You are allowed to ask beginner questions in your techie communities

When I talk with new people in the development community, I often hear that they’re afraid of asking questions in public forums. They would explain their issue to me in person. When I ask them why don’t they ask in a specialized Slack, Facebook, or Stackoverflow community, they tell me that they don’t think they’re allowed to.

The reasons they give me range from “I don’t want to bother all these experienced people,” “I should be able to figure it out on my own,” to “I don’t want to look stupid.” I’m sure they have even more fears that they’re afraid of expressing.

This attitude is quite different from mine since I’ve been asking ‘stupid‘ questions in IT communities now for the last 20 years, and it’s just part of my workday.

How I approach asking for help with developer-related technology

I first try to find specialized Slack, Discord, IRC, Reddit, or StackExchange sites.

I join these communities and just lurk to get a feeling for the kind of questions people ask. I’m primarily interested in general support channels like #help or #beginner. This allows me to figure out what’s the appropriate complexity of questions that gets answers.

There’s an additional benefit to these communities that people there will share helpful articles, YouTube videos, and other materials.

It’s ok to ask many simple questions.

Sometimes I think that asking a question that seems too simple to ask (but I don’t know to figure it out) is somehow wrong. What I’ve learned through time is that people in #help channel genuinely like to help and answer these ‘basic‘ questions. An additional benefit is that if you’re sticking around for a few months, you’ll passively learn answers to these questions, and you’ll be able to help other newcomers.

Always keep in mind – there’s almost no risk in asking a question. The worst thing that will happen is you won’t get an answer. If the question isn’t well-formed, someone will ask for clarification, and you’ll also get a new insight into how to ask better questions in this area.

Extra credit: it builds rapport within the community

Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that people who ask questions on their learning journey become part of the community. You start to recognize their nicknames and see them begin contributing to the ecosystem. They open issues in related Github projects, make code or documentation contributions, and start attending conferences.

Swyx calls this Learning in public and uses it as a fundamental stepping stone in getting mentors.

Duotone Beatroot bread

In this bake, I explored how to fold two doughs together to ensure they don’t mix during the bulking phase. Red: 70% beets juice, spelt flour; White: wheat with added oats at 75% water. The taste is more admirable than pure beets bread, as you can taste two different textures and flavors as you eat it.

I learned that if there is good gluten development, it’s easy to laminate two doughs together. I’m just not sure yet how to correctly stretch the second dough that goes on the first one.

Roam to WP Spike – Lessons learned

After prototyping a way to automatically integrate Roam Research into WordPress, I concluded that it’s not the best course of action.

The issue primarily lies in Roam’s default mode of expression through outlines and nested trees. This works exceptionally well for note-taking, but it doesn’t map well to final documents or web pages.

There’s also an issue of not having an extra ‘metadata’ space on individual pages. It’s possible to use Attributes in Roam to work around this. It’s still not pretty, and you’re now left with various attributes on the top or bottom of each individual page.

Example of attributes in Roam Research

On getting the data out of Roam

My first try to read the data from API was to figure out if it’s possible using alpha JavaScript API. While it’s possible, it’s not well documented or easy to use. I decided to wait until it becomes a more supported option.

The second option was parsing JSON export of whole roam database backup. The data structure isn’t too hard to parse. It’s still a bit annoying. You need to assemble the nodes together into a document and run it through the markdown parser. The main issue I have with this approach is that data upload workflow uploads your whole personal database to your WordPress blog. That’s a potential privacy issue, and it’s something that I would like to avoid.

Another option would be to write a local application that parses Roam JSON export and uploads only pages or blocks with allowed attributes. That’s probably the path I’ll attempt if I ever return back to this project.

Maybe copy/paste is enough

The more I thought about how to work around all of these issues, the more it became clear that my main issue is not how to publish content but the fact that it needs to get written. My workflow also evolved in the last few weeks.

I used to write directly into a text editor. I now outline, write the first draft, edit, run it through Grammarly and then somehow format it for publishing. Publishing from roaming directly into WordPress makes less sense as I would lose all of these in-between steps.

What I learned

Working on this project as a spike/prototype was a good approach. I learned about the Roam Research ecosystem, WordPress Plugin authoring ecosystem and reflected on my writing and publishing process.

Writing a short summary on my blog after each coding session also provided me with a more apparent scope that helped me to focus. Reflecting on work done and collecting links that I investigated feels like a valuable artifact that I’ll probably refer to in the future.

Elderberry Flower Bread

Walking through local woods, I was delighted to discover that Elderberries were in full bloom. It wasn’t hard to find them as their sweet smell was potent.

I’m still trying to understand what kind of flavors infuse best with sourdough bread. This created an excellent opportunity for an experiment. I’ve plucked one cup of Elderflowers flowers and mixed them with 500g of flour. The rest was my standard sourdough recipe at about 75% hydration.

Baked bread really delivered a potent punch of elderberry flavor. The taste really came through, and it got that aroma that you get when you drink elderberry syrup. The main difference is that it’s a bit bitter as the bread isn’t sweetened.

What I would do differently next time

I would make mix the elderberry flowers into more of a dessert type of bake. That way, you’d get the sweetness and also more association with the syrup drink.

Elderberry flowers don’t last long after they’re picked, so I would time the whole process to start mixing sooner after coming back from the forest.

Maja Rihar on basics of office ergonomics for developers

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Maja Rihar (LinkedIn) is an ergonomics consultant specializing in a workplace environment. In our conversation, I tried to learn current best practices in how to set up my work environment.

What do you do?

I teach people how to best use ergonomic accessories for office use. I have past experience with managing offices and I was also in charge of ensuring workplace safety. While the popular belief is that it’s not dangerous to work in an office my experience and statistics disagree with this. That’s why I’ve started helping people to adjust workspaces to each individual worker.

Why are office workers getting hurt in the long run?

What I’ve noticed is that corporate training on workplace safety of employees is not effective. There’s also an issue that our population is getting taller on average – about 12 cm in the last 100 years. Our national office equipment standards do not adjust fast enough to these population changes.

Our current standards are made for people that are on average 178 cm in height. If you’re over 180 cm in height you’ll have problems with working in your current office environment. Lots of tall people are telling me about their back problems.

Any tips on what common mistakes you see among IT workers in their offices?

One very common mistake I see is that people have their keyboards too far from their bodies. It should be about 20 cm from the body. During a workshop, we’ll measure this distance and make sure that you have a visual feeling for where it should be.

I also suggest that you set an alarm for every 15 minutes that reminds you to stand up and sit down with a correct posture. Once you sit down with a correct posture you’ll once again be able to sit correctly for a while. Anything longer than about 15 minutes makes the body slouch so 15 minutes is a good time interval to move your body. Just doing this would prevent a lot of long-term damage to the musculoskeletal system.

Laptops shouldn’t be used for any long-term work. They are ergonomically correctly set up only when used with an external keyboard with a screen on a raised platform. The constant hunched-down position is very hard on the body. This is further compounded by all the mobile and other device use.

I’m happy to see more and more standing desks in offices. I think this is one of the best things that you can do for your body. Mainly because it forces you throughout the day to keep moving all the time as you switch from standing to sitting setup and back.

How do you pick good equipment?

I think it’s important that you trial many different vendors and that you are picky with what you choose. Don’t just try one office chair. Try many, figure out if you’ll know how to adjust it correctly, and also ask your peers what worked for them.

When setting up a home office environment you can learn from your work office. If you ever try to work from your kitchen table you’ll quickly get a feeling if it’s a better or worse experience than your office table. This can help you guide your decisions and you’ll know how to improve it toward what feels good.

It’s also a good idea to talk to experts before making these choices. Any office equipment that you’ll buy will probably be used for many hours every day for the next ten years. Getting good advice upfront can be a good investment in such a context.

Any more practical advice?

You should think about how you work. Make sure to adjust your body and how you work so that it will support you in a long run. 

Invest in quality lighting. Get into the habit that you’re opening windows and adding fresh air to your space.

Take breaks often and move your body during these breaks. I don’t think it’s healthy to work for long periods and then go train for another long period. It’s much better to mix both throughout the day.

Talk to your peers about how they’re solving their problems. Seeing how others adjust their workspace makes it much easier for you to imagine how you could improve yours. The more embodied your experience with trying different accessories is the easier it will be to get a feel if it’s right for you.

Can you recommend any additional resources on this topic?

Official guidance


Good YouTube Channels on this topic:

What I learned from talking with Maja

The embodied experience of trying different ergonomic accessories is worth the effort.

Using external triggers to make sure that I check on my pose.

Standing desk provides a lot more benefits than I expected and the hype seems justified.