Newsflash: coding is not just for geeks… and it isn’t impossible for mere mortals to learn. What’s important is knowing when you need help and how best to ask for it.

By Sandi Lin (Co-Founder, Everpath)

Six weeks after leaving my job to pursue a startup in online education, we lost our only software developer and all of his code. The remaining members of our team had no programming experience. Having considered all the options open to us, we realized that in order to move forward quickly, I needed to learn to code!

I hadn’t touched computer science since high school. But we created our startup, Everpath, to help people learn online. Our core belief is that connecting people with the right resources will enable them to achieve their goals. Fortunately, I was able to take my own advice.

Thanks to the many tutorials available on the web, and the help of online programming communities, I was able to launch the first version of Everpath just four weeks later.

How to Ask for Help

As a beginner working on my own project, I often ran into errors that I couldn’t solve, even after hours on Google. In some cases, I didn’t even know what search terms to use. Fortunately, when you are really stuck, there are great communities at Reddit and Stack Overflow that you can turn to for help.

I have to admit that at first I was terrified of posting questions in these forums. From reading other threads, I knew that asking repetitive or unclear questions could result in negative comments, downvotes and other forms of public criticism.

While there will always be a few naysayers, remember that almost everyone in these communities is contributing because they are supportive and want to help you succeed. Still, I’ve learned there are a few things you can do to ask questions more effectively.

List The Research You’ve Already Done

Linking to solutions that you’ve tried, or posts that you think are related, shows that you’ve put in the effort to solve the problem yourself. It also helps others understand your problem more quickly and avoids duplicating effort.

Be Specific on The Details

In addition to the error message you’re seeing, remember to include relevant details such as the programming language you’re using, operating system version and actual code snippets. If it’s appropriate, you can even provide a link to your Github repository so people can download your code and try it themselves.

Play the ‘Beginner’ Card

Don’t be afraid to say that you’re a beginner and need some help. People are more forgiving and will also explain their responses more fully.

Say Thanks

In addition to posting a thank you message, remember to accept correct responses and upvote helpful comments. These are both easy ways to thank people for participating in the community.

Move on From Negative Comments

If you do receive negative feedback, try to learn from it and move on. It happens. Just remember that you’re doing your best to solve the problem, and you’ll never have to interact with this person again.


Many online courses have discussion forums where basic Q&A is encouraged. If you’re more comfortable asking programming questions in person, you can also look for women’s coding groups like Girl Develop ItPyLadies and RailsBridge. Whatever your choice, be confident and ask for help when you need it!

Women 2.0 readers: Where do you go for coding help?

headAbout the guest blogger: Sandi Lin is the co-founder of Everpath, a startup that connects people with online courses in technology, business, and design. She learned Ruby on Rails from online tutorials so that she could build the site. Formerly a product manager at Amazon, Sandi enjoys drinking coffee, going on hikes, skiing in the Cascades and generally living up to other Seattle stereotypes. She has a BS/MS from MIT and an MBA.