Saturday, October 30, 2010

Help Wanted!

   In the "Spiderman" movie, his mom said to him, "You're not Superman, you know!"

   Are you?

   Probably not.  At most, one of my readers is.  More likely, none.

   Chances are pretty good that, once in a while, you run into something you're just not able to complete alone.  So what do you do then?

   Some people would say, tough it out.  Give it all you've got, and if you are indeed excellent, you'll get it done.

   Alone.

   Eventually.

   Yeah... right!  And the sun will shine once those monkeys I mentioned before, stop blocking it.

   Quit banging your head against the wall.  Ask for help.  Admit that you're human.  (Uh, you are, aren't you?)  Done correctly, this will get the problem solved the fastest, and with the least amount of total pain and effort, including not only yours but others' too.  That's what being excellent is all about, not about looking like Superman.

   But how should you ask for help?  Not just how to phrase it politely, like yo' mama should have taught you, but how to lay the groundwork, so that you will likely get a good, helpful response.

   Eric S. Raymond wrote a wonderful essay titled "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way".  He's best known in the computer world, and the essay is mainly aimed at getting technical help from "hackers" (rant on the media mangling of that word, omitted).  And yes, his attitude is often condescending and abrasive.  But...  the principles he outlines are pretty much universal.  In fact, if you apply them outside that realm, you'll meet with even greater success.  To break it down, way down:

  • Try to solve it yourself first.  The essay details several information sources to try, at least for technical problems.

  • Ask the right person or group.

  • Communicate well, including:
    • Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.; don't m4Ke 7h33 07h4R P3r51n 5p3Nd 4 !07 uv h1z 7yM3 f!9uR1nG oU7 wU7 u m33N!
    • Get to the point. Preferably as early as the Subject line, if asking by email.
    • Be specific about the problem or question, and what kind of help you're looking for.
    • Give all the data you have.
    • But still be concise.

  • Say what you already tried, and why that didn't satisfy you.

  • Above all, be nice about it!  Don't assume that any problem you're having, is his fault, or even not yours.  Don't expect an instant solution on a silver platter.  You're probably not paying the person who's helping, so be grateful that they're putting forth any effort at all for you.

So now, dear readers, as usual, it's your turn.  When do you ask for help, and what do you do to help ensure that you get it?