Wednesday, July 13, 2005

RTFM

Read that fine manual. Is that by itself enough? I ask this for a couple of reasons. First, one of my favorite blogs to read wrote about it, and secondly I got a disturbing email regarding it.  It read in part (published with permission, I would not publish a private email without asking)

On your ask tom web site you recommend people use usenet news groups. I tried that and I found the oracle.server group to be extraordinarily hostile. I was amazed. I have been in computing for 20 years and I am well aware of the fact that a lot of geeky people have limited social skills, but not THAT bad. I have to admit not having dealt with usenet groups in a few years and the way the culture has declined is really something! It was a case of getting some information but it was definitely not worth the cost in terms of the major hostility that came with it.

I asked the person for a pointer to the thread and read it.  It contained juicy bits like

  • It appears that you are either incapable or unwilling to RTFM.
  • The only gotcha I see here is the one about reading the manual before engaging the keyboard.
  • It is well known for a fact all Windows users never read anything.

None of those were exceedingly productive statements.  None of them would actually solve the problem.  I can understand sometimes the frustration after seeing repeated questions, or what seem like very basic questions – but the old RTFM answer doesn’t seem to be worth the keystrokes to type it in.

I do give RTFM answers on asktom, but with a twist.  It is in the form of “here, it is documented at this <link>”, with the ability and offer to come back later and ask a specific followup question.  I do recommend and point people to the documentation (when was the last time you read the concepts guide?).  But I don’t think I give RTFM answers (Martin, this is not about your comment on the creating passionate users entry!). 

I very much agree with Kathy Sierra on this point. Everyone is a “newbie” sometime in their life at something.  I will answer with a gentle reminder such as “well, when I typed your subject into the search field, I found these 5 articles, did you see them?”.  I will answer with “materialized views are fully documented <here>, if you have a specific question after reading about them, feel free to come on back”.  I will answer with “based on the questions you are asking – I suggest you crack the concepts guide, you know, if you read it from cover to cover and retain just 10% of it, you’ll already know 90% more than most people about Oracle!”. 

But I don’t think RTFM by itself is a productive answer.  Others have said as much as well.

It is funny, on the newsgroups no one is compelled to answer.  I wonder why sometimes people feel compelled to spout the RTFM phrase then.  We could all be a little “gentler” (but I’m not backing off of my “instant message speak” stance!  I’ve actually received resumes, cover letters, and business ideas with those constructs).  Remember, we were all newbies once upon a time.  The thing about my job that gives me greatest pleasure?  Seeing the light bulb pop on for someone.  You never get to see that if you just RTFM them.

And how is this for deja-vu, yes, I am on hour 3sitting in the fantastic LGA terminal again, with at least 3 more hours to go (just as I was typing this sentence, I got an alert on my phone, 5:05 pm estimated take off, it is 2:10 now).  At least I found a plug, and I'm not giving it up! This would be utter misery without a network.  Since I carry a desktop computer on my back - I can work anywhere :)

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36 Comments:

Anonymous Sean Dillon said....

I don't think RTFM is such a bad statement, but I agree w/ Tom that it needs to be coupled with a pointer to "TFM" which is being spoken about. Some people are very passionate about their capacity to read and consume doc. Others are very confident with knowing where to look and actually doing so before asking questions of others. I'm not pointing any fingers at anybody in particular, but I think everybody can relate to the frustration you get when you answer the same question you answered three times yesterday and 43232334 times last week. Unfortunately, the newsgroups don't have the same AskTom required reading -- SEARCH for your question first, then ask me if your reading doesn't answer the question, which probably lends to the issues she ran into over there.

It seems like some people either think it's hip to be condescending or feel like they're in some kind of exclusive club b/c they know more than others and therefore think there's acceptance when they post like that. It would be easier to just alt+left or alt+f4 rather than making some rude comment... but that wouldn't be *cool* :/

I never knew how hard it would be to comment on a blog while defending one of those coveted power terminals at IAD ;-).

Wed Jul 13, 03:23:00 PM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

>> when was the last time you read the concepts guide? <<

About ten minutes ago -- I keep my spiral bound copy of it in the "smallest room" of the house, for quiet browsing away from all distractions.

Yeah I know, "too much information".

Wed Jul 13, 03:29:00 PM EDT  

Blogger melanie caffrey said....

Tom,

You're simply not meant to leave New York on time. ;)

I agree with the general feeling that RTFM (all by itself) is an inappropriate response to a question.

A feeling of exasperation at a question one doesn't want to read, doesn't justify the type of answer that *no one on the planet* wants to read, in response.

People who are disrespectful, are not, themselves, deserving of respect.

Wed Jul 13, 03:53:00 PM EDT  

Blogger jimk said....

I agree on the RTFM thing. Also sometimes it behooves people to remind them that doing their homework for them isn't helping them. It helps me in the future when we compete for a job.

As for the IM speak. I couldn't agree more. It is part of the usual social phenom or teenagers or groups creating their own "language" or dialect. It is one of those ways to seperate yourself from the group. Like fashion, it goes out of fashion once everyone is doing it.

We hosted a Japanese exchange student (high school) for a year. It was quite a learning experience. If you ever want to learn more about the idiocyncosies of your own language host an exchange student for a year. I am not talking about technical language, just day to day conversation. We didn't use the IM speak and so her writing and speaking are not laden with u etc. It is a lot of fun.

Wed Jul 13, 04:40:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

The Usenet newsgroups for Oracle are really sad these days. There are many people who post there who have a lot of knowledge, and can help with things, but there are also many who have developed a snarky, bitter, condescending attitude.

Yes, many college students post their homework questions, but I don't have too much trouble identifying those and responding politely but appropriately. On the other hand, many newcomers to Oracle wander in and are immediately turned off by the abrasiveness. I often wonder, were they turned off Oracle for life?

Tom - I have noticed that you have answered a few questions there in the last few months, including some that the the regulars were snarking about. I realize you are mega-busy, but perhaps you could try to answer one question there per week or something? It seems to have a calming effect on the whole group.

sPh

Wed Jul 13, 05:28:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

One of the things I appreciate the most about the askTom site is that there are always links to the manual or other supporting documentation ... sometimes you just don't know where to look for the answer.

On the other hand, I understand the frustration of being asked a question, when you know darn well that the asker hasn't done one bit of research on their own ... you can usually spot them by the very way they ask the question ... like we are Santa Claus simply granting requests ...

We have a PL/SQL Developers group in-house at the company I work for ... some of our databases are still at 8i, some are at 9i and some are preparing to move to 10g, so presentations try to cover all 3 platforms ... at the last meeting next months adgenda was announced and it included a presentation on using the "new features" of 9i ... one of the programmers on an 8i database asked to have that presentation move to the end so they could "leave early, because there was no reason for them to learn about 9i" ... like learning something "now" about a database they will surely be moving to in the future was a bad thing ... they simply want to be "spoon-feed" the information once they needed it.

Wed Jul 13, 05:44:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Connor McDonald said....

Its a similar thing at:

http://groups-beta.google.com/group/comp.databases.oracle.server/browse_frm/thread/adfd2e91d1badefd

A guy just out of Uni asks "is being a DBA a good career?" and a bunch of DBA's on Usenet launch into the guy with choice comments like:

"My first impression from what you've written is that I wouldn't want you in my shop."

My own reply (http://groups-beta.google.com/group/comp.databases.oracle.server/browse_frm/thread/adfd2e91d1badefd/5536fb1056199622), trying to defend the poor guy's right to be a newbie and ask such questions got similar treatment.

Usenet has certainly gone to pot. There used to be two types of people who would reply to posts:

1) People with knowledge who want to share
2) People with knowledge who want to be egotistical tossers

Now there appears to be mainly the latter

Wed Jul 13, 08:10:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Kapavars said....

Tom,
I would claim myself to be a soft 'victim' of the RTFM thing a decade ago. But contrary to what others think, it did convey a good message to me because I would get to know that the question was indeed academic that can be found in a manual.

Not everyone would organize files and send links just as you would in a minute's notice and therefore I believed that kind of a 'ping' offered me a strong 'message'.

By the same token, I am always impressed how well you organized those links you point us to. It really helped me 'escape' from the RTFM tantrums, though ;-)

Wed Jul 13, 08:27:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Kalita said....

It's not the RTFM answers alone, some people are rude to posters when they do not provide version no,the plan etc. The funny thing is, sometimes I see people jumping in to ask version number but won't answer the question once the poster tells them that :-) I guess they just like shouting at people.
If you notice, these people who keep shouting at others are the ones who give wrong answers every now and then. I have seen one of them interpreting Tom wrongly, giving wrong answers and then trying to defend himself saying 'that's what Tom says' :-)
But I guess if one sticks to the newsgroups,they would know who behaves how and thus will know what to express from who and will not think much about rude words from someone who is known to be rude.

Thu Jul 14, 12:41:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous venkat , Bangalore, India said....

Hi Tom,
Please excuse me for my ignorance. I want to know what is RTFM ?

Thanks

Thu Jul 14, 12:43:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Kalita said....

express in my comment should read expect :-)

Thu Jul 14, 12:58:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Niall said....

venkat,

RTFM = read the manual. The F is abusive language and I guess that rather points up why I also don't like it. If a colleague asked you something at work, however apparently daft, you wouldn't one hopes swear at them. The worst examples of RTFM are exactly that - except here it is a stranger asking for help and getting sworn at.

Now sometimes, maybe often, it is appropriate to point people at where something is documented - or if they have obviously not bothered to investigate something suggest how they might appropriately search. I can't see when it is appropriate to abuse people as happened in the thread Connor pointed out.

Thu Jul 14, 01:02:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Martin said....

Tom,

Thanks, this covers the thought/question I tried to convey in the Creating Passionate Users Blog very well (as usual).

Thu Jul 14, 06:07:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Rachel said....

RTFM alone as an answer is about as helpful an answer as "because" or "it depends". Saying "read the fine manual -- this particular one, this chapter" or "you will find a lot of information if you google these words" is much better.

I can think of only one very specific case where I might just say "read the manual" (although I'd be more likely to just block email from that person). If someone has been asking the SAME basic questions over and over again for months, has been given answers, has been gently directed to the appropriate manuals but seems to refuse to learn from the information given, yes, I'd be inclined to say RTFM.

And yes... that "aha" moment from someone in the audience is why I'll miss presenting. I *like* teaching.

Thu Jul 14, 08:14:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

I want to know what is RTFM ?

the first sentence....

Read
that
fine
manual.

Thu Jul 14, 08:18:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

The F is abusive language

I always thought it meant "Fine" :)

although the google thread I pointed you to in the posting interpreted it as "French" and people were wondering why we always read the French manual and not the English or Russian versions !

Thu Jul 14, 08:20:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Renee said....

This newbie thanks you! I've been writing SQL for 8 years and was just brought on to the DBA team as a trainee this year. I've been utilizing Ask Tom for the last 5 years and expect to get even more out of it in my new role. Patience and tact go a long way.

As for those message boards, the geeky condescension sounds a lot like my husband's old D&D friends! LOL

Thu Jul 14, 09:22:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Niall said....

I remember that google thread believe it or not. I always thought it a bit sad that the regulars at the time (myself included) just sort of drifted off into alternative humourous 'f' words. I blame it on mr foote myself.

Thu Jul 14, 09:22:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jeff Hunter said....

And how is this for deja-vu, yes, I am on hour 3sitting in the fantastic LGA terminal again, with at least 3 more hours to go
Why don't you just move to New York?

Thu Jul 14, 12:15:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Why don't you just move to New York?

some parts look really nice (in the state), but I'm definitely not a city guy. Driving through Manhattan last night to find the Lincoln Tunnel was more stressful than the rest of the entire drive!

Way too many people in way too little space :)

Thu Jul 14, 12:28:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Robert Vollman said....

You've inspired the question, where to find the manuals.

A quick survey of some colleagues indicated that most people had never looked for them and weren't aware of what was available.

So, I put some quick links together with some brief explanations. They're collected here:

http://thinkoracle.blogspot.com/2005/07/oracle-docs.html

Thu Jul 14, 01:01:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I work in a very large IT environment. I would say that almost every day I'm asked a question by a developer or another DBA that is easily answerable by looking at the documentation. I usually answer that I don’t have time now to look it up in the docs, but you should be able to find it in the docs in a few seconds. Hint, hint!

The thing that I find so perplexing is why people take the time to compose an email for a question that they could answer in less time by looking at the docs.

Thu Jul 14, 01:54:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Robert Vollman said....

Sometimes at work when someone asks me a question that should be in TFM, I answer with "what does the doc say?" or "where are you in the doc?" I assume they already looked, and are still confused.

It's great when people get in the doc-habit. Docs usually suck until people put the time into filling in missing or incorrect pieces.

I remember a funny story when we got a project specification from one client. It was a really huge spec for a very small project, so we called the spec doc "fatty." Whenever we wanted to know something, we always "checked fatty" to see "what fatty says." But then one time we were on a conf call with the client and he asked for something that was different from the spec doc. So one guy said "yeah, but fatty said do it the other way." It bears mentioning that the client had a weight problem, and naturally assumed we were referring to him. When I explained that we were referring to the spec doc, he got even more upset because it sounded like we were criticising his work.

Interestingly, the guy who made that comment now works for that client. And I learned to be careful what language I use, even internally, because you never know what will slip out externally.

Thu Jul 14, 04:30:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous mhthomas (at) yahoo.com said....

There is a use for RTFM, depending if the question poster is learning, lazy, or naive.

1) But, I have unsubscribed from unmoderated groups where the overbearing-insulting types condescend on those trying to share or learn.

In my opinion, good blogs moderated by technically competent folks have replaced cdos, oracle-l, etc. for technical exchange, content, and learning oracle. AskTom is a different example, and since its well moderated it remains civil (acceptable to the masses).

If I need something from the unmoderated forums, I will google search for specifically what I need.

2) Yet RTFM is hampered by how people read the manuals, and create tests. I personally think "indexed acrobat manual groups" are the best way to find stuff in the Oracle docs. Having said that I am aware of acrobat's limitations, e.g. good examples of the acrobat limitations can be found on HJR's (dizwell) web site. I seldom find people using Acrobat Reader v7 (best search ability) that also know how to use an acrobat index to search (e.g. advanced options for doco title).

The only reason I use Oracle HTML docs today is to provide a reference to someone else via email. It this case HTML docs are good references to questions from the internet.

Thu Jul 14, 04:31:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous LSC said....

RTFM applies very good to those who spend days asking for the last 5 years and claim in the resume they are experts!
Those who never learn, who wants others do their job.
I can understand RTFM is not appropriate for some but for those kind I described... they deserve it.
Not talking about newbies or college students here however I dont think helping college students is such a good idea, not fair to his colleges dont you think? :-)

Fri Jul 15, 02:58:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Chris Grabowy said....

In reference to power outlets at the airports, why not carry a small power strip? I carry a multi-adapter (from either Target or Walmart). It plugs into one socket and provides three. Its really small but its a huge convenience.

Fri Jul 15, 11:45:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Robert said....

i am 90% sure from whom that guy got the RTFM "suggestion" from, heheh

Sat Jul 16, 08:09:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Lisa said....

Tom, I've read your post, and the resulting comments with interest. This has to be considered good research for my up coming presentation!

May I use this thread for a bit of self promotion about the presentation and ask for comments/experiences that I may include?

Lisa.

Mon Jul 18, 10:17:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

May I use this thread for a bit of self promotion about the presentation and ask for comments/experiences that I may include?

Absolutely. No problems with that.

Mon Jul 18, 10:23:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Lisa said....

OK, Thanks Tom!
For anybody else reading this, I'm currently preparing a presentation which I will give at this years UKOUG conference.

The presentation is entitled 'Help! I'm a Newbie!' and aims to view the world of Oracle DBA's through the eyes of a Newbie.
I still consider myself to be a Newbie, in terms of having only been a DBA for 3 years and I know I still have a lot to learn!

After discussions at last years conference with Tom and various other people, I decided to do this presentation based on my belief that there had been very little material aimed at DBA's new to the world of Oracle. There were many highly technical presentations, some of which left us Newbies incredibly stunned!
I found myself asking questions like 'how do I get to learn things like that?', 'where do I go to learn that stuff' and 'who can help me'.

The first part of my presentation therefore, will look at highlightinfg all of the ways in which new DBA's can learn their trade, including mentoring, reading, tech forums and Oracle itself. I will also give pointers to particular books, classes or websites that I found beneficial to beginners.

I'm also going to look at things that you can do in the first couple of weeks to help raise your profile, and also a few gotchas about things not to do!

A further part of my presentation, and one that has echoed throughout this thread, is looking at some of the current 'myths' about the acceptance of Newbies within the Oracle DBA community. I aim to provide guidance for newbies on using these forums for information and how to gain the most out of them.

I'd be hugely grateful to anyone who is willing to share their experiences, whether good, bad or indifferent. I'd like input from both sides of the fence too, whether your experiences are as a Newbie, or somebody with a wealth of experience.

I've updated my blogger profile to show my email contact details, so anybody wishing to help out can contact me direct.

Once again Thanks to Tom Kyte for letting me gatecrash his blog!

Lisa.

Mon Jul 18, 10:56:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Jeff Hunter said....

Lisa said....
Wow, what a fresh idea!

Tue Jul 19, 09:18:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous denni50 said....

Lisa,

would love to share and offer some
pointers based on my experiences as
a fledgling DBA now in my 4th year.

What is your blogger site and/or
email contact.

Tue Jul 19, 09:42:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

denni50 said.......
What is your blogger site and/or email contact.


Her name is a hyperlink at the top of her comment, for each of use, I've
copied it here as well.

Tue Jul 19, 09:50:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Tom said...
...for each of use...


And there's even more proof that you're really a coder! "for each" came out more naturally than "for ease" :)

Wed Jul 27, 11:27:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I asked the person for a pointer to the thread and read it. It contained juicy bits like

It appears that you are either incapable or unwilling to RTFM.

The only gotcha I see here is the one about reading the manual before engaging the keyboard.

It is well known for a fact all Windows users never read anything.


Tom,

The above comments are the less offensive of the insults hurled at people asking questions.
I have seen way worse comments coming from the more knowledgeable people, esp. from one particular person who I think is from Europe. They dont hesitate to use words like 'moron', 'idiot', and even stronger words sometimes.

Once I have seen a real bad comment on CDOS by this person and I also saw it was taken off within an hour. But the person still posts and hurls insults at others. This makes me think there is a small bunch of people controlling what is out there.

If they see a post from, say Jonathan Lewis or Tom Kyte or Connor criticizing them, they relatively listen. But if a less knowledgeable person tries to say anything, their attitude seems to be 'Shut up idiot, you dont even know technical stuff, why do you even talk', as if I cannot at all know anything else, because I am not technically as knowledgeable on that topic.

I have wondered if you (more knowledgeable than them) went in there and started calling them 'morons, idiots, what are you talking about' how they would take it.

I used to read CDOS regularly at one point, but now I have stopped reading CDOS totally.

Anonymous.

Thu Aug 11, 09:51:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I know this is an old blog entry now, but I've only just come across it and have a further comment to add if I may.

Something else that occurs to me on the RTFM / STFW (Search The Fine Web) response is that the person who posts that as a reply really is no better than a common Internet troll or spammer. Let me explain:

Supposing I have a technical problem. I've read the relevant parts of the manual but it doesn't shine any light on the problem. So I search the Web for an answer.

After a few hours, I'm really frustrated because many people have asked the same question and only ever received "RTFM" or "STFW" in reply. I don't want to ask the same question again because I know jolly well that some spammer is going to come back with "RTFM you idiot" when they see a total of 1 post to my name.

As the number of RTFM and STFW replies increases, so the ability to use the Web to find the required answer decreases simply because hunting for a good answer turn up more and more useless replies before any useful information.

That, to me, smacks of spam.

Tom, I like your approach to RTFM in that you'll provide a link to a useful resource. That may well save someone else asking for a solution to the same problem (arriving from a Google search, for example) because your reply is helpful, polite, and also encouraging further research.

Tue Jan 13, 07:08:00 AM EST  

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