“The only stupid question is the one not asked.”
A huge problem with internet I’ve talked about before is that if people perceive you as an expert you are an expert. On one side of the coin this means that you can quite easily become an expert in just about any field out there. All it takes is knowing a bit more about something than others. It gets even more fun in real life. On the other side we have the danger of being perceived as an expert without being one. I’ll get back to that a bit further down.
Just this afternoon I walked into one of the terminal rooms of my faculty (the rooms where they keep the computers), a fellow student was sitting there looking very hard at some statistics. With a quick comment on how he was looking at his screen sparked a chat that lasted well over an hour. Now I can bluff my way out of most statistics things and I nodded from time to time. Although I do understand what they were about, I can’t recreate them.
The subject changed to things like SSH. And that is where I had a realisation. I actually have no idea at all what it’s for. Yes, it’s a secure shell. But what is secure, and what is shell. At that very moment I could do two things:
- Bluff my way out of it and hope nobody would notice. After all, I’m an IT student, a perceived computer expert.
- Confess that I had no idea what he was talking about.
I started firing questions, quite simply because I no longer really care about what others think. I had questions and I wanted answers. The guy I was talking to seemed to know what he was talking about so that was a good place to start. He might not be an expert, but to me he was because he knew a bit more than I did. I got an answer to just about every question. Answers I could build upon. He spent more than an hour of his time explaining things.
Two students in a computer related education, one computer science and one information science. They both should know those basic things right? You shouldn’t be studying in this field if you have no clue how to do the simplest of things with a computer.
And right there is where the problems begin. People don’t ask questions in shame of now knowing.
Don’t be stupid
Had I not asked what SSH was I still wouldn’t know right now. There are a lot of things in “geek culture” for instance that everybody knows. Or at least it looks like they do. A random “42″ somewhere is sure to cause a few laughs. There are tons more of those acronyms and terms. BSOD, /dev/null, IRC, coffee++, Dvorak, the list is endless.
Now I know that there are several students who have no idea what these things mean. I used to be one of those actually. There are several ways to tackle such problems, gabs in your knowledge. You could look things up, and I recommend wikipedia for that. The quality of knowledge there is actually quite good. But the simpler approach – much faster too – is to ask what someone means. Becoming a google jockey also helps.
“Ask someone about something I should know?! Are you insane!” Yes my sanity can be questionable but that’s beside the point. Take my talk this afternoon for instance. The guy I was talking to knows more than me obviously. But because I’m a student in the IT sector, look the part and am a geek it’s an immediate assumption that I know the things I ended up asking.
There you have the other side of the coin I talked about at the beginning of this blogpost. Just by looking like an expert people project their ideas on what an expert should know onto you. It’s hard to break through that at times. The first few times I asked questions people would look rather strange as if I was joking. But now comes the great thing about my faculty: if you ask questions, no matter how basic people do not laugh.Now I know that’s not the same for every crowd you’re going to be in. But does laughter about a question say something about the one asking the question, or the ones laughing.
It’s not shameful not to know something. It’s the perfect beginning to learn. If you do not confess that you do not know, how will you ever learn? There is no shame in not knowing, there is only shame in not admitting to it and staying stupid. You are not a failure if you do not know. Got that?
If you do not know you are NOT a failure (you’re a failure if you don’t ask..!)