[Sugar-devel] how to ask a question

Bernie Innocenti bernie at codewiz.org
Fri Oct 8 04:31:26 EDT 2010

On Thu, 2010-10-07 at 14:32 -0500, David Farning wrote:
> On Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 2:21 PM, Tomeu Vizoso <tomeu at sugarlabs.org> wrote:
> > On Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 20:08, David Farning <dfarning at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> On Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 1:54 AM, Ishan Bansal <ishan at seeta.in> wrote:
> >>> Hi
> >>>
> >>> I am working on the ticket http://bugs.sugarlabs.org/ticket/2210.
> >>>
> >>> To solve the above bug i am thinking of clearing the text in the text to be
> >>> translate box when ever the language to be translated is being changed.
> >>> Please provide suggestion on any better approach to deal with this bug.
> >>
> >> Over the last month this list has seen a significant increase in
> >> requests for pointers.
> >>
> >> Asking questions is an healthy part of learning, but asking for
> >> 'pointers' is _not_ going to be particularly helpful.  It shifts the
> >> effort to the person answering the question rather then the person
> >> asking the question.  Effectively asking questions is an art.  Asking
> >> question is so important that Eric Raymond, author of the Cathedral
> >> and the Bazaar, has written and maintained an article about how to ask
> >> questions the smart way at
> >> http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html .
> >>
> >> I strongly suggest reading the article.  The time spent learning how
> >> to ask questions the smart way... and asking questions the smart way
> >> will pay for itself very quickly.  Questions asked the smart way will
> >> generally get quicker responses and better answers.
> >>
> >> Two additional points
> >>  -- If you are new to the list please clearly describe 1) What you
> >> know, 2) What you don't know, 3) and what you think you have to learn
> >> to solve your problem.  This provides the person answering the
> >> question a sense of scope.
> >
> > This is very well put, lately I have felt like I would need to explain
> > most I know about software engineering in order to give an useful
> > reply.
> And if anyone feels dumb expressing what they don't know..... Please
> note that I just committed one of the biggest mistakes in mailing list
> manners:(  I hijacked this thread without reseting the subject.    We
> all make mistakes and we all get peer reviewed.

Besides all the above, to which I  agree, we seem to have also the
opposite problem: a lot of people in our community are afraid to ask
questions on public mailing lists -- no matter how dumb or smart.

It's not a language problem or a technical problem, it's really a
cultural problem. I think there are a number of different factors:

1) Introversion: a lot of good engineers are naturally shy

2) Public image: employees and contractors may be afraid their posts
could compromise the image of their organization

3) NDA: some engineers may be explicitly forbidden by their organization
to talk publicly about their job

4) Social fear: sometimes people respond aggressively or sarcastically
to newcomers who aren't familiar with the netiquette.

5) Force of habit: when they know who can answer a question, people
often "forget" to cc the mailing list.

6) Unawareness: grasping why public communication is so crucial in a
FLOSS community may time some time to developers who have been working
in proprietary shops.

As a result, this list has over 500 subscribers and only a tiny fraction
of them have ever posted to it. Every day, I get plenty of questions by
email and irc that could have been posted publicly. I bet the same is
true for other Sugar/OLPC veterans.

When this happens, we should gently encourage them to prefer public
communication. I reserve the stronger signals -- such as refusing to
answer the question until it's posted publicly -- for those who are
repeatedly ignoring this advice. I'm not running a free technical
support line.

   // Bernie Innocenti - http://codewiz.org/
 \X/  Sugar Labs       - http://sugarlabs.org/

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