The engineering world has a long standing tradition none of us should be too proud of: rudeness. There was, in fact, a time when I was working the phones on customer support that the general attitude was, “feel free to flame me when I ask a question, just answer the question in the flame.” Flames were an accepted part of daily life.
Which prompts me to ask a simple question: why?
A number of answers have been given over the years, with the most prevalent being, “It’s nothing personal. Primarily it is a time management problem,” (Actually posted as the answer in a FAQ).
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. As I can attest from my personal experience in the forum tied to the FAQ, people in the IT industry often make more time to be rude than they do to actually be helpful. Rather than posting a link to answer a question, we make up long stirring posts about how stupid the questioner is.
Or maybe the answer is engineers just think people who “can’t read the manual,” don’t deserve our time and respect? Or that we don’t want to constantly answer the questions of people who won’t take the time to learn for themselves? Sorry, I don’t buy these excuses, either. I’ve worked with really smart people all my life, and yet I’ve never met anyone who didn’t fail to understand what the manual says, or didn’t have the time to read the code, or simply couldn’t find what they were looking for — resulting in what some folks might call a “stupid question.”
I’m not going to psychologize here, or try and put personal motives behind the epidemic of rudeness in the engineering world. Is it because we think being rude makes you look smart? Or because we like the feeling of power we get when someone asks what we consider to be a “stupid question,” and we want to belittle them as much as possible along the way? Or is it because we really think that rude questions will drive away stupid questions, and everyone will eventually leave us alone to put our heads down and code, or configure that new router, or… ??
I don’t honestly know the answer.
What I do know is that if we think rudeness will make people leave us alone, then we’re probably right. On the other hand, I’m not certain how and why we think that being left alone is a good thing. After all, you don’t want to be “left alone,” when you’re looking for a new job, or when you’re asking for a promotion, or when you’re the one asking a stupid question, do you? No, I didn’t think so.
Yes, I get frustrated at questions for which I think the answer is obvious. And yes, I sometimes snap at people who ask me things. But over the years, I’ve learned that just as I can’t always find the answer with a search (because I simply don’t know where to look all the time), others can’t either. That I need to differentiate between those who are using me to get ahead in their own world, and those who honestly want to learn, or honestly can’t find the answer they’re looking for.
In general, I’ve learned that rudeness doesn’t, actually, serve me well. That being rude doesn’t make me look smart, it just makes me rude, and there are more people who can ask me questions than I can be rude to.
That being rude is not an effective defense mechanism.