2010/04/06

Why I won't tell you what to do

Often in #perl we get people asking a question, whether explicitly or implied, that requires us to pick a solution for them. I try hard not to do this. The closest I'll get is to listen to their description of the problem, and suggest some things which I think might help. Hardly ever do I suggest just one thing.

I do this because it's hard for us to know the entire surrounding context of a problem. If anyone else is like me, then there'll be days, weeks, maybe even months of history behind it; various attempts they've tried already, other bits and pieces of code, system, whatever, that they haven't been able to explain in the 5 minutes they tried to give us the problem. You can't explain a 1-month problem in 5-minutes, nor can I give a solution to it in similar timeframe.

What I can do is name a few things that I'd include in a shortlist of things to think about in more detail, were I to find myself with a similar problem. They can then go away and think about these things. Maybe he already was aware of them, and we've just given some more confidence that those might be correct. Or maybe he wasn't, so we've given him something new to read about. Either way, we've helped guide the decision process, without outright saying "thou shalt do this" - because, without having that month of context around it; for all we know it could be completely wrong. But it's a good start.

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