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IT Help Desk => Open Source Forum => Topic started by: md on April 03, 2010, 12:02:06 AM

Title: How to get help from an Open Source developer
Post by: md on April 03, 2010, 12:02:06 AM
How to get help from an Open Source developer

Eric Raymond and others worked hard to produce and excellent guide on how to ask smart questions. I often give talks about QGIS or open source development in general and I usually end it with a slide or two about how to get help, in which I cover some of the same topics listed in the aforementioned article.

Unsurprisingly, I have been ‘victem’ to many of the scenarios they paint. I use ‘victem’ in a gentle sense as it’s often a source of amusement or triggering mild disinterest rather then getting my hackles up. Asking questions and asking for help is an art that many people just havent grasped. As an open source developer, our most important currency is time. Any question that wastes time is likely to have unsatisfactory outcome. Here then is my bullet list to problem resolution that will hopefully help you get a good result in trying to solve your problems.

    * Try every solution you can think of first
    * Google (and learn to use google advanced search) for a solution
    * Decide on the nature of your question – is it a general user question (how do I do xyz?) or a technical question (feature xyz should do this but does something else, how come?).
    * Post your question to an appropriate list based on the step above. Use your head and pick a list where the people most likely to be able to answer you are most active and responsive
    * Provide just enough detail to make the issue clear
    * Ask only one question at a time / in a thread
    * Dont hijack an existing thread for a new question
    * If someone offers you a suggestion, respond with the outcome of their suggestion when you tried it.
    * If you get the problem resolved, always write back to the list summarising what it was and how it was resolved
    * Always thank the person who helped you – it will make them more inclined to help you in the future
    * Sometimes people don’t know the answer to your question. If you get no answer do some more independent research, reformulate your question and try to repost it.
    * Dont take the fact that someone has tried to help you as an invitation to start an offlist conversation with them. Keeping your discourse on the list makes it searchable and the developer won’t have to answer the same thing another time for someone else.

Sometimes you just won’t get an answer to your question. Thats life, don’t take it personally – you could be asking when others are busy, occupied elsewhere having an actual real life etc. If it happens take another crack at it yourself , try and identify someone who can help you commercially, or start thinking out of the box to get it solved.