The Answer is Always 'No' If You Don't Ask

10 May 2024 • PersonalWeblogPoMo

There I was, sitting in an interview for a job. I didn’t really want that specific developer job, and in fact, I was not qualified for it based on my tech stack, but I wanted to get out of my current organization. So, I interviewed.

Standard round of questions. How would you do X? What is your greatest strength? So on and so forth.

But then, one of the interviewers1 asked “if you could have a different job title, what would it be?” And it got me thinking… you know, I’d seen another job posting for this organization that I was also interested in. It was for a business analyst role for an augmented and virtual reality team. Seemed like pretty cool stuff, and I felt like I had the interpersonal skills to handle a role like that.

So, after a moment’s hesitation, I said that. “I’ve always thought about trying my hand at being a business analyst.” Talked about how I could leverage my developer skills to better understand what my team would need, while also using my communication and organizational skills to be effective in the role.

I got a phone call that afternoon. It was one of the other interviewers that had been present. “Hey, so, I’m the manager in charge of all of the business analysts. I loved how you pitched yourself. You wanna come work for me?”

My dad always has had a knack for getting on my nerves with his never-ending wealth of quotes, thoughts, and ideas about everything. “Dad, how does this work?” “Physics!”2 Shit drove me nuts when I was growing up, and still does sometimes today.

But underneath all of his quips was a lot of wisdom. The whole “ugh, I don’t want to admit my parents were right about anything” sort of stuff. One of those that stuck with me the most has always been “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask”.3

There are so many things this can apply to. Could I order something that’s not directly listed on the menu? Would you like to get coffee/dinner with me? Could I take a day off work? Can I buy a new iPad? Could I fly to Boston to go to a keyboard meetup?

Obviously, there’s more than just asking the questions; “Can I have a pony?” will (almost) always be a no (but if V asks I might consider it). Kindness, politeness, and rational thought to back up your request can go a long ways. But if you’re not willing to ask the question, you’ve shut the door in your own face. “I really need this Friday off for something, but I did just take a 2 week vacation, so I shouldn’t even ask.” Don’t do that shit. “Hey boss, I know I just took this vacation, but something has come up, and it’d be a huge help if I could have Friday off. Would that be ok?”

(The alternate title to this post was “Make Them Tell You ‘No’” but while the point is valid, it feels squicky given the whole man vs. bear discourse going on right now.)

Advocate for yourself. Be confident, or at least pretend to be for 30 seconds. You will always and forever be your #1 hype person. Even if you think it’s a 50/50 shot, that’s still better odds than a 100% “no” from not speaking up.

Just ask.

To show that I’m not a total grump about my dad, here’s my favorite joke that he ever told me:

“Have you ever looked at geese flying in the sky?”
“And you know how they fly in a V formation?”
“And have you ever wondered why one side of the V is sometimes longer than the other?”
(after thinking for a second) “No, why?”
“Because there’s more geese on that side.”

I can’t wait till my daughter is old enough so I can tell her that one.4

  1. Maybe the only time in my life that I’m thankful this interview had a half dozen people in the room. 

  2. Cue a very strong eye-roll from me. But to his credit, he’d always try to explain the stuff. 

  3. Guys, this isn’t an invite to harass women. Don’t even think about it. 

  4. When my wife and I were dating, we’d drive 2 hours to see each other and stay for the weekend, getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning on Monday to drive back. One morning, she was leaving my house, and some geese flew over my head. I told her this joke. She stared at me for about 5 seconds, got in her car, and left without saying goodbye.