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Asking Questions

Will posted a great article a couple weeks ago, Giving and Receiving Help at Mozilla. I have been meaning to write a similar article for a while now. His post finally pushed me over the edge.

Be sure to read Will's post first. The rest of this article is an addendum to his post.

Avoid Context Free Pings

Context free pings should be considered harmful. These are pings like ping or hey. The problem with context free pings are documented elsewhere (1, 2, 3) so I won't discuss them here.

Pings are Ephemeral

IRC and Slack are nice because they generate notifications. If you need a quick response, IRC or Slack are the way to go. I get Slack and IRC notifications on my phone, so I'm likely to respond quickly. On the other hand, these notifications disappear easily, which makes it easy for me to lose your message. If you don't hear from me immediately, it's a good idea to send an email.

Otherwise, I don't mind pings at all. Some folks worry about creating interruptions, but this isn't a problem for me. I limit the notifications I get so if I don't want to get your notification, I won't. If I'm looking at Slack, I'm already distracted.

In short, consider these rules of thumb:

  • If it will take me less than 2m to respond to you and it's urgent, ping me
  • If it will take me more than 2m to respond to you and it's urgent, file a bug and ping me
  • If it's not urgent just email me

Prefer Open Channels

I've spent a lot of time on documentation at Mozilla. It's hard. Our tools are constantly under development and our needs are always changing so our documentation needs constant work. Asking questions in the open reduces our documentation burden.

Email is where information goes to die. If we discuss a problem in a bug, that conversation is open and discoverable. It's not always useful, but it's a huge win when it is. File a bug instead of writing an email. @mention me in on #fx-metrics instead of PM-ing me. CC an open mailing list if you need to use email.

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