution on their own, applying insane amounts of time towards a problem. Often though, asking questions to the right people is the way to go.
Advice and help are one email away
Many people don't realize that they are not alone out there. Wether it's a tricky programming problem, advice on which option to choose or even asking for help in situations where one can't to it alone.
When I started diving into Python, I shot an email to a few people whom I knew worked with Python and which also worked on web platforms. I asked them for advice on how to start, good resources on my way and so on. I got a ton of feedback and some email threads are still going with me shooting specific questions their way.
Just yesterday I emailed a few people I know are freelancing or have freelanced in the past with some specific questions. I already got good feedback and I am sure there is more to come.
The key, of course, is knowing whom to ask. This depends highly on what your questions are. The better you know people, the more likely you are to get an response of course. So building a network of people is a good idea. And by network I don't mean attending "Networking events", hand out business cards and talk about how awesome you are. I mean going to meetups, talking to people, providing advice and help. People who are known to help the community will get help themselve far more often than unknown persons (for obvious reasons).
It's also important to build a broad network as you don't know where your road is heading. If you are a developer, don't only talk to developers who are working in your language. Get to know other languages and connect to people their as well. And don't only talk to developers either. Try to find sysadmins, project managers, marketing, "business people". Talk to people from big cooperations, small businesses, startups. And then get out of your profession at all and try to find artists, athletes all the way to zookeepers (you get the idea).
How to ask
You got your network and you got a question or came up with a problem. Now you need to ask. My only advice here is: Be respectful! Not only in how you write the email, but also in whom you write. Ask yourself really hard if this person is the right person. You are wasting somebody elses time, so you should make sure he is the right person. Don't just shoot and email to 300 people!
I am also writing each email by hand and don't copy/paste if I write two persons for the same reason. The emails end up looking somewhat the same, but there is always a small personal twist you can add which, in my opinion, makes a huge difference.
Emails should be short and to the point, as people don't have time to read 2 pages of prose. This means thinking about your question in the first place, trying to answer it yourself. Don't be that guy that asks everybody for every minor thing! Also try to think if StackOverflow, a Google Group or IRC chat are better suited for your question. Sometimes a personal email is not the right thing.
The last thing I'd like to write about are emails to people you do not yet know. There is nothing wrong with those as long as you stick to the principles above and are ok with not getting a reply. Again, people are busy and they might have other things on their mind.
And of course, if you get an email asking or advice or help, try to answer it!