|Image by Andrew*|
But that wasn't always true. You were once a newbie, standing wide-eyed at the base of a long, steep learning curve and wondering whether it would really be worth the enormous effort it would take to climb it. On the way, it wasn't always clear you'd ever get to where you wanted, but you kept at it and succeeded. Good for you! Now it's time to give others a hand up.
The Linux community is famously helpful, of that there is no doubt. Post any reasonable question on any good-sized forum and you'll have an answer in an amazingly short time. But what happens if you post a poorly-expressed, vague question? That's when the bullies strike, descending on you like angry raccoons, nipping at you with curses like RTFM.
What if you're a newbie? Where do you look for the FM you are meant to have read? And how are you going to frame a well-expressed question when you are still learning the most elementary parts of the Linux vocabulary? In that angry moment a potential Linux user can be turned away permanently, and Microsoft will get to retain another victim.
I spent a good bit of my life as a professor, teaching students at all levels from freshmen to PhD candidates. I saw how easy it was for a student to be turned away from a subject by intellectual bullying, most often by a new Teaching Assistant so proud of his new-found knowledge that he had to flaunt it to impress the student. I hate to see that happening on Linux forums.
I grant you, it takes a good deal of patience to help out someone who is really, really new and ill-prepared, with little experience at computing beyond the passive obedience that is required to use Windows successfully. I was that someone myself, three years ago, intrigued by everything I had read about Linux and eager to take on the task of learning, but still mired in the Learned Helplessness that prolonged use of Windows creates.
Fortunately for me, between the many patient folks who answered my vague questions and the great Linux books by people like Carla Schroder, Keir Thomas, Brian Proffitt, and Mark Sobell, my climb up the learning curve began joyfully and still goes on. I'm nowhere near the top, but I'm far enough along to give a helping hand to those just starting up the slope.
I encourage you to do the same. Be kind when you answer, be patient when a newbie can't seem to understand, take the time to remember what you felt like when someone expressed an answer so clearly your understanding burst forth like a Compiz exploding window. There's only one feeling better than that: knowing you caused it!
This is a guest post by Emery Fletcher.