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How to ask questions the smart way (for techies)

 
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 10:18 am
I'm not so sure there can be a "librarian" approach to this. Remember, this is not (I know I'm saying it ad nauseum) about computer questions.

This is about asking hackers (not those who hack systems but rather the definition of hacker in that the persons are at a high level of programming, not computer use) for help in complex problems.

It's not about "how do I fix my soundcard", you might have noticed that the FAQ says to look at source code, they are not talking HTML there. They are talking source code for programs.

Most problems of that nature simply can't be dealt with like a librarian would. A librarian just finds the answers, the problems that would be asked about in the FAQ are sometimes problems that are hard to even replicate and that require both sides to be willing to work it out.

Librarians can help even if the person they are helping is lazy, With tech help, the computer is across the globe sometimes, if the person on the other end is not going to help solve the problem sometimes it's simply not possible to solve.
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LibertyD
 
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Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 10:45 am
Cobalt, I think you're right about an approach to help people with basic computer questions through teachers, librarians, etc. Since more and more Americans are finding it necessary to have a computer in the home, it would make sense to have a basic help desk at the library for those who are totally green, and it would be an important public service. And there would be a much better chance that the person on the asking end wouldn't have to feel dumb because they have to get advice from techie type 1 or 2.

In the FAQ's that Craven posted, they're talking major high-level geeks -- the ones who actually create programs for their company to use, games, Operating Systems etc. They're like car designers rather than those of us who simply know how to drive and maybe change our oil. I think (correct me if I'm wrong, Craven) that he posted those "helpful hints" assuming that there would be more programming minded people out there to understand -- which is kind of the equivelent of posting FAQ's for auto engineers asking technical questions about the physics of aerodynamics or whatever to a group of people who don't really care about that -- they just want good gas mileage and knowledge on how to keep the seats looking fresh.

I do think it's interesting how, because of the reputation of the smart-a**es in a lot of IT depts, there seems to be an automatic defense shield put in place by non-techies. I totally remember that feeling, which ended up prodding me into learning more about IT.
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Heeven
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 10:46 am
Well it sounds like I ruffled a feather or two with my snipe at techies. I didn't read the whole thing and glean it was a high-level programming thing with techs talking to techs and a voluntary/free service too. In that case, yeah, I'd prolly tell nut-jobs to cry me a river!

I am, of course, for cobalts #3 since I make no claim to be tech-savvy myself and appreciate an expert who doesn't treat me like something they dragged in on their shoe. I promise next time not to ask why my screen suddenly went black without first checking underneath to discover I'd kicked the plug out of the socket!
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LibertyD
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 10:49 am
Heeven wrote:

I promise next time not to ask why my screen suddenly went black without first checking underneath to discover I'd kicked the plug out of the socket!


LOL!
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 11:03 am
LibertyD wrote:

In the FAQ's that Craven posted, they're talking major high-level geeks -- the ones who actually create programs for their company to use, games, Operating Systems etc. They're like car designers rather than those of us who simply know how to drive and maybe change our oil. I think (correct me if I'm wrong, Craven) that he posted those "helpful hints" assuming that there would be more programming minded people out there to understand -- which is kind of the equivelent of posting FAQ's for auto engineers asking technical questions about the physics of aerodynamics or whatever to a group of people who don't really care about that -- they just want good gas mileage and knowledge on how to keep the seats looking fresh.


You have it right, there are some of those people visiting but they generally skip the boards altogether and contact me directly.


One thing, Cobalt's library approach is very relevant to end users. Most end user problems can be solved through that approach. Oddly enough the STFW (search the F*ing Web) line is related, Google is a librarian.

Another thing of note is that the FAQ is not only for programmers but specifically programmers who deal with open source programs that are only supported by volunteers.

If you buy the program the cost to obtain tech support is sometimes included, but free code is often released to an audience so vast that the user to developer ratio is so bad that the developers can't possibly support their code and have a life. And I really do sympathize with those guys, some spend time writing up good readme files and then are flooded with questions that are answered in that file.

The saddest thing is that some developers stop their projects alltogether due to this fact and that's a shame. When people take up too much free support time, somethimes the free support dissappears.
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PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 11:13 am
One of the first things I committed to memory was:

"When in doubt, reboot."
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 11:26 am
That can be dangerous.
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LibertyD
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 11:48 am
Craven de Kere wrote:
Oddly enough the STFW (search the F*ing Web) line is related, Google is a librarian.



Yes, but you have to remember that there are still a lot of people out there who are just learning how to use a mouse. The internet can be a confusing and complicated place for a lot of people, which may sound amazing but it's true. So there is a need for librarians to serve as help desk so that people like that can learn the basics in a non-intimidating way (even though a lot of techies don't mean to be intimidating, they sometimes are), and also who recognize that people learn differently. I think that a strong trait among the majority of the technically knowledgable is that they forget that learning to consult Google isn't even close to being second-nature to a lot of people out there.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 May, 2003 11:57 am
I agree, I hate to harp but one element contained in the FAQ is that it is important to ask the right audience.

Some forums are not for those learning how to use a mouse. In said forums I'd never have a problem answering the most basic of questions but most people will get better answers if they ask the right people or in the right place.

Of course then there's the issue of how to know if it's the right place and we go in circles.

But the STFW thing is something everyone using these forums can do, I have always despised the order to STFW, especially on help forums like these.

90% of the questions asked here can be found in 5 seconds on a web serach, but I don't mind at all that they are asked here. But when I have a question for *nix developers you had better believe that I'll research it first.

Some geek forums forbid members from giving easy answers. If you ask for a script they'd rather teach you the coding language than hand it to you.

Here I just do my best to give what the asker wants. Like I said, it was probably the wrong audience.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Fri 16 May, 2003 07:28 am
I do some volunteer work for an online help group called Support Freaks. Today, I received the following question: "I exported access data to excel. Why does it look different?" And that was it. No information on versions. No information on what was being exported (tables, queries, forms). No information on what was different (formatting, column width, actual data being changed, e. g. the 5s were converted to 4s). Plus, the two programs are different (access is a database program; excel is a spreadsheeting program). By definition, the data should be different.

I'm a volunteer for them, so it's not like I could generate big cash for myself by answering this impossible inquiry, or retain job security. <sigh>
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cobalt
 
  1  
Reply Fri 16 May, 2003 12:00 pm
Craven - I think between what you and Liberty and all said, that the thread topic is why there are comments leading to other directions than you intended. So, the question is a very good one that concerns many people in the masses - and there are two ways to go at it.

1. How to ask the right question in the right way so the tech can help me?

and

2. How do I talk to this person with a problem in a way they'll understand?

This of course is taking a great leap that the question is legimately placed to the right tech and tech forum. You are right that generally there are some wildly inappropriate interactions that waste much time. Here is a great site that I enjoy:

http://rinkworks.com/stupid/
Computer Stupidities
and here are a few samples:

Quote:
"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
-- Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

* * * * * * *
Tech Support: "Hi, how can I help you?"
Customer: "Uh, yeah, I can't print."
Tech Support: "Ok, sir, I want you to click 'Start' and--"
Customer: "Listen, buddy, don't get technical on me! I'm not Bill Freakin' Gates, you know!"
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LibertyD
 
  1  
Reply Fri 16 May, 2003 12:46 pm
Cobalt, I love that website! Jespah should add the experience she mentioned on there. I like your new avatar, too -- very pretty.

I think that stupid questions are just a problem that help desk workers unfortunately have to learn to deal with. I think that as the population of technically savvy people grows -- and it will simply because of the kids in school learning the computer basics as part of their core curriculum (most, anyway) -- that working at a help desk or IT dept. won't be as painful.
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Tomkitten
 
  1  
Reply Sat 24 May, 2003 10:45 am
How to ask questions the smart way (for techies)
I was intrigued to see that Cobalt specifically mentioned librarians among those who can give information and help nicely, or, on the other hand, with condescension.

As a former professional librarian I know how hard it is sometimes to avoid the appearance of condescension - lots of people rather expect that attitude from experts in whatever field, which is a great pity. They often read it into perfectly wellmeant responses.

And I've sometimes been on the receiving end, as a patron, of such condescension - which is especially galling coming from "one of my own" so to speak.

Anyway, I agree that doing your homework before posting a question is vital. And how can you expect a clear and helpful answer if your problem isn't well expressed, with as many background gaps filled in as possible? In fact, sometimes preparing your question leads to an ahha moment, and your solution appears before your very eyes.
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