What should everyone know?
I bring this up because of a “quiz” I took over the weekend. A quiz on what some Nobel Prize winning scientists thought “every high school graduate should be able to answer”. I was happy to see that I would have gotten an 85% on it approximately. I thought some of the questions were pretty complex – I gave myself an 85% because of question 8 – only got half of it. Question 9 – I had no clue.
I didn’t like question 9 – not because I didn’t know (well, there was that…) but because it required such a precise answer – a factoid type of answer. I’m not sure that one should have made the list personally. Something that needs a very precise answer like that, it just seems to specific, too “factoid”. Sort of like knowing the exact release when Advanced Replication was introduced (7.1.6), or when bitmap indexes where first production (7.3.3 – there were beta in 7.3.2 and could be enabled via an event). Factoids like that are things I remember – but don’t expect anyone else to have memorized.
Anyway, that quiz just got me thinking about how what we think everyone must surely know probably affects how we talk and interact with them. Have you ever had a conversation where the other person just didn’t seem to “get it” and then figured out that they didn’t have a crucial piece of information you assumed “everyone knows”. I’ve had lots of those – mostly surrounding Oracle the database of course. When someone would say “Yeah, I’m an Oracle developer” – I used to assume a certain level set of knowledge. I no longer do that. A favorite example of this happened way back in 1994 or 1995. A sales person I worked with at Oracle asked me to have a conference call with their customer and go over the newly introduced Advanced Replication feature. No problem – I did it and they sat in on the call. Many times while talking to the DBA’s and Developers on the other end of the phone during this call – I made a reference to ROWID (used heavily way back when in replication). After the call ended – my coworker looked at me and said – “this ROWID thing, what is that, is that a new feature of the database?”. Sound of jaw dropping. I was still relatively new at Oracle back then and sort of assumed “everyone would know certain things about the database, regardless”. That just drove home the point that just because something seems “second nature” to you – it might be completely new to someone else.
So, what is the point – just to point out that we shouldn’t assume a level set of knowledge for anyone on anything – not until we get to know them of course. You have to be careful of course – some people might feel insulted, but they shouldn’t (I don’t, not anymore at least – maybe when I was more of a newbie and thought I knew more than I did). I take the conversation up or down a level after trying to figure out what people really know (or not). That is why I really want questions during my technical session – that is the only barometer I have to judge the audiences “level”. Am I speaking too high or too low, their questions help me figure that out.
Just to close up on a fun note – check out this flow chart (warning, yes, there is certain language on it – and now you know that before you click on it). I really liked the infinite loop in it.