How to get answers on a developer or help IRC channel.

I've spent the better part of two years working on a very technical project. I don't personally know many people who are able to really help me with the technical side of things. As my environment has little solid documentation, I had nowhere to turn but the developer community's IRC channel and mailing list.

When I started out, I was relatively new to the whole "IRC as a method of running a project" thing and found it rather frustrating (sometimes I still do). When I asked for help with a problem I was having, I would usually start out by trying to be civil, introducing myself and framing the problem at a high-level so that people interested or knowledgeable about the area would pipe up. I never got a response and I couldn't understand why.

Recently, I'm finding myself on the opposite side of that interaction, ignoring the person asking for help because I don't feel like asking for more information about their issue. For all of the people out there experiencing frustration while trying to get help, I wanted to provide some advice on the subject of getting what you want:

  • Culturally, developer communities are usually filled with very technically-mind individuals, each with different skill-sets. They aren't usually interested in using the channel as a form of interaction or a chatroom. They want to solve their problems, keep up to date on the latest developments (by reading other people's posts) and sometimes pipe in when they know something.

  • Don't bother asking if anyone 'knows about a thing'. Most of these people are at work while on the channel and are working on projects of their own. They aren't watching the channel eagerly to help young bright minds who want to ask high-level questions which demand long, explanatory answers.┬áPeople are busy! Don't waste their time.

  • People in these communities are usually most interested in the technical issues. Ask technical questions and provide enough information that they can try and answer it concisely and without asking for more context or information.

In summary, when you need a question answered just keep it simple, keep it technical, keep it professional. If you are using software X, instead of asking "Does anyone know anything about X?" try "While using X, I used feature Y and Z happened.", copy error messages, version numbers and everything you can think of that might be useful.

Good luck.