Developer Tea

Asking "Dumb" Questions

Episode Summary

In today's episode, we'll discuss how important "dumb" questions can be. **Today's episode is sponsored by [Linode](** In 2018, Linode is joining forces with Developer Tea listeners by offering you $20 of credit - that's 4 months of FREE service on the 1GB tier - for free! Head over to and use the code **DEVELOPERTEA2018** at checkout.

Episode Notes

In today's episode, we'll discuss how important "dumb" questions can be.

Today's episode is sponsored by Linode.

In 2018, Linode is joining forces with Developer Tea listeners by offering you $20 of credit - that's 4 months of FREE service on the 1GB tier - for free! Head over to and use the code DEVELOPERTEA2018 at checkout.

Episode Transcription

You've heard the phrase, there's no such thing as a stupid question. And unfortunately, we tend to not practice this as truth. We avoid asking questions that we feel will be judged for. And this is something that's really difficult to overcome because the reality is, it's very hard to not judge other people based on the questions that they ask. But in today's episode, I'm going to present why I believe that the best developers ask the most simple and perhaps the dumbest, supposedly the dumbest, questions out of a given group. And we'll talk about why that actually leads them to a more enlightened state of development. You're listening to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. My goal on the show is to help you become a better developer. But not just for the sake of becoming a better developer. I want to help you become a better developer by first helping you understand what you care about, understand what your personal purpose is to be a developer. That's the entire point of this show. And by connecting you to that purpose, hopefully I'm triggering something inside of you that acts as kind of a renewable resource, right? Something that kind of you can return to whenever you're feeling burnt out. Whenever the work gets boring or you run into one of a hundred thousand, a million different problems that you could possibly run into as a developer that kind of make you want to throw in the towel, you can return to this kind of underlying sense of purpose. But this comes with a degree of understanding how we should be practicing our jobs, right? For us to really connect to that purpose, for us to really uncover what it is that we care about, we may first have to let go some bad habits, right? In this show, one of the kind of underlying themes that you'll hear on this show over and over and over is that ego really isn't going to help you out. And that's what today's episode is about. We've talked about humility directly before. And today's episode is kind of an indirect way of talking about humility. We're talking about letting go of your ego so that you can ask really simple questions. Very straightforward questions that might even make you or even the person that you're asking uncomfortable because they're so simple. So I'm going to give you a few examples of these kinds of questions right after we talk about today's sponsor, Linode. Today's episode is sponsored by Linode. Linode has continued to be one of the most important sponsors that we've had on the show, not only because they've come back over and over and over to continue investing in this community, but also because they actually truly care about the developers who are listening to this show right now. They want to create an excellent product for you. And it's visible right on their service offerings. You can go and see everything that Linode provides. You can see on their website, but you can get started with as little as $5 a month and they're going to give you a $20 credit just for being a developer T-listener. This isn't just a server that you go and you interact with some software and you spin up a server and then you're left on your own and you're kind of out in the cold. If you screw it up then too bad for you, that's not the way that Linode operates. They have an excellent customer service team. And it's a 24-7 customer service team as well, by the way. So it's not just some odd hours that are in one time zone. If you live anywhere in the world really, you can access this customer service. So I want you to go and check it out. If you are either considering moving from a existing service provider in this area or if you don't have one yet and you would like to start, spin up your own servers that have Linux running on them, you can do so many things with these servers. It's not just about hosting a website. You can do pretty much the sky's the limit with a Linux server. So go and check out what Linode has to offer. Head over to specs out of them. Slash Linode and get started today. By the way, all of the plans are hourly. So if you wanted to scale up and solve really computationally intensive problem, you could do that for a short period of time and then scale back down and Linode is going to respond to that scaling. Again, slash Linode and that will automatically apply the code Developer Tea 2018. But if for some reason it doesn't use that code Developer Tea 2018, all one word, you'll get $20 worth of credit applied to your account. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So we're talking about humility. We're talking about letting go of your ego more specifically for today's episode. We're talking about what constitutes a dumb question. What is the makeup of a question that is not good enough? How can we judge this? And usually the answer is something that you should have already known. Something that is very basic, something that is fundamental, that is an easy question to answer for anyone that is even reasonably experienced. It came to this conclusion as the result of some mentoring and a lot of experiences with developers who ultimately were self-taught. They didn't have any formal education and this was true for me too because I am a self-taught developer. There's a lot of excellent resources out there and in fact there's a lot of even methodical resources where you could go and get what amounts to a more formal education on various subjects that have to do with programming. But for a lot of people like me and a lot of people that I've mentored or that have otherwise encountered as developers, there's a lot of blind spots that you wouldn't expect to be there. So for example, let's say that you are learning a programming language. You can actually employ this concept with yourself. There's something that we as humans, we have this unique ability to have an internal dialogue. In other words, you can ask yourself questions. You can ask yourself even these very simple questions and practice that non-judgmental hearing of that question and then the answering of that question. But as you're learning a new programming language, start asking yourself if you understand what you're looking at at a fundamental level at a very simple kind of basic level, understanding what you're looking at. So for example, if you're writing JavaScript and you write maybe a variable name and you set it equal to something, ask yourself which are new ways of declaring different types of values in JavaScript. And if you're using things like Latin const, ask yourself questions like, do I know the difference? Do I know what the differences are between the behaviors of these two types of declarations? When you start asking yourself these questions, what you'll realize is that the things that you assumed that you knew are actually not as clear to you as you may have thought. You might uncover new ways of thinking about data types or thinking about algorithms or you might uncover new ways of thinking about design or thinking about collaboration by simply asking fundamental questions about how things work. Asking fundamental questions about the definition of various things. You know, this is another thing that you can do in your workplace. If you ever have a lack of clarity when you're talking, especially in a collaborative group, even if it seems that everyone else in the group is clear on a given thing. For example, maybe there is a word or a technology that someone is referencing or maybe there is a group of people that someone is referencing and they've kind of collected them into a single signifier, a single label. Maybe they talk about customers or stakeholders and you're not really clear on what those groups actually are, who those people actually are. This is the kind of thing that once you ask for clarity, you may uncover one of two main things. The first one is that group actually isn't well defined and that the words have been kind of accepted by the group without actually unpacking them. That's one thing that you may uncover. Another thing that you may uncover is real information that you didn't have before. You may actually get that clarity that you're seeking. In both scenarios, you're increasing the knowledge and you're increasing your understanding about that given subject. Here's the reality. This is not going to be an easy thing to do, especially if you're asking for clarity around a term that has been used for a long time, for example. If you're asking someone something that you really believe that you really should have already known the answer to that. You very well may run into a sense of judgment. What I encourage you to do is to explain why you're asking these questions and encourage others to ask the same types of questions. This is not an easy thing to do. I want to reiterate that over and over because it's going to feel unnatural to ask questions that you believe have obvious answers. Once you start down this road, once you actually start asking what seemed to be kind of audacious questions or otherwise unnecessary questions, once you actually benefit from asking a few of these, then you aren't really going to care what it looks like anymore. Your co-workers aren't really going to care what it looks like anymore because once you start actually increasing the level of clarity and knowledge within the work that you do within the company that you're working for or within the collaborative group that you're working on. Once that increases, then you're not really going to care how it happened as much as you'll care that things are going better. You're actually producing better work as a result of these questions. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope that you continue to kind of push that boundary of what's acceptable and what is normal and how you learn. It's important to continue pressing into new ways of learning and questioning your assumptions every single day. Thank you again for listening. Thank you to Linode for sponsoring today's episode. You can get started on Linode today and get a $20 credit by heading a respect out of M-slash Linode. Thank you again to Linode. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. We have over 500 episodes of this show right now, which is kind of mind boggling to me. I hope that some of you have listened since day one. I hope you continue to listen for the next 500 episodes. I hope that I can continue providing value through this show to the people who listened to this podcast. It really is a joy to hear from you and to see things like iTunes reviews. That's actually one way that you can help the show continue doing what we do. If you go to iTunes and leave a review, subscribe to iTunes. Of course iTunes is kind of like the central hub for podcasts. If we're doing well on iTunes, then that really helps us reach more developers every day who are looking for content like this. There are people who need to hear these kinds of ideas and who need to start questioning their assumptions. They need that same validation that you're getting from this show. I encourage you, if you want to help us out a little bit, go and subscribe and rate and review through iTunes. That's a huge help. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, enjoy your tea.