Skip to main content

Being Helpful by Not Answering Questions

As some of my readers (I have readers?) may know, I am a frequent of #python over at Freenode. A great place. One of the most supportive IRC channels I have ever been a member of. Over the years I have been a frequent member of this channel, I have received an awful lot of help. It is where I went when I first decided to learn Python, and the kind folks there did great things to guide me along. I learned and I stayed, because I still need some good minds to knock ideas around with, and figure things out. I also stayed because the best way I can repay the help I received is to return it to others who seek just that.

I want to think my help is appreciated. I happen to know it is. There is an increasing number of regulars, learning their way through, who explicitly seek me for help, send me entire projects to look over, and generally befriend me in response to the advice I give them. I try not to think highly of myself, but I do believe I am valuable to that channel and that many others would agree.

A few, however, seem to hate my guts. A growing minority of users are continually harassing me over my methods of giving advice. They have a problem with how I talk to people that ask simple questions, even with those people not being them and happily taking my advice over the complaints of these few difficult IRC'ers. What they seem to have a problem with is my tendency to answer questions with questions, investigate why someone thinks they want to do what they ask how to do, and suggesting other ways to reach their goals that may be better than what they came seeking.

This is not a technique of myself alone. Python has a strong community of developers with strong opinions. It is not unusual for people to ask about threads and be told that Twisted, separated processes, or Stackless is better. If someone asks how to set a variable with a name in some string, they aren't told about globals() and locals(), but to use a dictionary instead, and usually will be given a small talk about how all variables exist in dictionary, including the globals and locals, so there is no overhead in this and its a perfectly good thing to do.

People aren't given a gun to shoot themselves with. They are given advice not in answering their question directly, but delving into the source of the question and solving the problems that lead to their asking a question, although sometimes misconceived.

Is it wrong to assume you know someone shouldn't do what they ask how to do, and tell them something else instead? Does anyone have the right to insult and verbally abuse those who practice such techniques of helping others?

Does anyone have thoughts on this? Lending a hand is important, so we should be doing it right.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I say keep on trucking as you are.
Matt Davies said…
I'm trying to access the freenode python chat room for the first time, but my IRC client is stalling.

It's telling me I need to be identified to join the channel?

I'm on a macosx 10.4.8 using Conversation 2.14

You haven't seen this issue before have you my friend?
Matt Davies said…
I think I know.

I need to register my nickname

That's another quesiton :-)
Anonymous said…
I only spent one evening in the python channel. I was insulted for a good 30 minutes for wanting to use threads as a limited form of concurrency. They kept offering processes (which didn't offer interactive responses at the time on all platforms), or async programming (was not possible with the system I was asked to maintain). I was asking because I was getting segfaults, and I decided that I'd rather fight with my problem than to be insulted because I had a question.

Popular posts from this blog

CARDIAC: The Cardboard Computer

I am just so excited about this. CARDIAC. The Cardboard Computer. How cool is that? This piece of history is amazing and better than that: it is extremely accessible. This fantastic design was built in 1969 by David Hagelbarger at Bell Labs to explain what computers were to those who would otherwise have no exposure to them. Miraculously, the CARDIAC (CARDboard Interactive Aid to Computation) was able to actually function as a slow and rudimentary computer.  One of the most fascinating aspects of this gem is that at the time of its publication the scope it was able to demonstrate was actually useful in explaining what a computer was. Could you imagine trying to explain computers today with anything close to the CARDIAC? It had 100 memory locations and only ten instructions. The memory held signed 3-digit numbers (-999 through 999) and instructions could be encoded such that the first digit was the instruction and the second two digits were the address of memory to operate on

The Range of Content on Planet Python

I've gotten a number of requests lately to contribute only Python related material to the Planet Python feeds and to be honest these requests have both surprised and insulted me, but they've continued. I am pretty sure they've come from a very small number of people, but they have become consistent. This is probably because of my current habit of writing about NaNoWriMo every day and those who aren't interested not looking forward to having the rest of the month reading about my novel. Planet Python will be getting a feed of only relevant posts in the future, but I'm going to be honest: I am kind of upset about it. I don't care if anyone thinks it is unreasonable of me to be upset about it, because the truth is Planet Python means something to me. It was probably the first thing I did that I considered "being part of the community" when I submitted my meager RSS feed to be added some seven years ago. My blog and my name on the list of authors at Plan

Pythonic Defined

Introduction Losing is Good Strings Dictionaries Conclusion Introduction Veterans and novices alike of Python will hear the term "pythonic" thrown around, and even a number of the veterans don't know what it means. There are times I do not know what it means, but that doesn't mean I can define a pretty good idea of what "pythonic" really means. Now, it has been defined at times as being whatever the BDFL decides, but we'll pull that out of the picture. I want to talk about what the word means for us today, and how it applied to what we do in the real world. Languages have their strengths and their idioms (ways of doing things), and when you exploit those you embrace the heart of that language. You can often tell when a programmer writing in one language is actually more comfortable with another, because the code they right is telltale of the other language. Java developers are notorious for writing Java in every language they get their hands on. Ho