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I've been very busy lately, but I had to post this. I recently was reading the perl5-porters list digest (see a copy at http://www.perl.com/pub/2001/04/p5pdigest/THISWEEK-20010415.html") and came upon this section:

Casey West came up with the great idea of having a mailing list for Perl beginners. It's worth quoting extensively from his post:

I have been throwing around the idea of a central place where Perl newcomers can come and ask FAQ questions and the like. My dream is to funnel all the RTFM traffic from p5p, c.l.p.* and other such places. I would like to see a place where the newbies are accepted as people who just don't know yet. ...

There are a few crucial things that must take place in order to make this list as effective as possible:

  • Moderation. Flames must be removed at all times. It should be easy to be the newbie.
  • Direction. Archives are a valuable resource. We don't do homework.
  • Publicity. List and News Group FAQ's can and should list perl-newbies as the primary source for simple, 'new commer' questions. Questions of this nature should be immediatly redirected to perl-newbies.
  • Teachers. They can and will ask, we must answer.

So far, so good. I was thinking to myself: Wow! This sounds like the perfect description of PerlMonks. So imagine my horror at the next paragraph:

At first I thought PerlMonks was this thing, however, PerlMonks is not an environment where newbies are allowed to ask simple questions answered in the documentation.

Ouch! Is that really the reputation we are getting from some people? I can sort of see their point - some newbies *are* treated roughly around here - whether with a "do your own stinkin' homework" or a terse RTFM-like response. Certainly on the balance, however, I feel that we *do* help newbies.

However...

Rather than turn this into a raging debate, let's tip our hats to Casey for thinking about creating yet another resource for Perl, and accept the paragraph as some constructive criticism.

I will put forth the theory almost everyone here *means* well, but perhaps some of us have forgotten what it is like to truly be a "newbie" to the world of Perl, or even to programming/computers in general. The obvious isn't. They may not know what a manpage is. They may not even know about the existence of the Camel book. They may have just had Perl thrust upon them suddenly and someone has pointed out our site as a good place for help. Let's not disappoint these people. Here are some suggestions I humbly offer:

  • Give every poster the benefit of the doubt. If the question sounds really dumb and simple, assume that the poster is sincere and has already done some research, or does not know where to find the answer. What may appear obvious to "us", may not be to most people.
  • Give a person credit for getting as far as they did - finding the site, (sometimes) creating an account, and formulating a question: this can be a big deal for someone who has never done so before. Keep in mind that a large portion of the population could probably not even get that far. Cut them some slack.
  • Sometimes it seems as if the same handful of people answer all the questions that are posted. If you post a lot, consider cutting back a little, especially if it is an easy question. This gives other people a chance to answer it, who might not have spoken up otherwise. You can always answer the harder questions. :)
  • Answer questions in a nice tone. Be friendly. Don't scare people off from the language. If you feel the need to write a terse, sarcastic, RTFM-like response, count to 10, recompile perl, then come back. As the letter above demonstrates, we are not only a source of technical answers, but also a source of perl advocacy, and a reflection upon the perl community. Treat everyone with respect, as if it was your 88 year old grandmother, who just picked up "Perl for Dummies in 24 Hours" and needs your help. It is always better to err on the side of being too nice.

In reply to PerlMonks as Ambassadors by turnstep

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