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Jean-Michel (
Jean-Michel (

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Asking Questions is Always Smart

My career-related content is now open-source on GitHub.

In life, the three most difficult words you need to be comfortable saying at some point are not « I Love You » but « I Don't Know ».

Can you share a moment when admitting "you don't know" led to valuable learning experiences in coding?

Every. Single. Time.

The real problem doesn't come people who don't know something, are aware of it and have the courage to ask the question in a awkward way.

The toxicity comes people who think they know. But they don't know really.

🤦🏻 How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

There is a toxic subculture in the internet best exemplified by Eric R. Raymond and his supposed «🤦🏻 smart way to ask questions ».

If you read all of that, it will make a lot of sense, right ?

Until you think about it more than 5 minutes about what the real effects are.

What he actually means here, is that it's the smart way to open a JIRA ticket on projects you are familiar with.

That is absolutely not the same thing.

Smart vs Stupid

Now see the list of requirements for your questions to be considered asked "the smart way".

Reflect on how often people meet all those requirements.

Reflect on why many internet communities have channels called something like #no-stupid-questions.

Reflect on why they are so afraid to look stupid asking questions.


That's why.

What are the real requirements to ask a question ?

You need to be aware that you have an issue that you can't solve alone right now.

You need to reflect on someone that might be able to help you.

How should you do it ?

It's a two step process really.

Find Someone Who Might Be The Right Person.


Ask. Just Ask.

The Real Issue : The Rush to Give a Quick Answer

It's good that Google give quick answer, but we are not Google. We are human beings talking with human beings that need time to process things. Forget the rush.

It is bad that social media are designed to make things worse, so get out of it when your question is not trivial.

The Real Answer : Ask Clarifying Questions

Do it like Jonathan Hall here

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Quoting further

Now maybe the knee-jerk answer is appropriate. It almost certainly is sometimes, as often as this happens to me. Just by chance. Sometimes duck tape is the right answer to patch a fence. I guess. Spare lumber could potentially be a valid answer, too. For some kinds of fences.

Now of course there’s no shame in asking a vague or incomplete question. That’s what questions are for. They’re to learn. So start with what you know to ask, and go from there.

But I think there should be some shame in offering these sorts of answers that don’t actually understand the problem. Although I do understand why they happen. They get the attention. Whether that attention comes in the form of likes, karma, Stackoverflow reputation, or just the sort of attention you get in an informal group setting around a table eating pizza.

There should also be some shame in accepting these kinds of answers. If you’re asking a question to learn, have the patience to answer the clarifying questions that come up. And in fact, maybe take all the other answers with a grain of salt.

If you’re into quick answers, I’m not your guy.

I will finish with a book recommendation.

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

I was worried to ask questions about things I don't yet understand, or even can clarify why I cannot understand them.

To overcome that, I needed to read not something from a knee jerk male dev, but its exact contrary.

An artist called Amanda Palmer.

It changed my life.

I am not afraid anymore. When I don't know something, I Just Ask Someone.

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

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