eschew obfuscation (and espouse elucidation)

Remember, Thou Wast Once a Noob

I was handling a customer support request today and it read something like this:

I changed a setting and now I get an error. What’s wrong?

My knee-jerk reaction was to think, “Well, then what was the error?!?” You see, I’m a problem solver. I love to dismantle things and figure out why something isn’t working properly. To me, the first step toward the solution is to figure out what the problem is. So my first attempt at formulating a response went something like this:

Here’s how to figure out what the error was. Come back when you’ve done this minimal amount of work.

Ooooh, snarky.

Before I hit ‘Send Reply’, I took a bit of time to explain the situation to a co-worker and made the point that figuring out the problem is a vital first step to working toward a solution and that there are common ways of discovering what a particular error is (logging, debug flags, etc.). I also stated that these problem solving tactics are learned best by experience as opposed to reading or hearing about them.

Then, my mind came up with this question: “Was I ever not a good problem solver?” That question suddenly humbled me and gave me a new perspective on the whole situation. I changed my response to first validate that the way the customer was changing the setting was correct and that the error was indeed an unexpected result. I went on to explain how to figure out what the error was and that I’d help them figure out what was going on.

You see, snarkiness is fun, but it’s rarely edifying for the snarkee.

I don’t post this to boast of my humility. In fact, I’m quite embarrassed about the way that I initially reacted. It’s my hope that this will remind you to always remember that you were once the student.