If You Have to Ask the Question

  • Sometimes, when asking technical questions, the questions that we ask provide more information than we realize. In a previous article, Asking Better Questions, one of the key things that I mentioned is the need to "pull back one level." By the time that we have a technical question there is a very good chance that we have already gone too far, past the point where we have sufficient knowledge to support ourselves, and may have already made a bad decision.

    Sometimes this is even more dramatic. That the question we are asking means that we should not be doing the thing we are attempting at all. A great example of this is when someone asks a really basic question about a very dangerous, and complicated topic (dangerous being the key warning indicator.)

    Imagine you are about to jump out of an airplane and you say to the person next to you "so do I count to ten and pull a cord or something like that?" or worse "should I have some special backpack or something." DANGER WILL ROBINSON. You've gone too far. You should never, ever have gotten into an airplane with the intention to jump out of it without understanding parachutes, jump procedures, harness techniques, landing techniques, the terrain you are over and all kinds of specifics about the parachute that you are using that particular day. That you are asking the question is answer a bigger question - Should you be jumping out of an airplane? No.

    In IT we see this same scenario. A question that, in its asking, exposes that the asker has gone too deep, is already on the airplane and didn't learn about skydiving first. The situation is dangerous and that they are not aware is the real problem.

    Some places where we see this most often are with storage, an area where it seems most common to make decisions before learning about the technology and the questions asked are ones that would have needed to have been answered long before getting to the current point. But it can happen in any technical arena, storage just gets a high profile here because the dangers are so much more dramatic as they often lead to both data loss and loss of availability at the same time and often across many systems.

    Don't take offense when people have this reaction. Stop and ask yourself if it is true. Do you really understand the technology that you are involved with, are you confident that you are familiar with its use and caveats and that you really are just missing some really basic understanding that is not crucial to have had before getting as far as you have? Or are you perhaps operating somewhat blindly and may not understand how you got to where you are and are working in the dark - taking on risks and not being able to understand or explain them clearly.

    There is no shame in admitting what you don't know. But there is in putting a business at risk because you were hoping that no one would notice what you didn't know. None of us understands every aspect of what we do, we all have tons of questions and need help from lots of people. Get that help as early as possible, don't wait until you are about to jump and then decide that maybe you should where the ripcord is.


    (Reprinted from a Dec. 2013 post that I did, but good content that we shouldn't lose.)

  • Good thinking.

    But I'd say not knowing what you don't know is why you find yourself in those situations in the first place.

  • I actually haven't read that one yet. I think that's a great way of approaching problems in more than just IT, the whole "Things you don't know you don't know" scenario.

    +1 for you!

  • @Dashrender said:

    Good thinking.

    But I'd say not knowing what you don't know is why you find yourself in those situations in the first place.

    That's why it is important to always back up a step when asking a question. By the time you are stuck you have gone too far.

  • I know I've seen this somewhere before........

    I love it when I point this out to someone asking homework questions and just demanding answers. They don't care enough to learn or to understand. They just want answer.

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