How to Ask for Help on Slack
Slack is pretty big these days and companies as well as software projects are using it as their primary communications or instant messaging platform of choice. After having used Slack for several years now and contributing to all sorts of teams out there, I've noticed a pattern of good and bad behavior. So, as a follow-up to my post on how to ask for help on technical forums, I wanted to do the same thing but for platforms like Slack. Only this time, I thought I would break them down into Dos and Don'ts and keep it simple.
If you were sent to this article by myself or someone else, it's more than likely you're a violator of one or more of the rules in the Don'ts category. Please read them all carefully.
Explain what type of help you need thoroughly.
- WHY? Just like in the forums article, whenever you're asking for help from others, you need to be good about providing enough information. Remember, most humans cannot read minds, so what may be obvious to you isn't to others who have the knowledge to help you. And also, if you consider yourself to be a novice in the subject you're asking for help, explain what your goals are rather than how you think you can get there.
Use threads for subsequent messages following the same subject. This goes for you as a poster and you as a responder.
- WHY? Threads keep things tidy and organized, and in channels with tens of thousands of people (or more), they're essential to keep who is talking to who separated. Threads also allow you to follow and unfollow them giving you better control over the conversations in which you participate.
Use code blocks and snippets for large pieces of code and log/terminal output, respectively.
- WHY? Code blocks (begin a message with three back tick characters (`)) and snippets help keep messages readable and from blowing up the channel with hundreds of lines of things others don't care to see. They also provide nice features like syntax highlighting which translates to you getting better help faster.
Be nice, be open-minded, and be thankful.
- WHY? It's simple. They make people want to help you now and again. Also, keep in mind the things I listed in B3 over on the forums counterpart article. You're asking for help, which is charity, from those who are largely strangers. Act the same way as if you were asking them for money instead.
Never, and I mean NEVER call "@channel" or "@here" in public channels.
- WHY? These commands alert either all members in the channel or those who are currently online, respectively. There's nothing more obnoxious than someone disturbing everyone to get their question answered. Unless you literally own the channel, do not ever do this. And unless you want to know the quickest way for everyone else to hate your guts and want to not help you, I repeat, do not use these commands.
Don't paste logs or code without formatting.
- WHY? See #3 in the Dos section. When you don't use formatting, extensive output bloats your message to the point where it's difficult for others to read and it blows up the channel. Learn how to use the available tools in Slack to format your message appropriately.
Don't direct message (DM) someone asking for help.
- WHY? Channels exist for a reason: they provide organization for common subjects and allow communities to form around them. When you DM someone, you make it so that any help you receive cannot be shared by others who come behind you. So unless you're friendly with that specific person (i.e., they're not a total stranger), don't do this.
Don't take pictures of your monitor with your phone.
- WHY? Every single OS in use today has built-in (read: free) screenshot tools available in addition to the hundreds of third-party ones available. There's nothing more absurd than you taking a literal photograph of your filthy monitor at a skewed angle showing terminal output. Either learn how to properly use those screenshot tools or copy-and-paste text into either a block or a snippet.