Asking for help without stating the problem you need to solve is like asking for directions without stating your destination.

I’ve read similar complaints from Raymond Chen’s blog a long time ago, so I gather this is not an isolated problem. It seems to be a common problem where people (who are not stupid) ask for help, but because they are thinking so deeply about what they have already done (even if it is completely wrong), they tell you what they have done and not what they are trying to do.

Yesterday an operations support member of staff where I work asked me for help. Here’s how he did it:

  1. He told me which login to use on a remote server.
  2. He then showed me three SQL queries he had tried running, with the results of a fourth unknown query displayed in the grid.

That’s it. He didn’t tell me what the problem was, or why he had tried those particular queries, or how he got to the IDs in the WHERE clause of those queries. I had to ask him what the problem was and what he was looking for. Five times. (Yes, I counted.) And he still didn’t tell me. In the end, I gave him something which may or may not have helped him because he didn’t tell me that either.

Just don’t do that, OK? Surely I don’t need to explain why.

It’s like this… Say you wanted to go to some random place… Sandton City. From here. (Assuming here is someplace in Johannesburg, South Africa.) And you go up to someone to ask for directions and tell them, “Well, I walked out of the office, then went down the lift to the ground floor. Then I walked outside, looked left and looked right, and walked across the road.” And from that, you expect them to know where you want to go and how to get there.

Just don’t.

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