Don’t Ask to Ask

Every now and then, in online chat rooms I hang around in, someone pops
in and says something in the lines of,


Any Java experts around?

This is bad form, for several reasons. What the person is
actually asking here is,


Any Java experts around who are willing to commit into looking into my
problem, whatever that may turn out to be, even if it’s not actually
related to Java or if someone who doesn’t know anything about Java
could actually answer my question?

There are plenty of reasons why people who DO have the knowledge would
not admit to it. By asking, you’re asking for more than what you think
you’re asking.

You’re asking people to take responsibility. You’re questioning people‘s
confidence in their abilities. You’re also unnecessarily walling other
people out. I often answer questions related to languages or libraries I
have never used, because the answers are (in a programmer kind of way)
common sense.

Alternatively, it can be seen as..


I have a question about Java but I’m too lazy to actually formalize it
in words unless there’s someone on the channel who might be able to
answer it

..which is just lazy. If you’re not willing to do the work to solve your
problem, why should we?

The solution is not to ask to ask, but just to ask. Someone who is idling
on the channel and only every now and then glances what’s going on is
unlikely to answer to your “asking to ask” question, but your actual
problem description may pique their interest and get them to answer.

So, to summarize, don’t ask
“Any Java experts around?”,
but rather ask
“How do I do [problem] with Java and [other relevant info]?”

Other similar problems: The XY Problem, No Hello.
Further reading: How do I ask a good question?,
or if you have more time: How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

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