RE: HUMOR: I Need Help

Subject: RE: HUMOR: I Need Help
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 18:01:33 -0600

>From the thread title, I'm assuming Andrew has fired another salvo at
time-wasters. But there's some issues that could probably stand being
addressed, so I'll take paint roller in hand (no time for fine brushwork
here) and take a shot:

1) Sending someone a template saves them a significant amount of time?
Possibly, but not likely, unless they're dangerous. Before using the
template, they would have to take the time to examine it and find out if
it's useful for the project at hand (what, you mean someone on Techwr-L
might not send a useful answer to a request?) and if not adapt it to the
point where it is. As someone else noted, and as my previous life as a
techie bears witness to, the reason code reuse is something programmers
strive for but do not achieve is because making something *really* generic
is hard to do, and understanding how someone else does things isn't always
straightforward. It really *is* often faster and easier to write it from
scratch then it is to adapt someone's else's code. Reading code can teach
you new techniques, new approaches; but when it comes time to write code,
it's often easier to write your own code using those techniques than adapt
the code you read (unless it's a *really* trivial code snippet).

If someone is adept at templates, then receiving one, understanding it, and
adapting it to the current situation would probably be fairly easy. But
then again, a person adept at templates would probably not be asking the
group to send one, but would rather be adapting one they had previously
created. And I submit that anyone who would implement a template *without*
taking the time to examine it and understand it fits the category of
"dangerous" rather well.

Now, seeing a mass of templates may be useful for someone who is attempting
to design a template library for their firm, but I suspect such a one will
phrase their question a little more specifically than the general question
which started this exchange of ideas.

2) There's no harm in asking? Yes, there is. The reason we're subscribed to
this list is because we like to help each other. I can't think of any other
logical reason to be assaulted by so many messages every day. So, we're
predisposed to be helpful. When you ask, you imply that you expect your
request to be fulfilled. Why else would you ask? So this expectation, when
applied to such generic questions as this thread is complaining about,

creates a tension between our good natures and our deadlines, and that's
extra tension we don't need.

Many of us see it as putting us in the position of either being stuck-up
snobs (an actual phrase I've been called by people who wanted me to do
their work for them, in addition to my own, and I'm sure we've all seen
worse) who are trying to keep newbies out of the field or of forfeiting
that most precious non-renewable resource, our time. I wonder what these
folks who think all kinds of questions are harmless would say if soemone
came up to them every day asking for money; not *all* their money, mind
you, just what they happen to be carrying in their wallet that day.

I know the concept is a rapidly disappearing one, but courtesy really
*should* be practiced. Don't ask people for more than you can give
yourself. If you don't have the time to put together a good specific,
competent question, why should you expect someone else to take the time to
answer your vague, general one? If it's not important to you, what
arrogance is it on your part to insist it be important to someone else?

Answers always take longer than questions; that's the nature of the beast.
When you ask an ill-formed question, you are announcing to the world that
your own time is more important than mine, because you didn't have the time
to even frame a good question, while you expect me to take the time to
frame a good answer. Not even Dale Carnegie can pull you out of *that*

How you ask your question is just as important as what the question is. And
if you don't know that, learn it quickly, or be condemned to whine about
how your SMEs don't return your phone calls for the rest of your life. If
you can't be bothered with such people skills, become a programmer; you
have no future as a tech writer.

3) Templates are templates? (The "parts is parts" fallacy.) Asking for 4000
generic templates is no different than searching the internal library of
templates specifically created by and for your company? I really couldn't
believe someone could manage to type that with a straight keyboard. Just
for starters, the latter is far more likely to fit the job at hand, and has
been developed, one would expect, on company time with company resources.
It also involves the person in doing some work that will make them more
familiar both with the company resources and with templates, while the
external templates, if they succeed at all, will only succeed in the
latter. The internal template library is a far better choice. The
likelihood of an external template being better than a custom-designed
internal one is probably similar to the likelihood of my having won the
lottery last night.

4) The Internet was founded on sharing ideas and not to share templates
goes against the spirit of the 'net? (Unspoken, but hanging there in the
air.) This displays a near-complete ignorance about the 'net. If you want
an aphorism to capture the spirit of the 'net, it's the old "teach him to
fish and you feed him forever" one. The 'net has been about helping people
learn, not spoonfeeding them answers. That's why FAQs were invented and why
RTFM is so often heard (and why the "F" is *in* that phrase in the first
place). You spend your own time learning, before you spend another's.

To boil these things down to some concrete advice: If you really need to
ask "tell me all you know..." kind of questions, find yourself a mentor to
ask them of, one on one, with discussion. That's what mentors are for. A
roomful of 4000 writers is *not* a mentor. If you're going to shout in the
face of 4000 writers, make the questions polite, succinct, and specific,
and don't throw a tantrum if you don't get the answer you want. You're
busy. That's OK. But what gives you the right to expect that *I'm* any less

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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