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Where Do You Seek Help First?

  • Belgorod, Russia
  • comments


Just a few days ago a friend of mine, who is not a developer but a co-founder of a software startup, asked me to help his programmers with a technical problem they got stuck with. I said “Why not?” and asked them what was going on. They told me that their PostgreSQL server was running slow because it was doing this and that, and when they restarted it it was repeating this and that… Long story short, I had no idea what they were talking about, even though I was a user of PostgreSQL for many years. My first reaction was: “Have you posted a question on Stack Overflow yet?” They answered: “We still hope that that won’t be necessary.” I replied, surprised: “Huh?”

The Tribe (2014) by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi
The Tribe (2014) by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

Why was Stack Overflow their last resort? They didn’t explain, but I believe I know the answer: they would feel ashamed. For them Stack Overflow is a place for losers who can’t solve problems by themselves. It is a place for those who are not worth the money their owners bosses pay them. It is a place where lazy programmers ask questions and expect answers instead of working hard in their offices and resolving everything on their own.

This is the mentality of a slave.

This is the mentality of someone who is paid for the time they spend in the office or in front of the computer, not for the results they deliver. It is only logical that if they are paid for being programmers, seeking help at Stack Overflow is a declaration of incompetence. You do it once, you will be excused, you do it twice, your boss will start wondering whether you are the right resource to be spending money on. But if you do it regularly—you will definitely be fired. Thus, a good slave doesn’t do that. A good slave does everything possible to look busy and competent.

Are you a slave?

Now, to the contrary, someone who is paid for the results delivered has a completely different mindset. Why would Stack Overflow be a last resort for a freelancer, who is paid for the problems they manage to solve, no matter how much time they spend on them nor where they seek help? Moreover, the faster such a freelancer can find help, the better an engineer he or she is.

In the story above, my friend had the right mindset. The moment he found out that his team couldn’t solve the problem, he came to me, and a few other people. He was not a software developer, that’s why he didn’t know about Stack Overflow. But he was seeking help everywhere around his team, while his slaves programmers were trying to find a solution by themselves.

Maybe that’s why he is a co-founder and they are his employees?

Now, here is my short list of places you should seek help when you don’t know what to do with your PostgreSQL and you have no time. The list is ordered. The places where you start are at the top, the last resort is at the bottom:

  • Search in Google

  • Post to Stack Overflow

  • Read books

  • Ask friends

  • Keep trying

Let me emphasize again: it depends on who you are. If you are a slave on a payroll and feel happy about that, you should not listen to the advice in this blog post. It will only ruin your career. However, if you are a freelancer, stop being embarrassed for not knowing something!

Your job is not to know or to be smart. Your job is to find solutions and fix problems. How you do that is your own business. It’s not the business of your boss, your project manager, or your product owner.

Each (micro-)task you resolve has a budget and you are fully responsible for it while it is assigned to you. You solve it the way you want it to be solved.

Don’t be ashamed of asking for help, just like my friend was not ashamed of telling me that his team couldn’t fix the PostgreSQL issue. He was thinking about his business results, not about what I would think about him and his team. He didn’t care about that. He needed the bloody PostgreSQL to work!

Do the same. Be a business man, not a slave.

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