as most of my readers will know, i spend a considerable amount of time trying to help other developers with technical issues in various on-line forums. i don’t do this because i am seeking some sort of kudos, or recognition, but because when i was starting out as developer back in the late 1980s i received a lot of help from other people. most of them i had never heard of (but i have been very fortunate in that many of these ‘names’ i now count among my friends) but they were unfailingly helpful and always ready to offer advice, code and the benefit of their own experiences. now i try to repay them by helping others who are just starting out, or who have hit a block of some sort.

however, i have noticed a rather, disturbing (at least to me), trend recently. it seems that more and more developers are using the on-line forums as the first place they go for solutions rather than, as has always been the case, the last resort – when you have exhausted all other resources. here is a question i saw posted today (yes, this is real, and un-edited):

i would like to know what is wrong with the following statements:
dimension cust[2]
cust[1] = "aaa"
cust[2] = "bbb"
create cursor customers from array cust
i get the error "no fields found to process".

i simply cannot imagine why anyone would post a question like this because the answer is immediately obvious from the help file topic for create cursor where is states explicitly that:

wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that a developer, on getting an error like "no fields found to process" would jump into the help file to check that the code is correct? if so, even a cursory check for syntax would have revealed that the array was just plain wrong! a moment’s thought, and a quick search for “from array” would have revealed a number of options including "append from array" which obviously will do exactly what was wanted, but also "replace from array" and "copy to array” which might have repaid a little further investigation and would have solved the problem in about 30 seconds.

instead, the person posted a question, received an answer in 15 minutes, re-posted the “correct” question which was “how can i append data from an array to a cursor” and (presumably) waited another quarter hour for an answer to that one!

or how about this one:

how to use reportlistener with top-level form and what enginerbehaviour and reportbehaviour shuould set. please help

what sort of question is that? this is on a par with “how do i write an application in vfp?” or “how long is a piece of string?

maybe it’s me, but i get the feeling that people are getting lazy and expect, nay, even demand, that others spoon-feed them answers to questions that really the questioner could have answered themselves with minimal effort and research. i actually replied to the person who asked the reportlistener question as follows:

pardon me for jumping in here, but i think you are being very unreasonable. the first thing you need to do is to make some effort to do your own research, you can't expect others to do it all for you!

do you have the vfp help file? if so, try looking in the help file under: "reportlistener base foundation class". there is an example at the bottom of the page!

on the other hand, maybe just don't like the vfp help files. so how about going to the vfp website and looking at the "technical article" section? maybe you could download cathy poutney's articles (which includes a load of examples):

what's new in the visual foxpro 9.0 report writer and visual foxpro 9.0 report writer in action

there is also doug hennig's article on "hyperlink your reports" and there are other useful links there too.

on the other hand, maybe you don't like the microsoft web site either. so how about going to www.google.com and entering "vfp report listener examples" - would you like me to list all 12,200 hits on that one for you (or can you manage to look at those by yourself)?

if you don't like that either, what about this forum's archives? there must be dozens of threads here discussing reportlisteners and absolutely chock full of good advice.

look, if you have a specific question, we are only too glad to help, but asking others to do your research work for you is unfair and unreasonable. go and do some research and when you find something you can't understand, or can't cope with, come and ask by all means. but what you are doing now is just abusing the goodwill of the members of this forum.

 

and the last paragraph says it all – it seems to me that this is a growing trend among some developers who seem to believe that there is no point in doing any research, or investigation, because you can just post the question on-line and someone else will do it for you.

now, i know that i don’t have to answer these sorts of questions, but the thing is that i really believe that the only way to become a better developer is to really understand what is going on and how your development tool works. but i don’t think you can get that sort of understanding without putting some effort of your own into acquiring it.

so the point of this article is two-fold.

[1] am i being over-sensitive about this? or are people really just getting lazier because it’s so easy to get answers on-line?

[2] how can we (and maybe even should we?) encourage people, especially neophytes, to appreciate the value of doing their own research before posting questions on line?

 

16 Responses to Are on-line technical forums breeding lazy developers?

  • fdbozzo says:

    Hi Andy:

    You are correct, this is a trend. I see this class of questions too, and it is very dissapointing because I feel that the exciting of the research and try/error is lost.

    Too many people is wanting that others resolves there problems, without a minimal effort trying to resolve the problem. This people is the same that never help others.

    Regards,

    Fernando D. Bozzo
    Madrid/Spain

    Thnank you, Fernando for that confirmation that I am not imagining this. Though I am not sure that I would go as far as to suggest that people who ask for help refuse to give it. One of the great things about the FoxPro Community is its almost Universal willingness to share and give back.

  • sweatyb says:

    I agree with you, Andy.  There are way too many questions on foxite that could be answered with a quick look at the VFP help files.

    Though, I don’t think forums are making developers lazier.  They’re just allowing lazy/inexperienced developers a method of gathering information that doesn’t require them to do real analysis of their problem.

    In order to look in the help files, read MSDN, or even google, they need to have some clue of what the issue they’re trying to solve is.  By posting to foxite they offload the processing of their problem to the experts.

    I agree that this is a waste of resources for the people who read and answer questions on foxite.  However, I do believe that with the great majority of these questions, that as these developers become more comfortable with VFP and with the encouragement and patience of the VFP community, they learn how to answer their own questions.  In short, it’s a problem that solves itself.

    Of course, there will always be people just picking up VFP for the first time.  So the forum will never be free of these types of questions.  It’s the developer’s circle of life.

    I have no problem with the inexperienced! I was one of those once, myself and I valued the help and adfvice I received back then enormously. My problem is with those (and the number seems to be increasing) who just cna’t be bothered to do even the minimum of work and just expect others to do it for them.

  • KenMurphy says:

    I don’t know if developers are getting lazy, but you are <b>absolutely correct</b> that developers NEED to know the tool they are working with.

    Eric has an FAQ on how to post a question here: http://www.foxite.com/faq/default.aspx?id=17. I believe that his first line starts with “Search the VFP Help file …”

    I do realize that at times the help file can be a bit daunting, especially for the new developer, but do look at it.  When you post your question, you will at least have a frame of reference with which to understand the answer.

    There – my $0.02
    Ken

    Appreciate it, Ken. Thanks for the link

  • botanicus says:

    [1] Am I being over-sensitive about this? Or are people really just getting lazier because it’s so easy to get answers on-line?

    Andy. I am a new to online forums (foxite, foxwiki, foxforum), although I have been programming for a while, and I agree whole heartedly. I was surprised how many people asked questions which can be solved by looking at the help file that shipped with VFP. Personally I only ask a question after I have exhausted every other avenue and as a courtesy will always post the solution (for others benefit and as a token of appreciation).

    [2] How can we (and maybe even SHOULD we?) encourage people, especially neophytes, to appreciate the value of doing their own research before posting questions on line?

    Solution 1 — People asking easy and straight forward questions should be politely told “Please refer to VFP Help File for this answer. If after conducting some preliminary research of your own you are unable to solve your problem, please return to this site for additional help.”

    Solution 2 — Refuse to answer enquiries unless adequate evidence is presented that a variety of sources have been checked and tried.

    Solution 3 — Provide a series of standard responses in the reply box that can be ticked by a member that would automatically insert text similar to that proposed in Solution 1. This minimizes the time required to ‘telling’ someone to where to go (so to speak).

    Obviously the foxpro community wants to encorouge neophytes but answering obvious questions is a waste of time. From the few questions I have answered on various forums and the solutions I have posted I realise how long a response can take. I can’t fathom how long some people must spend answering questions. If experts are willing to share their experience and knowledge lets not waste their time with frivolous enquiries.

     

  • josborn says:

    I’m with you Andy.

    I must admit that my forum attendance is severely down from a year or two ago as I am sick of seeing examples whereby the “developer” hasn’t even looked in the VFP help.

    I have had to write a VB.NET app and it took me about 6 hours of solid reading / experimenting to get comfortable with working in a new language.

    It really doesn’t take much effort to do it yourself and it constantly improves your own learning skills.

    If developers aren’t even researching language syntax, what chance is there of them reading up on design methodologies etc?

    I’d hate to be the clients of some of these developers. I think that “slap-dash” would be an accurate description of some apps being produced out there.

  • Boudewijn says:

    I agree and disagree 🙂
    Too many times I have seen the same question come up on foxite to a point where I think, “Read The Fine manual” (replace Fine with any other suitable word) or search the archives, google etc… So in that respect I agree.

    Following my thought as given in thread 122325 of foxite I now see more of a challenge to encourage new developers to investigate time and effort in themselves to get the ever wanted AHA experience. So this is a challenge to the “experts” (even though I would NEVER think of myself in that way). Rethink the answers in a way that will not give straighforward code, but a challenge to the newbee to grow beyond his/her current boundaries. Hmmmm, would answering questions in a “standardized” way, make experts lazy also then  ;-P ?

    I am not suggesting, anywhere that I was aware of, that people should be ‘put-down’ or discouraged in any way from asking questions. What I AM saying is that I believe (and judging by the comments here I am not alone) that the ready, and free availability of help is actually “dumbing down” some developers who, instead of making even the smallest attempt to help themselves, post a question and then sit and wait for someone else to solve their issue for them. That tendancy is what I am worrying about here.

    Your suggestion about re-thinking the answer mayu be a valid one, but I can also show you plenty of threads where that is done (actually the second one I quoted in my blog was one of those) Only to be replied to by the questioner with “Give me Code” or “Show me an Example”. So that is clearly not the answer –AK

  • Boudewijn says:

    OK, going into your 2nd question: “How can we (and maybe even SHOULD we?) encourage people, especially neophytes, to appreciate the value of doing their own research before posting questions on line?”

    First hand stories on HOW the replier found out things her/himself is of more value then teling WHAT he/she found out.

    I fully agree that ppl never should be put down, I hope I did not suggest that in my reply to your well written blog. On the contrary, they should be encouraged to do their own investigation to become an expert themselves.

    This most certainly demands for more investigation myself as I am now intrigued by this. How to wake up the self-motivation of people through the written word. Kind of coaching virtue. I will see what I can come up with.

    I wish you the very best of luck. I fear we may be entering the realms of “leading a horse to water” here though — AK

  • Boudewijn says:

    Oh yeah, and it is also a task to make the water look so tasty that the horse will start drinking (LOL)

  • Eric says:

    Andy,

    Good topic, as always. I’d like to expand this topic a little if you don’t mind…

    I’m sure you receive technical questions by e-mail just like me. Sometimes I just don’t understand people. Even a long time member (4 years!!!) recently contacted me by e-mail:

    “Hi Eric, I have this problem and searched the Archives but couldn’t find an answer… So please help me with the following…”  (snipped rest of e-mail)

    These kind of emails make me feel really pissed. I mean, I spend, what… 3 hours per day answering questions, adding new features to the site, backing up data, etc. Was this guy kidding? Why didn’t he just posted this Q to the forum? I didn’t bother answering his email and his Q never showed up on the forum.

    Here’s another FAQ to add to Ken’s comment:
    http://www.foxite.com/faq/default.aspx?id=16

    Oh I love it! The only thing missing is the line: “Lack of planning and incompetence on your part does not make this an emergency for me!” –AK

    How do you handle these kinds of requests?

    Hi Eric, Yes Marcia and I get a lot of those and we have a standard reply that we send back to them all. Here it is – in full – feel free to borrow any, or all of it is you see fit.

    I am very flattered that you feel that I might know the answer to your question but I am afraid that I cannot help you for several reasons. First, it is considered very impolite to send someone E-Mail asking for free advice unless that person has indicated their willingness to help. This is almost as bad as telephoning them!
     
    Second I dedicate a significant amount of time to on-line support on the Foxite (http://www.foxite.com/),  Compuserve (http://forums.prospero.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?webtag=ws-msdevapps) and Virtual FoxPro User Group (http://vfug.org) forums. 

    All of these are completely free and if you post your questions there not only would you get my opinion (assuming I knew the answer), but you would also get the benefit of different answers from other people.

     
    Third, and even more importantly, by posting a question on these forums, other people can share in, and learn from, the exchange of knowledge and ideas that your question generates.  If I were reply to your E-Mail, the only beneficiary would be you and that would be a very inefficient use of my time.
     
    Finally, all of these forums maintain archives of questions and yours have may already have been asked many times before and there may well be a complete solution already available.
     
    For these reasons I never answer unsolicited requests for free help directly. Please post your question on one of the above named forums and you will get a lot of help very quickly I can assure you.

     
    However, if you are not simply seeking free support, and wish to retain my services professionally, Tightline Computers Inc offer ad-hoc support at a rate of US$150.00 per hour. Since you have no credit history with them, they would require a minimum initial payment for two hours of support time before accepting a commission from you. Alternatively please feel free to send a detailed specification of your requirments and they will be happy to quote for the work.
     
    Regards
    Andy Kramek

    Oddly enough we have NEVER had one of the questioners actually engage us for work, and only once have I had a rude response from the importunate so-and-so (and that, I regret to say, was also a long-standing Foxite Member).

    On the plus side, several people HAVE replied thanking me for the links and have gone on to post their questions on Foxite – a few have become quite regular members too, so the effort was not in vain. –AK

  • Cesar Chalom says:

    I totally agree… Those questions in private are the worst thing of the world.
    In my case, I really don’t mind to receive some suggestions, feedback, bug reports and some personal thoughts in private.

    But there’s another strange thing that happens sometimes… For 3 or 4 times I submitted some questions in the brazilian forum, and received some very good answers, but in private! IMHO it seems that some people got tired of helping others.

    Some other people from times to times appear fighting agains MS because they don’t create VFP in Portuguese language, because there are few articles in portuguese. Then 2 guys started 2 blogs in portuguese, totally dedicated to VFP, adding some really good material. As they got no feedback, they were almost abandoned.

    When I see some very obvious questions, I’m used to answer this way:

    1 – Go to http://www.foxbrasil.com.br
    2 – Click on “Search”
    3 – Type the keywords for your question
    4 – Read the suggested answers
    5 – If you don’t find the answer, come back and tell us what you’ve tried and the results you obtained that we’ll try to help you again
    6 – If you found your solution outside this forum, please tell us how you solved your problem.

    Good solution! Though I have never encountered the scenario where someone has replied in Private. That’s interesting. Thanks — AK

  • andykr says:

    I received this comment, via E-Mail from someone so I will post it here “as is” –AK

    Sir,
    you are correct in your analysis that online tecnical fourms breed Lazy develpers.

    I myself often feel that i am becoming lazy. When ever i get stuck at something, the first thing that comes to my mind is ‘Let me ask some one on the foxite’

    Earlier when I did not have the internet and I worked with FPD26, I had no one to ask or consult. Hard work was my only friend.

    But VFP being a totally different package, without help from experts like yourself, i would have been forced to change my programming language and I would have switched to VB etc.

    The Experts often themselves say ‘NO question is a Stupid Question’.

    So I reuest you not to withdraw your  support to the newbies who desparately need your patronage and guidance, even if you might begin to feel that this is “spoon feeding”.  

    It is selfless people like you who have kept the fox alive. Dont let it go ‘extinct’.

    Thanks for your continued support!

  • stuartd says:

    Three points:

    –AK  And I will answer them as you pose them.

    1) Searching archives and Google are skills which need to be acquired and developed before they can be used effectively, just like any other, including programming. A novice programmer might not yet understand the huge return of investment in research skills.

    –AK: But by the same token how does simply posting a question without even bothering to try and solve the problem themselvers improve those skills? It doesn’t! THAT is precisely my point here.

    2) For a busy novice it is a more effective use of their time to spend a few minutes posting a question than to spend an hour looking for the answer themselves, when they may have to post the question afterwards anyway.

    –AK: That makes no sense. How is it more efficient to compose a question , post it and sit around doing nothing while waiting for a reply when a few seconds research might avoid the whole issue.

    3) People who have limited skills in English can create a simple question using a dictionary, and with luck will be able to translate the answer, assuming it comes without a lecture. Have you tried Google searching in a language you don’t understand?

    — AK: No, but that it is not my point here. Presumably a programmer working in any language has access to help files in their own language, or if trying to work in another language must already be sufficiently proficient in that language to begin with.

    I am NOT talking about Google, I am talking about doing the most basic research (like checking syntax, or parameters, or required options) BEFORE posting questions in on-line fora.

    And finally, if you don’t like it, you can at least be polite. It’s easy to forget that behind these “stupid” questions are real people with feelings.

    –AK: Please don’t twist my words! I never said the questions, or the people, were stupid, I posed two questions  – [1] Are people getting lazier bwecause of the ease of acces, and [2] How can we encourage people to do a little reseach of their own.

    I don’t see where you read my calling people stupid into that and I resent your attempting to make out that I said anything that could be interpreted that way. I am not smart enough to make those kind of judgements, and leave them to those who are much cleverer than myself – like you!

  • andykr says:

    The following was sent to me by Brian Vander Plaats and I am posting it ‘as sent’: –AK

    I would have posted this to your blog, but for some reason my foxite account is not working properly…  

    Anyway, I think you have a good point about forums.   I found this today on “experts” exchange:

    http://www.experts-exchange.com/Microsoft/Applications/FoxPro/Q_22406375.html

    The person was “asking for help”, but what he was really doing was saying “write a program for me!”  

    AND THEN SOMEONE ACTUALLY DID IT!  

    Unless I am missing something, Experts-exchange (or any forum for that matter) is not in the business of contract work, and does not pay the responders for a solution (unless you consider arbitrary points as payment).  What are these people thinking?

    –AK: You are correct. None of these forums pay anyone anything for their contributions (though some do make “premium” services free to frequent contributors). They are totally reliant on the goodwill and willingness of people to devote time and effort to helping others – either because they want to (or maybe jhust because they like to show-off their own knowledge – though I suspect that would soon fail as a motivation for devoting several hours a day to answering questions).

    I think a real problem here is that sooner or later people like yourself are going to get tired of trying to answer or having to filter through these types of questions.  And that would be a shame, because sometimes you really do need someone else to figure something out.  

    –AK: Don’t worry, I don’t see people going away, although if you read Cesar’s comment above you will see that he has seen some evidence of this happening in the Brazilian groups.

  • Cesar Chalom says:

    Well Andy,

    Getting back to your original question, “Are on-line technical forums breeding lazy developers?”, I think that absolutely NO.

    There will always be cases of people really lazy, that are not interested in dominating the tool, they just want some practical results. Of course, these people won’t be able to create some really good solutions.
    –AK Totally agree with you there, Cesar

    Sometimes, a newbie appears asking some obvious questions. That’s because he is a beginner, and is not used to search in the right places. Some time is needed for beginners to get familiarized with all the tools, sites, blogs, books, videos, wikis and forums we have available.

    These technical Forms are real precious jewells. This passionate, helpful and participative community is the real supporter of VFP.
    –AK Agai, I totally agree with you there, Cesar

    Four years ago, when I decided to create my own program for the company I work, I had never used VFP before. Twelve years before, in University, I worked with DBase III plus, and created a simple screen using two indexed tables. When I was 13, I PLAYED a lot with BASIC and Assembler, so I knew something about logic.

    So, I sent the same question to 3 brazilian forums – something like: “I have a table of clients, how can I create a report from it ? Do I need a specific tool or does this language bring this feature ? Can anyone send me a sample ?” I sent that question to DELPHI, VB and VFP forums.

    Well, I received just one question, and of course you know that it was from FOXBRASIL, comming from FABIO VIEIRA, the brazilian co-author of FRX2WORD (together with John Koziol).

    It was a very polite answer, pointing some places to look at and some brief but clear explanations. That’s how I started…

    After that, I started searching, and found those great books from HW, bought my first book, then the 2nd, 3rd. My favourites are “Kilofox” and “Megafox”. And as you said, received TONS of help from all these great people.

    In the last Brazilian Conference, in November 2006, one of the speakers, Itamar Carrijo, said to all the audience, in a very emotive way that after he joined the VFP community, specially, FOXBRASIL, he became a better person, and learned lots of things, and today he is a better human being than he was before joining Foxbrasil. That’s because of those great people, that help just for helping, without expecting anything back.

    Thanks very much for all your help, that you and Marcia have been providing for all these years !

    Long life to Foxite, Foxbrasil, UniversalThread, TightLine, PortalFox, Fox.Wikis, TekTips, ExpertExchange, and all those regional groups that support VFP !

    — Very well said. Thank you

  • pthalacker says:

    I think we should do what Mike Lewis did and point the appropriate questions to this blog entry.
    http://weblogs.foxite.com/andykramek/

    pamela

    Marcia and I had a good chuckle at that reply too — AK

  • Great post, Andy. I think there is one other thing that people should do before posting many questions. Try writing some code. I’ve lost count the number of posts I’ve seen where if the poster would just try a couple of lines in the Command Window, they would have the answer.

    Thanks Craig. You are of course, correct – in fact the bottom line is really this: At least TRY, something, anything, for yourself before asking the online community for solutions. It is not only better in the long run, it is more satisfying when you DO solve it yourself.  — Andy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *