Asking for help
Being a graduate trainee in any specialism brings a strange dichotomy. In some senses, you’re the cream of the crop, selected from among many thousands of applicants because of your leadership potential. In other senses, you’re very junior, still learning many of the basic skills required to do your job effectively.
I asked a lot of questions for the first month of my placement, and then I stopped. I felt like I should have sorted everything out by that point. I started second guessing myself, feeling self-conscious about my lack of knowledge around informatics, given that I was an informatics trainee. I knew that the scheme often selected people who had no background in their specialism, and that was certainly true of me, but the people whom I worked with didn’t necessarily know that. All they knew was that I was on the scheme as an “informatics specialist.” So, instead of asking for help from my colleagues, I would get help from google, or from FAQ pages published by Microsoft and Cerner. Until about a month ago, that was good enough.
I was working on automating one of my colleague’s reports in SSRS. He inherited a lot of extra work after someone left our team, and by transitioning his manually run excel report into an automatically distributed SSRS report, I could save him a few minutes work each day. I laboured on the report for two weeks. I made it look just like it had in Excel, with one little problem. A key column, one which was used to calculate four other columns in the report, was invariably returning #Error. Not a very helpful report, then. I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what was wrong with this report, assuming I had made some silly mistake that was causing the error, and too afraid to ask for help lest my colleagues think I wasn’t able to pull my weight.
Eventually, though, I realised I couldn’t figure it out on my own. I turned to one of my office mates, a computer scientist by background, who has worked in IT and business intelligence for as long as I’ve been alive. And guess what? It stumped him too. And one of my other colleagues whose background is in statistical analysis. In the end, it took four of us three hours of focused work to figure out how to sort out my broken column. My computer scientist colleague, Mark, openly said that he wouldn’t have been able to solve the problem alone. Afterwards, when I submitted my report to Mark’s manager, explaining how I’d needed a lot of help to get to the end result, he simply said “That’s how it goes though. We don’t do it alone.”
This experience made me realise how much time I’ve wasted being too embarrassed to ask for help. Even the experts need help sometimes, and I’m still learning. So, my advice to you today is to ask for help when you need it. The great part of being on the scheme is that you’re surrounded by senior leaders and experts in your field, so take advantage! Not everybody is so lucky.
I hope you’re all well, and as always, feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts with me on twitter @alexandrastrks.