bits and pieces

The begining isn't easy, and a lot of places don't even try.

Oh man, I've got the feels today.

There was a conversation about IRC and how folks wished that the "Normals" at work would use IRC instead of ${enterprise_chat_software}.

There was some bafflement that coworkers could find IRC "intimidating / scary ... but use ${enterprise_chat_software} all day every day."

There were confessions that they had used IRC since before they were teens.

To be fair, they acknowledged that their backgrounds are what enabled them to think IRC is superior, because it lets you run the "nerdy" things they had cultivated.

I wish I had been paying attention when this happened because I would have been all up in that.

But I wasn't.

So I ignored it.

Later, with all of this percolating in my mind, I decided to give Irssi another go. An awesome coworker had walked me through my battles with Homebrew yesterday and left me with enough knowledge to go home and fix stuff.

So, armed with the Homebrew help and knowing the tilde folks would help me through the tough parts, I decided I would go into Irssi and get it set up so it was pretty decent so that I could write about it.

THAT is why "Normals" don't use IRC.

I didn't even go into the #tildetown channel to ask for help because where would I even start?

I've been on these pages too many times.

Today, I just couldn't.

So I wrote this.

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I was once invited into a "learner space," I'll call it, which was supposed to be where folks could come and get mentorship while learning how to program. It was mostly "Here's a bunch of resources- go teach yourself and we'll be here if you have any questions!".


So I go and start to read up on stuff. And one of the first tutorials mentions that I'm going to want to choose a text editor and why that can't be Google Docs or Word. So I start to read up and realize that there is no way to make a good decision when presented with the entire internet.

I ask one of the mentors which text editor I should try. He says he likes Emacs. Another one turns around and says that Oh No, I should use vim. They proceed to talk over my head about... well, I couldn't even tell you, but in the end it seemed to me like Vim was the more compelling one, given the interests and associations I have.

So there I was, day one, deciding that I was going to learn... I think I wanted to learn PHP at that time, but instead of figuring out how to do literally anything at all, I was furiously scrawling notes about how to navigate in Vim.

The *truly* ironic part, was I didn't even know how to get into vim.

I'm pretty tenacious, but I was about ready to say "F*ck it, I'm an idiot and I will never get this." I'm pretty sure I was five words into the previous sentence, when another mentor asked if she could help and I spouted some frustrated verbal table flipping before she interrupted me and was like "Vim? Oh no, f*ck that- you don't need that trouble right now. Let's get you Sublime Text"

She let me know I could just Google the name and download a version and then run it just ilke it was Word or Notepad or ${any_of_the_actual_apps_a_"Normal"_uses_daily}.

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I hear a lot of people at work say "Oh, I'm not technical." This fills me with rage. Not because they aren't nerds, but because they are made to feel stupid despite their infinite merits in anything besides command line or programming. We don't hire idiots. So why do some of us feel that way?

It's because the bottom 3 rungs of the ladder always seem to be missing.

I don't know how many begining HTML and PHP tutorials I read before one thought to mention how to actually post stuff to the web instead of reading locally in your browser (and how many forgot to mention even that part).

People, and I want to say especially OS geeks, forget what they know. They seem to have no recollection of what it was like to begin. So they start at the level that they know, which happens to be rung 4 or 40 on the hypothetical ladder of knowledge.

What happens when you start on rung number 4 is that a newcomer will read what you've written.

A solid majority of them will stop when they have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Many will try and Google for a different version of the getting started guide or search for individual terms they don't understand.

A lot of these folks will give up after searching for 2 or 20 minutes.

A lucky few will have a trusted human they can turn to and ask "WTF is this?"

There will be several who know where to turn for answers from strangers (like IRC)

There will be many of those that are socially conditioned to not ask too many questions, so they aren't annoying.

And there will be some flipping geniuses who just barrel through it somehow.

This means that the only people who have access to your toys are people exactly like you, or who know people like you.

Anybody who does not have many many hours to spare beating themselves up is barred from your club.

Not because you are a jerk.

But because nobody thought to add those first few rungs on the ladder.

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Building those rungs is a benevolent cycle.

When you bring in people who would have otherwise quit several hours ago, you are bringing in a new perspective.

These new perspectives are the "Normals" and the "Creatives" which is a terrible way of saying "The people who actually do all of the work you can't automate yet," and "The people who can imagine how your stuff could be better."

These are good people- people you want to have on your team. And if you help them up and encourage a community of fostering and mentorship, they can polish those getting started docs. They can learn to build a slick interface. They can mentor even more people with even broader skills.

Because you know what we call a small, exclusionary group of people stimulating each other's minds with a specific tool to see who comes up with the fastest, most awesome answer?

A circle jerk.

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Yeah, I just said that. And I know you, whoever gives enough of a damn to keep reading isn't a jerk at all. You're a swell person. A swell person who, for whatever talents or luck you posses, was able to make it to the fourth ring of the ladder, and from there, onwards.

That's awesome.

But there were things and people that helped you.

Did you buy your first computer?

Did you figure out all the tricks by trial and error?

Did you never need a person's help to get where you are?

If you answered 'Yes' to all of the above, go away, you are a liar.

Here's the thing: there are *so many people out there* who do not have access to the wonderful things you have access to.

There are plenty of people who would be *just as smart as you* and would know what you know if only they had the same lucky breaks as you.

And if you don't actively reach down and help them up those first three rungs, no matter how nice you really are, you are acting like a jerk.

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  1. Help a new person
    • Start by asking what they've tried first, to get an idea of where they are starting from- it's not helpful to tell someone to check etc if they only use GUI.
    • Keep a record of what you've had to answer- this helps those who are lucky enough to find what you've written, makes it easier for you to link to answers in the future, and tells you where you might want to put forth some effort improving the user experience.

  2. Keep empathy in mind
    • Remember the last time you were ready to flip a table over computers? You remember how you wished it would *just* *freaking* *work*!? It sucks. And new folks are feeling that. Practice empathy with things like:
      • "It's not just you, a lot of people go through this."
      • "We're trying to make it better. I'm sorry you had to go through it in its surrent state. Once we're through getting you past this hump, Let's make a ticket about it."
      • "Here's a link to a thing I wrote about setting this up. Do you have any ideas on where I could put this so it's more easily discoverable?"
      • "Here's a link to a thing I wrote about setting this up- How about you go through it and ping me when you get to a part that doesn't work or is unclear-- I'd love to make this as usable as possible."
      • "I remember how stressful that was- at the end I felt like"
    • Say nice things
      • "It's awesome watching how quickly you're picking this up!"
      • "Thanks for giving me explicit feedback- it's much easier to update my docs with your help!"
      • "/me high fives ${new_person}"
  3. Document all the things from the bottom to the top
    • Start with a link to documentation about how to install on a given operating system (they've figured out how to turn on their computer and browse the internet).
    • If feasible, fold this information, rather than linking it, so that readers can unfold and gather context, rather than jumping around and adding noise to an already stressful situation.
    • Gather constant feedback from new users and actually listen to where someone says they are getting confused- assume that they are not dumb, the background information is just not in the right place.
    • Add pro-tips! What's the word for when you want to use an & in HTML or quotes inside a Ruby string? Escaping. Google "escape characters in ${language}.

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If you would like to see good examples of a helpful community, I do recommend tilde,town. It's new, so there's not a massive or well sorted archive of documents yet, but it's at the front of people's minds and if you can get into the irc channel, you will meet some very friendly and helpful tilders.

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this is what my index page used to say

The problem with this is going to be that I'm trying to make content (mostly in Farm and Fun Times) at the same time as I'm trying out new things (which I will document in Learnings). This is going to cause me to ramble. Probably a lot. I will try to make up for this by including pictures of my cat very often.

The Duke Archibald Faraday McFloppenstein the First, Tripper of Feet

In all actuality, this is more of sketch book of me learning how to draw in HTML. Also on a Unix server. If you see random colons and letters somewhere, it's probably because I didn't hit escape before trying to move around in vim. That's why the learnings section is probably going to be the biggest. Well, at least until I get my LOL collection uploaded...

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