Benjamin Juang (ibneko) wrote,
Benjamin Juang

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Ah, hacker insight laid out in laymens terms...

...notably on the topic of asking questions.

Before I throw you guys the link, here's a snippet that resonated really strongly with me:
The first thing to understand is that hackers actually like hard problems and good, thought-provoking questions about them. If we didn't, we wouldn't be here. If you give us an interesting question to chew on we'll be grateful to you; good questions are a stimulus and a gift. Good questions help us develop our understanding, and often reveal problems we might not have noticed or thought about otherwise. Among hackers, “Good question!” is a strong and sincere compliment.

Despite this, hackers have a reputation for meeting simple questions with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like we're reflexively rude to newbies and the ignorant. But this isn't really true.

What we are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to be unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking questions. People like that are time sinks — they take without giving back, and they waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting and another person more worthy of an answer. We call people like this “losers” (and for historical reasons we sometimes spell it “lusers”).

We realize that there are many people who just want to use the software we write, and who have no interest in learning technical details. For most people, a computer is merely a tool, a means to an end; they have more important things to do and lives to live. We acknowledge that, and don't expect everyone to take an interest in the technical matters that fascinate us. Nevertheless, our style of answering questions is tuned for people who do take such an interest and are willing to be active participants in problem-solving. That's not going to change. Nor should it; if it did, we would become less effective at the things we do best.

We're (largely) volunteers. We take time out of busy lives to answer questions, and at times we're overwhelmed with them. So we filter ruthlessly. In particular, we throw away questions from people who appear to be losers in order to spend our question-answering time more efficiently, on winners.

If you find this attitude obnoxious, condescending, or arrogant, check your assumptions. We're not asking you to genuflect to us — in fact, most of us would love nothing more than to deal with you as an equal and welcome you into our culture, if you put in the effort required to make that possible. But it's simply not efficient for us to try to help people who are not willing to help themselves. It's OK to be ignorant; it's not OK to play stupid.

It's true. All of it.

I have noticed that I do am prone to brushing people off who ask stupid questions that they _should_ be capable of looking up themselves. It depends on the person - general, non-engineering friends have asked me questions about finding things or do things, and I find I'm always happy to reply. Perhaps they ask effectively, or I do expect them to know less. But sometimes, when I get asked stupid questions by my engineering friends that I'm taking classes with, I do brush them off. Especially stuff that they should know, or should be able to look up. "I don't have enough time to look it up" is NOT an excuse. If that's the reason why you're asking, and not poking google, then you're just shoving the time-cost onto me, and that's not fair.

I think it might also depend slightly on the number of questions they usually ask me and how busy I am at that time, but... the above covers most of it.

Here's the link:

It's a bit long, but I think it may be worth a read or a quick skim, especially if you'll ever approach a technical mailing list.
Tags: geek, hacking, information

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