There is always a silly simple question

Look, we all get asked those silly simple questions that make us roll our eyes. Why can’t they do it themselves? What they are asking is so obvious. It may even feel beneath us to do what they need at this point in our careers. Or if they really understood what you do, they would see their question is simply not in our wheelhouse.

Then you hear the frustration on the other side and roll up your sleeves to help.

For me that question is “can you fix it?” or some flavor of that.

My bachelor's degree in IT was instant acceptance for the F&F help desk.

With such a qualified background my family and friends were always asking

intriguing questions like:

  • “My printer won’t print. What’s wrong?”
  • ”The WiFi is out. Can you get it working?”
  • “This darn thing won’t work! Please help!?”

Oh brother…

As a data scientist, shouldn’t I be training machine learning algorithms and informing life altering business decisions?

Nope. Just showing my parents how to post their latest food creation to Instagram. I don’t even have an Instagram!

Talking to others about these silly simple questions, it turns out they are not unique to IT professionals.

Doctors are asked about things outside their speciality.

“Dr. Ophthalmologist - can you explain this rash on my side?”

Finance professionals are asked about personal finance decisions.

“Mr. VC - what’s the best tax-advantaged savings account for my newborn?”

Industrial Engineers are asked to give a hand with household odd jobs.

“Engineer Tom - can you help me hang this light?”

That last one was me. I’m guilty of dishing out as many silly simple questions as I receive! Why is that? Well it turns out...

What is simple for you and me is difficult for others. What is simple for others can be difficult for you and me.

That’s the beauty of this world. We all have our strengths and when we help each other out, we cover each other's weaknesses.

Someone asking you a question is an acknowledgement that they believe in you and your capability to get the task done.

Now if the stakes are too high - say... your brother encrypting the iCloud family photos by clicking on a “Get ripped with BodyThirst’s Titanium Whey” ransomware link - it’s always ok to defer to a genius or another expert. Directing the person in need to the right place is a huge help on its own.

The last thing to remember is patience. As much as I want to remote into my colleague's computer to squash their merge conflicts, I must stay strong. Stay patient. If you are patient in teaching, they will hopefully learn. When you have the patience to teach self-sufficiency you can both stay sane.

There is this modern twist on an old parable:

Give a developer a branch, and they will deploy for a day.
Teach a developer to branch, and they can deploy for a lifetime.

So the next time you hear your silly simple question, resist the urge to roll your eyes, and try a smile instead. You were just paid a compliment 😊

I am actively working on this right there with you. That way the next time I find the new ink cartridges installed with their plastic wrap still on we can all have a good laugh.