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need some advice

I'm trying to decide whether it's better to say something or just ignore it, or if there is something I should be doing about it.
This is really starting to bother me a lot, and what happened to day is just another example:
My hard disk died yesterday and I have to get my web server working again. The configuration was not simple (to me anyway) and had all been done by the system administrator. I have tried not to ask him for any help because I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm stupid, but I wasted hours yesterday by not asking about certain things.
This morning I was having more trouble and tried everything I could think of for an hour, and finally asked. It turned out to be permissions and I should have thought of it. But I didn't. I am losing confidence and I used to think I was smart. I have always been able to figure out anything I had to. My manager and the system administrator have configured all the systems and it's all obvious to them. Any time I ask a question it they seem to be utterly exasperated with me.
I'm thinking about asking directly "Do you think I am stupid?"

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

get on a chat for the subject and bounce stuff off people.

Make a trouble shoot list for next time.
what is not happening
what does this thingy depend on , the os ? an app ?
whatever it depends on , is it running ? is there anything in the error log ?

When you ask the other guy they are prabably annoyed by the interuption not the question/you.
People hate to be interupted.

dood
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Here's my philosophy: during the hour it took you to figure out things, you learned a lot accidentally, that didn't directly answer your question, but it's making you a smarter person.

So I usually think it's a good time to try to figure things out for yourself before you start asking questions.

Of course, at some point it's just TOO frustrating, and then it's OK to ask -- or ask for hints and pointers!

Joel Spolsky
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Dont ask "Do you think I am stupid?". He'll say no and you'll be left wondering if he's lying. Besides, what good does knowing what he thinks really do you.

You are some kind of web developer? Are you expected to know that stuff? If so, how come you dont? Have you been properly breifed on the setups to begin with? 

Eric DeBois
Thursday, January 23, 2003


Some people are like Wolves.  They can sense self-doubt - they pick up on it as weakness.

Then, they intimidate you into thinking that you are stupid.  Or, they take immense joy in correcting you - to get the same net effect.

Don't let it bother you.  Focus on what you are good at.

I have been in this situation before, and every time I tried to make an issue of it, it just didn't work out the way I'd hoped.

Some people have a vested interest in making you look bad.  It might not be conscious or on purpose, but your sysadmin may feel like, at some level, he is in competition with you. Your manager may feel threatened by you.  (This also comes from insecurity "If he looks good, I look bad.")

My advice?  Start solving thier problems in a way that makes them look good. ("Secrets of consulting" by Weinberg)

If anyone has a way to beat this game, please post it, by my only advice is to not play.  Your best bet is to get someone to overhear some of those conversations and say "Yes, Joe really was being rude to you back thier, it's not you."

If you can get an authority to step in and say something like "Joe, I overheard your discussion with so-and-so, and I really think your were out of line (or treated him shamefully or whatever.)"  That's great, but, honestly, something about it feels too much like Whining for my tastes.

Other advice?

Matt H.
Thursday, January 23, 2003


Another thing you can do, as Joel hinted at, is sit down with your manager and find out if you are asking too many/not enough questions.

As you get more sr., I think you'd be expected to figure things out for yourself more - as you should at least know where to look.  A kid fresh out of school might have to ask questions that would point him in the right direction. (CodeGuru, CodeProject, MSDN, etc.)

Matt H.
Thursday, January 23, 2003

I have done a lot of web programming but not a lot of system adminstration stuff, although I have done some. I can configure Apache and I know Unix, but not nearly at the level of the system administrator here and my manager. I've been here about a year. I have done a good job, according to my reviews.
This is all a tone-of-voice thing. I sense that they both see me as stupid, although if they really thought that I would not still be here.
I'm afraid to ask stupid questions that I could have figured out myself if I had been concentrating on the problem, rather than worrying about looking stupid and what they think of me. My concentration and confidence are suffering.
Mabye the best thing is to ignore their tone of voice completely and keep telling myself I am an intelligent person and learning more every day.

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Don't worry about it.  I have dealt with "tone of voice" issues before, and usually it's their problem -- that is, the person who is using the condescending/belittling tone of voice.

I think Matt H.'s advice is great -- don't play the game.  Some people DO have a vested interest in making you feel bad about yourself.

People who have worked somewhere for a long time sometimes assume that everyone -- even the newer folks -- should already know everything.  They forget that they, too, had to ask a lot of questions when they first started.

Seriously -- don't worry about it.  Sounds like you were just having a bad couple of days.

programmer
Thursday, January 23, 2003

I actually don't mind at all having to spend hours and hours trying to understand their system. But then I'll get in trouble for taking too long, and they'll say I should have asked before wasting all that time.
It feels sort of like a catch 22.

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Dummy, if you are a programmer, then that is what you are getting paid to do, not troubleshoot systems.

You can learn systems troubleshooting at home on your own dime.  Make them fix the HW, it's their job!!

The whole notion of intelligence is a false argument that you have created in your head.  You would be smart as a sys admin IF that was your job.

You will only fill up your fixed limit of resentment that every co. allows before getting fired, if you try to understand everything on the employers time. 

You should make your problem their #1 priority so that you have more work to do.  Getting stuck will make you look BAD, not stupid.  Dwelling on your weaknesses is a great way to learn, but not a great way to keep a job.

Brian R.
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Problems wiith computers fall into two categories.

a) those caused by user error

b) those caused by inhuman technical difficulty and/or exceptionally bad design.

Mistakes other users make can fall into either category. Mistakes I make ALWAYS fall into the b) category.

Remember that, interiorize it, and then call somebody over to fix it and make sure he knows from your body language whose fault it is.

Do try and find out the problem yourself first; view it as an act of selfish altruism. You remember the things you solve yourself much more easily than the things somebody tells you.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Yes I have learned more about the system since yesterday and I am always glad to learn. System administration is not my area although the case could be made that all programmers should know something about it. But there is an awful lot to know and sometimes I should just concentrate on my job.
My web server has to work with XML and mod_perl and certain things would have taken me a century to guess.

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

I just wonder if it's ok, next time one of them talks to me that way, if I say "you know I'm not stupid, I'm just not that familiar with this particular thing."

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

As for myself, I have what I could call "slow smarts".  I will say something not thought out, then figure it out as I walk away. 

But I will go back to my drawing board and figure, and find out about a lot of stuff.  You sound that way too.

Some people have what I call "quick smarts".  They usually figure things out on the fly, but are impatient toward prolonged thought.

God created us all different, so just try to appreciate and make use of that.

Brian R.
Thursday, January 23, 2003

It's hard to decide WHAT that point is, where you have tried to find the solution and now need to ask for help.

One time, I was doing something fairly complicated -- something not often done in my workplace, concerning temporary data storage -- and I thought I followed the instructions perfectly.  I called the database administrator and told him, "Okay, I'm done, now you can do your thing."

(In order for him to do his thing, I had to do my part correctly.)

He called me back and said, "It's not working ... you must have done something incorrectly."

I spent a WHOLE DAY looking at what I had done -- puzzling over it, trying to figure out what I had done wrong.  I couldn't find anything -- I felt so frustrated!

I called him back and said, "I can't find what I did wrong.  Can we meet and talk about this?  Maybe you can find what I did  wrong."

Before our meeting, he called me and said, "Uh, oops, sorry, you didn't do anything wrong, I goofed."

So, I learned a lesson that day -- when something isn't working, and other people are pointing at you saying it's your fault, don't automatically assume it IS your fault.  It may not be.

programmer
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Brian R.
I have "slow smarts" and these 2 people have very "quick smarts" and that is probably the cause of all this. In order to figure something out I have to spend time alone concentrating and/or talk it over with someone who is patient. Even if they don't know, talking about it can help me understand.
In a tense situation, my mind will often go blank and I will forget obvious things. They never experience this so they interpret it as dumbness.
A person with "slow smarts" can have a very high IQ and be just as intelligent, I believe. I can tell that I'm smart, and past experience, grades, tests, etc., proves it. But I am losing all my confidence!

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

System administrators are a different breed. They think that all (l)users should keep their filty mittens of "their" bu-ti-full systems, and they "just know" that everybody that is not a system administrator must have the IQ of a nematode.
Don't worry. You do your job, they do theirs. If everybody in your company was a sysadmin, all they would ever do is hang out on IRC and recompile kernels.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, January 23, 2003

I love this phrase, "slow smarts."  Never heard it before.  It nicely describes my own kind of intelligence, and it helps explain why I've found myself in situations like "dummy" describes.

programmer
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Yes it really describes what I've been experiencing for the past year. I know I'm smart and can understand anything I concentrate on. And I don't actually learn slowly. But in a stressful situation when someone is obviously impatient I just don't function well.
I guess the point is that I have to feel relaxed in order to think effectively.
I have been in lots of stressful situations where, for example, I had to fix a live application, and in those cases the stress doesn't bother me at all. In fact I concentrate better under that kind of stress.
It's the interpersonal stress, possibly, that makes me feel stupid and prevents me from thinking.

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Often this type of intelligence is no more than remembering sequences of mouse clicks, it's kind of like the C drones who merely remember syntax, the fact that they know something that you don't somehow represents intellectual prowess. Generally this type of knowledge has a learning curve of about 2 days.
Get a dummies book and join them.

pr>{@c==bs}/p
Thursday, January 23, 2003

People know different things and no one knows everything.

dummy
Thursday, January 23, 2003

Just ask yourself: Could they do your job? I bet they'd have "dummy" moments too if they had to write production standard application code.

I notice that someone was describing system / network administration as "remembering a series of mouse clicks" so I guess the disrespect flows both ways between programmers and system admins.

Of course, if you tell your system admins their job is just remembering a series of mouseclicks then screw up a sysadmin type job, don't be surprised if they DO laugh at you. After all, the difference between you and them is they can remember a series of mouse clicks.

Robert Moir
Friday, January 24, 2003

They are good at both system administration and programming. I have 10 years experience, am pretty good, and am always learning. But someone will always be better than another person at someone. We don't have to all feel we are in competition with each other, always finding a reason to look down at each other. We could be helpful and encouraging, and then learning and working together could be a pleasure, instead of just a stressful job.
I could be reading more into their tone of voice than they really intend. Sometimes they're very busy and are annoyed at interruptions.
I hate feeling that someone thinks I'm stupid just because I don't know everything they know. I'm sure there must be things I know that they don't -- but even if there weren't there is no reason to act condescending.
The dilemma is I have to work there and I don't want to dread going to work. I don't know how to fix the situation, or if there is a way. I can try to become less sensitive (I have). I can try to become smarter (I'm trying but that can't be done over night). I can try to reason with them -- I haven't tried that yet. It would be hard because everything I think of to say sounds like a criticism or complaint, and I know that would only make things worse.
Is there anything I could say or do that would improve the situation? As I said, one of the guys is my manager, so I have to be very careful not to offend him. And it would be a mistake to offend the system administrator, because we all depend on him for everything.

dummy
Friday, January 24, 2003

I think the idea here is not to compete but to complement. Look at what your job entails and concentrate on becoming an expert at that.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 24, 2003

I agree with Just me (Sir to you). I know the things I'm good at, and the things I'm not. Network stuff isn't one of them... I'm a programmer and I'm good at it. We have Network guys here to maintain everything. That's all they do and they're good at it. When I get to the end of what I know when trying to configure something, I just walk down the hall and say, "Hey guys, I'm trying to do such-and-such but I don't want to mess anything up. Can one of you give me a hand?" This approach makes everybody happy. Me because I don't have to deal with the darn thing, and the Network guys because I didn't mess with their system.

HeyCoolAid!
Friday, January 24, 2003

Just remember they hired you because they believed you have something they need. No one can be good at everything, it just ain't possible.

You could, I suppose, ask your manager if there is any training material they could provide to you to allow you to fill in / assist in that role when the full time system admin isn't around.

Oh, and as for not offending the system admin because you depend on him for everything? I'm one of the most curmudgeonly system admins I know ;-) but I don't think I outrank everyone where I work just cos I got root access.

There is still an obligation to treat others and be treated by others in a professional manner and if this is missing from your workspace then your manager should be obliged to address it, unless your manager and or employer sucks, of course.

Robert Moir
Sunday, January 26, 2003

Dummy,

wrote, "I have "slow smarts" and these 2 people have very "quick smarts" and that is probably the cause of all this."

exactly.  I have the same problem.

"In order to figure something out I have to spend time alone concentrating and/or talk it over with someone who is patient. Even if they don't know, talking about it can help me understand."

That is totally me.  I have to write things down in order to "have a conversation w/myself" before I do something.  Talking to others also works.

"In a tense situation, my mind will often go blank and I will forget obvious things. They never experience this so they interpret it as dumbness."

Ditto here.

"A person with 'slow smarts' can have a very high IQ and be just as intelligent, I believe. I can tell that I'm smart, and past experience, grades, tests, etc., proves it. But I am losing all my confidence!"

I have a high IQ wherever I take one of those types of exams.  One guy I worked w/had a high IQ and quick smarts.  He was in jail once (wrongful arrest) and had top surveillance because he scored highest in the jail on an IQ test - your sysadmin might be similar.  IT does not attract people of average intelligence.

You and me are more concept and language driven (even language is conceptual) than the average person.  Getting in a dangerous situation might not scare you, that is precisely because you are able to handle the situation as a concept, and not just as a physical reality.

Hate to put it bluntly, but some guys are physical thinkers.  They excel at solving physical problems.  They can't find any sexual attraction to a woman, for example, unless she has certain measurements - breast, hair, etc. because thier brain is wired to never have "head in the clouds", only very concrete analysis.

You and me get tripped up because we are always gazing at the concepts of what is occuring around us.  What are we, one in a hundred people, or just a sizeable silent minority?

Brian R.
Sunday, January 26, 2003

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