Teaching people to fish

September 06, 2021

Remember this classic quote:

Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

The same thing applies to being a mentor, or a support slack channel oncall.

If you get asked “hey why is X not working”, and it’s something that can be easily found via docs or some debugging, don’t straight up give the answer.

We want to train folks to find those answers for themselves. Instead of saying “oh yeah X isn’t working because of Y”, walk them through how they could discover Y for themselves.

  • You could just link them to the wiki page that documents Y. Better to provide the search term you used to get there, and share how stuff is commonly documented in the wiki in general.
  • You could just link them to the line of code in GitHub that defines the behavior of Y. Better to show them how to use git grep and figure out which repo Y lives in, and share the knowledge of how to use your orginzation’s tools to find code in general.

Teach them to fish.

(But don’t go overboard! We still want to be friendly and approachable and not have people stuck spinning their wheels for days on end.)

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(This post pairs well To understand anything, keep popping the hood, which is relevant to question askers)

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