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
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
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.
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
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.