Collaboration with a Newbie

It started with writing a comment in reply to an article Pippin Williamson wrote on Encouraging Community Collaboration and Development, but I figured I had more to say on the subject than I first though, so decided to turn it into a post instead.

I want to re-iterate a point Pippin made about WordPress, that really, it’s just a huge collaboration effort between everyone. If you help out in the support forums, write documentation for the codex, or write patches for core; it all makes WordPress what it is today, tomorrow, and the future.

As most of you will be aware, I’m in the middle of developing Timeline. The first real plugin that I’ve written, and it’ll not be my last, but it’s one crazy ride and a whole new experience. Stepping outside your comfort zone and learning things in the process.

The Little Man (or Women)

Right now I’m out of my depth.

I’m just the little man who decided he was going to release a WordPress plugin.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and normally it’s from the bottom, before you start working your way up. That doesn’t happen overnight though, it takes time. Everything on the internet happens in double-quick time. What was best practise one week isn’t necessarily the same the next.

I have massive respect for talented people such as Andrew Nacin, Daryl Koopersmith, Justin Tadlock, Mark Jaquith, Jen Mylo, Mike Little, Siobhan McKeown, Helen Hou-Sandi, Pippin Williamson and Matt Mullenweg; along with businesses such as 8Bit, StudioPress, WooThemes and Automattic. You all do what you do best!

Being the newbie, I look up to all those more knowledgeable around me. I follow them on Twitter, read their website, check out their plugins for examples of how things should be done. It’s like having that big brother or sister around when you’re lost.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. I have openly asked for contributions to Easy Digital Downloads several times, and guess what? New contributors popped up every single time I asked. Every single time.

The above is a quote from Pippin, where he talks about just asking for help.

If only it what that simple.

You’re not asking for someone to code absolutely everything, or do 100% of the work. All you’re after is a nice and friendly prod in the right direction. In theory, you’ll only learn if you can learn from the best.

Normally I’m the last person to ask for help. I almost live by the fact that if I can’t do it then I’ve failed. I could have had 99.9% right, but because it doesn’t work, I think I got it ALL wrong. It doesn’t take much to help. What would have maybe taken five minutes to find and point out, would have resulted in a happy first-time developer.

When I first started on Timeline, there was help and suggestions from Emyr Thomas which included code, Evan Solomon left a comment saying I should look into a certain filter, and Jesse Petersen also had a spare couple of minutes to comment. It was all appreciated.

What’s The Solution, If Any?

Unless the knowledgeable want to look down on the young, and if they’re stuck, offer them a hand. I think it’s just going to be a never-ending problem if they don’t, or a very long way to the finishing line. Slow and steady doesn’t always win this kind of race.

Encouraging collaboration needs to come from the top first!

I’ll leave you with a question. Is it easier or harder for a newbie to get the help and/or assistance they might require? Lets discuss it out in the comments below. :)

4 thoughts on “Collaboration with a Newbie

  1. When it comes to asking for help, I think the mistake that many people make (especially when starting out) is not knowing how to ask for it.

    If you keep an eye on the WordPress support forums, Stackexchange, or any other public forum, you will very often see beginners asking questions like this:

    “I don’t know how to do this. Can you show me?”

    In itself this question is fine, but it doesn’t give any indication of them trying to find the solution to the problem on their own. Beginners often get chastised because they ask for help before they search on their own.

    Beginners also get “into trouble” by not showing what they have done to try and help themselves.

    No one is interested in helping the person that won’t try and help themselves.

    You got aid from some very prominent members of the community because you proactively showed what you had already done, and rather than asking for others to write it for you, you asked “how do I make this better? Are there improvements I should make?”. That makes all the difference.

    1. I agree with Pippin 100%. It’s all in how you ask the question and show that you’ve attempted something yourself prior to asking. Not only is this proving you are attempting this on your own, but it also gives a bit of information about where you are knowledge wise, which can make people’s responses much more suitable to you.

      You are right, we all start out somewhere, and if it hadn’t been for the guidance and suggestions of ChromaKode I would have never made my first plugin.

      Keep striving for feedback in what you’ve already completed and you’ll have a great experience. A collaborative effort only thrives if the collaboration is prefaced by an effort to educate oneself. Otherwise it’s just a one way street.

    2. You know Pippin, you’re absolutely right. It’s worth noting that the more helpful you are asking for help, the more help you’re likely to get! Bit of a mouthful, but it works (99.9% of the time).

      Something I think I overlooked when detailing my thoughts for the above post. Back in the days when I first bumped into WordPress, there’s a chance I was guilty of not being helpful, oops! :$

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