The Gift of Asking Stupid Questions

I am a fan of teaching someone to fish, rather than giving them fish. But when teaching someone, I want to allow them to make mistakes and not just dictate how they work. I want them to learn how to solve problems themselves, gain knowledge, and improve skills.

I was watching some of the Pluralsight Tech Skills day recently and in the Scott Hanselman interview, I really appreciated his answer on how to approach a problem. He talks about asking bisection questions at scale, asking lots of yes/no or querying questions that lead you towards the solution.

From here, he notes that experienced or senior developers often know the questions to ask because of their past. For junior developers, they need to be encouraged to ask questions and solve problems. However, they need to be able to do this safely, meaning that we encourage and help lead them to answers without berating them for asking questions.

This is one of the things we’ve tried to do at SQLServerCentral. We have a few guidance articles (etiquette and examples) on how to post a question, but often we ask people what they’ve tried, what works, what results they get, and try to help them find answers. Not all of us, but many of us do this. I do too often see someone posting code as a solution without explaining or helping someone learn, but it’s less often than I see a response trying to help someone learn and think.

I’ve always disliked the RTFM answers I see on the Internet, but I really hate seeing this inside an organization. I get that some people will take advantage of others and avoid work, but often someone wants to learn. I do think that it’s good to allow someone to ask about a topic once or twice, or even about how to learn. Give them ideas, and remind them to put forth some effort, but don’t automatically discourage questions.

Like Scott Hanselman, I had the gift of being able to ask stupid and silly questions. While I was sometimes abused for these, most of the time someone helped me increase my knowledge. I haven’t always been a good listener for others’ questions, but I have been working on being more patient and understanding with others. I’ve also started to appreciate how hard it can be to search out some answers, so I remember that when I see the same question again and again from different people. They’re all trying to learn and I want to give them the gift of being able to ask questions, no matter how simple they might seem to me.

Steve Jones

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