I asked a lot of stupid questions.
Most people are reluctant to ask questions, because they are afraid to look ignorant. But I maintain that the best way to learn anything quickly is to ask questions when you don’t understand what’s going on.
Here are six ways that asking questions improves your knowledge and the health of your company:
1. Questions give others an opportunity to help you, which helps them get to know you better and establishes a rapport. At my first official QA job, I was working with hotshot developers, all of whom were at least a decade and a half younger than me. It was embarrassing having to admit that I didn’t know how to reset a frozen iPhone or find the shared drive in File Explorer, but I asked those questions anyway, I remembered the answers, and I showed my co-workers that I was a fast learner.
2. Questions help developers discover things they may have missed. On countless occasions where a developer has been demonstrating a feature to me I’ll ask a question like “But what if there are no records for that user?”, or “What if GPS isn’t on?”, and they will suddenly realize that there is a use case they haven’t handled.
3. Questions keep everyone honest. I have worked with other QA engineers who bandy about terms like “back-end call” or “a different code path” without actually knowing what they are talking about. Asking what they mean by what they are saying makes sure that they do the work to find out what they are actually testing. And when they get their answers, I get my answers as well.
4. Questions give you an opportunity to clear things up in your head. You may have heard the expression “Rubber duck debugging”; I think this method works well when you’re asking questions. I have found that sometimes just formulating the question out loud while I’m asking it clears things up for me.
5. Questions clarify expectations. Yes, sometimes I have felt dumb saying things like “You want me to test this on the latest build, right?”, but every now and then I discover that there’s been a miscommunication, and I’d much rather find out about it before I start testing rather than after I’ve been testing the wrong thing for an hour.
6. Questions clarify priorities. There have been many times where I’ve asked “Why are we adding this feature?” There is almost always a good reason, but the discussion helps the team understand what the business use case is, which helps the developers decide how to design their solution.
A caveat: Don’t ask questions that you can find the answers to by using a search engine (example: “How do I find the UDID of a device using iTunes?”) or by going back and reading your email (example: “What day did we decide on for code freeze?”). Asking these types of questions results in wasted time for everyone!
In summary, asking might make you feel silly in the short run, but it will make you and your team much smarter in the long run. And hopefully it will create an atmosphere in which others feel comfortable asking questions as well, improving teamwork for everyone!