The frustration of people who are not interested in why something works but only interested in the magic phrase they need to type

Raymond Chen


It’s frustrating when people who are presumably smart
(or who are at least pretending to be)
have a problem and are satisfied to receive the magic phrase they
need to type with no interest at all in understanding why
the magic phrase works.
For example, here’s a question sent to an internal mailing list
for users of something I’ll call Program Q.

From: X

Why is it that after I use program Q to create a table,
nothing else works?
Here’s a batch file I’ve written:

q create table newtable
q create table newtable2

The pause command never executes; in fact, nothing in the
batch file executes after the first line.
How can I create multiple tables from a batch file?

My psychic powers didn’t need very much charging up to solve this one.
Program Q is a popular one, and some teams like to create a wrapper
around it for whatever reason.

My psychic powers tell me that the first “q” on the path
is not q.exe.

Another person on the mailing list knew what I was getting at
and picked up the ball.

From: Y

Try using
call q create table newtable

(Maybe you too can figure out what my psychic powers told me
the problem was.)

The response:

From: X

Thanks, that did the trick.
I put a call in front of the first line and now
the entire batch file runs.

I replied:

Dear X.
Please confirm that the first q on the path is in fact
a batch file,
in order to confirm that you understand the reason why you were
encountering the problem,
that it has nothing to do with Program Q,
and that you understand why the fix works.
Don’t just copy the answer from your neighbor.

I’ve already decided that I’m going to blog about people who
accept an answer without bothering to understand why it works.
Here’s your chance to at least look good when that blog entry
comes out.

There was no response.

Update: This was a mailing list for a programmer’s tool.
And if you’re a programmer, you’d better understand
what you’re doing when you do it, not just cargo-cult your way
through your job.
Especially since this particular problem had nothing to do
with Program Q in the first place
(On the other hand, I don’t blame non-programmers for being
satisfied with magic phrases.)

Raymond Chen
Raymond Chen

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