Monday, July 8, 2013

Write It Out

This one was sitting in the drafts folder for a week or two, then I saw this post on Twitter:

Years ago I had a boss who was my technical superior (he may still be). I used to pop in and out of his office, or try to, and ask questions. Most of them were silly, n00b questions.

He was nice, but busy. It didn't take me very long to "read" that. So I slowed down my pace of questions. I began to write things up via email so that he could respond when he the had time. I started to use forums as well. Then I found was directed to How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

One of the things that became evident quickly is that I didn't always have to hit Send (email) or Submit (forum post), just the act of writing it out forced me to think through the issue and more often than not, I would figure out the answer on my own.

Flash forward five or six years and I started to receive all these questions, either in person or via chat. "Send me an email" was usually my response, especially if I was in the middle of something (see: Context Switching). I was happy to help, just not at that moment. With email, I could get to it when I got a break (or needed one).

One of my favorite people, Jason Baer, who has worked for RittmanMead for the last couple of years, took this to heart. We started working together in December of 2009 and he would pepper me with questions constantly. I could never keep up. "Email the question Jason."

I didn't realize it, but I started getting fewer and fewer emails/questions from him. He began to figure them out on his own. It seemed most of the time he had just missed something, other times he just figured out another way to do something.

Jason is a smart guy. I think I'm smart. Sometimes it's just easier to ask the question without thinking it through. In fact, I do that quite a bit on The Twitter Machine ™, especially those errors that I seem to know but just don't have the bandwidth to research (think DBA type questions). I believe the types of questions that should must be written down are those that deal with Approach (design, architecture, etc). Any of those ORA errors better come along with a link to the error code in the documentation and some proof that you've researched it a bit yourself...but then that's getting into How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

Go out and practice. Next time you have a (technical) question for someone, anyone, write it down and see what happens.

9 comments:

Bobby Curtis said...

Very good advice! Thanks for sharing.

Bobby

amy c said...

Great timing, Chet! I do agree with this, although I believe face to face is generally much more effective if discussion is needed (rather than a Q&A). Many times with design I feel two+ together must discover the answer and email gets in the way. But agree on the write it down for general questions that someone should know the answer to. Great thoughts, as always! Thanks!

chet justice said...

It's not a replacement for the face-to-face, it should be a requirement before the face to face so that the meeting can be focused. Everyone should be in the meeting with a certain level of knowledge.

Also, I hate meetings. What this does, many times in my experience, is obviates the need for those meetings. Meetings are the devil, mostly.

amy c said...

Status meetings are no fun, but working meetings (pair programming, design hash outs, etc.) are awesome.

chet justice said...

"can" be awesome. if everyone is prepared. that's the distinction I failed to articulate.

Jason said...

I'm famous! Thanks for going with he would "pepper me with questions" instead of "harass the sh!t outta me"...

chet justice said...

@Jason

I was trying to be nice. :)

Christian Berg said...

+1 for that concept. The simple fact of writing things down and especially trying to explain an issue so that it's understandable for someone else (so that he may help you) forces you to think about the problem in ways you most likely didn't before.

catb.org has the single most fitting post on the subhject of intelligent questions (or just plain correct way of asking them) and I have to admit...it's quite widely disregarded if you look at your average OTN forum...

Cheers!

chet justice said...

@Christian

Thanks for pointing out all the other great stuff on catb.org. I sent the "How to be a Hacker" to my son for his perusal...