13 December 2004

I had another question sent my way: "What to look for in someone who is going to help out"

That was an interesting question. Things I look for are not just their experience, but their ability to solve fairly simple problems.

Working with other people on the internet means simply taking their words and doing something with it. But it also means figuring out whether what they're telling you is useful.

Someone could be an expert in a certain standard or piece of software, but if they can't explain it in terms that anyone can understand ... not worth wasting time. The good ones are going to pick-up what level they need to engage you with.

Other things I look for are whether they can actually do what they're talking about. For example, suppose someone says they're an expert on a certain platform. But you go look at their use of that platform, and you can do a better job. I don't have time waste teaching "the expert" on basics.

Something else I look at are whether the solutions and products they deliver actually solve the problem they've been lamenting about. I'm all for developers with new ideas.

What puzzles me is when you run across some that talk about a problem, and their solution is no better than what they're talking about. At best the "new solution" doesn't give any useful information other than "what we already know"; at worst, the product tells us we have a problem, but that "problem" is irrelevant.

The "new product" needs to be self-supporting in that it is an independent entity. If you find yourself spending alot of time "trying to get explanations" for something that should be stand-alone, it means you've got a product that helps the developer not the customer. You need solutions, not explanations and excuses.

Other things I look for are whether the rules they apply to others are ones they apply to themselves. For example, they may lament to others that customers are a problem; strange, but not surprising, when the "helper" also engage in the same practice.

Other things that happen is when the "helper" midway through the interaction suddenly changes rules on you. Like how to find them. What's appropriate. What they want to help with. At worst, they start to discipline you for not doing what they didn't tell you.

Another problem that sometimes occurs is when the "helper" switches the requirements from their development project and throws them back at the customer. This is basically the same as admitting, "I know my product doesn't do the job, but you [the customer] are wrong for pointing out the weaknesses of what I promised...so you need to watch your attitude." I've noticed that when developers make things that aren't really worth my time.

Things I do like:

When the help is clear at the beginning what they are doing, the terms of the interaction, and how to contact them. And they actually deliver and do what they say. The bad ones self-promote to no end, then lament when "so many people" are trying to contact them.

Another thing I like is when a "helper" is actually someone who helps with new ideas. It's all well and good to talk about "improving things," but if they turn into a wet blanket, don't waste your time.

Chances are you're going to but heads with someone who isn't able to be creative; the reason you're having problems with the system is that you have an idea or problem that isn't getting solved. The smart ones are going to figure out that your questions are about "finding a solution," and not taken personally.

If you get surprise outbursts, accusations, or told you "just don't understand," that's the sign of an abusive helper-customer relationship. If you've been the victim of "online helper-abuse" feel free to share your thoughts and reactions here. What kind of assistance do you like?
That was an interesting question. Things I look for are not just their experience, but their ability to solve fairly simple problems.

Working with other people on the internet means simply taking their words and doing something with it. But it also means figuring out whether what they're telling you is useful.

Someone could be an expert in a certain standard or piece of software, but if they can't explain it in terms that anyone can understand ... not worth wasting time. The good ones are going to pick-up what level they need to engage you with.

Other things I look for are whether they can actually do what they're talking about. For example, suppose someone says they're an expert on a certain platform. But you go look at their use of that platform, and you can do a better job. I don't have time waste teaching "the expert" on basics.

Something else I look at are whether the solutions and products they deliver actually solve the problem they've been lamenting about. I'm all for developers with new ideas.

What puzzles me is when you run across some that talk about a problem, and their solution is no better than what they're talking about. At best the "new solution" doesn't give any useful information other than "what we already know"; at worst, the product tells us we have a problem, but that "problem" is irrelevant.

The "new product" needs to be self-supporting in that it is an independent entity. If you find yourself spending alot of time "trying to get explanations" for something that should be stand-alone, it means you've got a product that helps the developer not the customer. You need solutions, not explanations and excuses.

Other things I look for are whether the rules they apply to others are ones they apply to themselves. For example, they may lament to others that customers are a problem; strange, but not surprising, when the "helper" also engage in the same practice.

Other things that happen is when the "helper" midway through the interaction suddenly changes rules on you. Like how to find them. What's appropriate. What they want to help with. At worst, they start to discipline you for not doing what they didn't tell you.

Another problem that sometimes occurs is when the "helper" switches the requirements from their development project and throws them back at the customer. This is basically the same as admitting, "I know my product doesn't do the job, but you [the customer] are wrong for pointing out the weaknesses of what I promised...so you need to watch your attitude." I've noticed that when developers make things that aren't really worth my time.

Things I do like:

When the help is clear at the beginning what they are doing, the terms of the interaction, and how to contact them. And they actually deliver and do what they say. The bad ones self-promote to no end, then lament when "so many people" are trying to contact them.

Another thing I like is when a "helper" is actually someone who helps with new ideas. It's all well and good to talk about "improving things," but if they turn into a wet blanket, don't waste your time.

Chances are you're going to but heads with someone who isn't able to be creative; the reason you're having problems with the system is that you have an idea or problem that isn't getting solved. The smart ones are going to figure out that your questions are about "finding a solution," and not taken personally.

If you get surprise outbursts, accusations, or told you "just don't understand," that's the sign of an abusive helper-customer relationship. If you've been the victim of "online helper-abuse" feel free to share your thoughts and reactions here. What kind of assistance do you like?
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