Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gaining knowledge is not the same as asking questions

"Does anyone know how xyz works?"

-- silence --

"Guys, I really need to know how xyz works."

-- silence --

Does this sound familiar? It's rude that nobody answers? Right? After all, somebody should know the answer. It's not like your question is difficult. Right? You are asking something relatively straightforward that certainly somebody must know. If they won't tell you, how do they expect knowledge to spread? How can you ever become knowledgeable on these subjects if others outright refuse to answer your questions? Right?


Knowledge is not created by people asking questions and waiting for others to provide answers. Knowledge is gained by people who do things. Instead of asking somebody else to provide the answer for you, think what you can do to find the answer yourself. In fact, first spend a moment to come up with the most likely answer. And then validate that answer, proving yourself right or wrong. Try it, you'll be surprised how quickly you can try certain things. Heck... it may well be faster to try it then to ask again and again. And even if it's not faster, you will almost certainly gain a better understanding of the thing you are working with. In addition to getting an answer to your question, you'll also have a better understanding of the why around that answer. You'll have gained knowledge and understanding.

Yet many people seem to prefer asking a question over trying to find the answer themselves. Instead of building knowledge they are trying to get other people to give them the knowledge. And while I don't mind showing off my knowledge about a topic, mine is often built from doing things - not from asking others. So ask yourself: do you want to be a knowledge sink? Or do you want to be a knowledge source?

This situation is so common that an entire subculture has arissen. When somebody asks a very open question on Stack Overflow, someone almost always comments with: "what have you tried?". Matt Gemmell even put his original blog post to that effect on a separate domain: Have a look around Stack Overflow and see what type of questions solicit the "what have you tried?" response. The phenomenon has spread quite far. Often I feel bad for the person asking the question, because they clearly have no clue what they've done wrong.


Unknown said...

Wrong. Not everyone should have to "go on a journey" to find an answer to a simple question.

From Stack Overflow themselves:
Ask questions, get answers, no distractions

Now, how would it fit into this plan if every time someone rolls around with a question they are confronted with

- what have you tried
- do it yourself
- learn it yourself

I am all for organic learning, but sometimes you just need a quick, good, canonical answer with no BS. Many Stack Overflow users provide just that for no reason other than saving others the trouble of learning it "the hard way".

Frank said...

If someone asks a quick, good, canonical question then those in the know are typically quite willing to give that answer.