All Solved Problems Are Easy

I wanted to post a witty retort to something I saw on a website today. I wanted to write about how the people experiencing a particular problem were just doing it wrong and explain how simple this thing really was if they just took the time to read the documentation and follow the instructions. I also wanted to talk about how the person who posted the item related to the problem was misleading a lot of people and propagating a lot of misinformation based on people not knowing how to solve the problem in the right way.

Then I remembered the reason why I believe the problem is trivial: I know how to solve it. I solved that problem years ago and I trained all the other people that I worked with in the solution to the problem. Of course it’s a simple problem when the answer is already known. The real problem is when the answer is not yet known, which is the case for anyone and everyone that is looking for the answer to a problem.

It’s easy for someone with the answers to laugh and mock and make witty remarks about what they see going on. It takes no skill, no understanding, no compassion and no intelligence to produce such remarks. Even handing someone the answer on a silver platter with an RTFM or a pointer to a existing answer of the same question is easy. Anyone can do that even if they don’t know the answer but are good at finding answers.

On the other hand, it takes a significant amount of effort to sit down and understand why the person is having the issue, what they have done to try and solve it and guide them to the solution allowing them to learn through making additional mistakes. It’s difficult to get involved and immerse yourself in the education of others because that implies some sense of responsibility on your part. You are making the effort to educate someone so you must take at least some responsibility for that education – to meet the person where they are with the skill set and experience that they have, and to present a path to the solution that they can understand and appreciate. It’s no small task to do this, but it’s often the right thing to do.

Now, I’m not saying you should never hand someone a solution or state RTFM. There are times when these actions are appropriate. I’m also not perfect and I realize that some of my responses to comments on my own blog here tend to get a little snarky. In this one particular case, though, I managed to avoid that mistake. I hope I’ll remember to avoid it again the next time I find myself in such a situation and more importantly I hope to find the will within me to actually take some responsibility and help educate the people that were having the problem. I challenge you to do the same the next time you find someone asking a question with an answer that is “so obvious, duh…”


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About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs SignalLeaf.com - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and WatchMeCode.net where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
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  • Joshka
  • http://www.lostechies.com/members/derick.bailey/default.aspx derick.bailey

    @Joshka – definitely not! :) that was very good advice. it’s been so long since i’ve read the Legacy Code book that it didn’t even cross my mind to look in there.

    this was in response to something on a completely different website, having nothing to do with any LosTechies person or commenter. I’m still pondering a good response to this particular item… not sure if i’ll post it or not.

  • http://www.markdavidrogers.com Mark Rogers

    Great article, probably one of the better community/personal articles on the site.

    The problem is that almost everyone who is good at computer science, becomes enraptured with their own ego at some point (I’ve definitely done it). Talking down to and above other people using clever sounding words is like a magic mushroom from Super Bros for the ego. Letting go of egotism takes time and reflection, but it makes you a better developer and person.

  • http://www.clear-lines.com Mathias

    Great post. It’s hard to learn and get better, but once you learnt something, it’s even harder to remember how things looked like when you didn’t get it – and explain “the obvious” to a beginner.

  • Michael Baun

    @Mathias

    Just put em in a small tank with twenty sharks. They get three ten second questions about how to deal with the sharks. If the developer survives he/she is now on the team, if not the sharks can be eaten for dinner. Otherwise onto the next developer.