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Re-Air: Listener Question: Mujthaba Asks About What To Do When You Don't Know

Published 9/14/2016

Note: Today's episode is a re-airing of an episode that came out last week. Tune in Friday for a brand new episode of Developer Tea!

In today's episode, we talk about how to handle questions that you don't have good answers to.

Today's episode is sponsored by Linode! Head over to Linode.com/developertea or use the code DeveloperTea20 at checkout for a $20 credit towards your cloud hosting account! Thanks again to Linode for your support of Developer Tea.

And lastly...

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey, everyone, I'm Malcolm2 Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and today's episode, I answer listener Mochesteba's question about what to do when you don't know. Today's episode is sponsored by Linode. With Linode, you can instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. You can get a server running in just seconds with your choice of Linux distribution, resources, and node location. We will talk more about what Linode has to offer to you as a developer later on in today's episode. But first, I want to answer Mochesteba's question, Mochesteba's question, Mochesteba's question, and simply asked, how do you answer your client or boss when they ask you a technical question that you don't know the answer to? And I imagine a lot of you have had this scenario occur. Your boss, or perhaps your supervisor, or even just a coworker, has come up to your desk and asked you a question that you don't know the answer to. And it's easy to feel a sense of panic. It's easy to feel like it's your job to have the answer. You will continuously encounter problems that you don't have the answer to. We're gonna come back to that over and over and over. You're going to have a hard time if you think that this job is all about having the answer on the spot. Your value is indeed in your knowledge. You are being hired as a developer because of the knowledge that you have. But what kind of knowledge are you actually providing? Well, a lot of people confuse this specific point. In many fields, the knowledge that is used is based on a combination of specific skills that hardly ever change throughout your entire career and experience. And your experience will define how you apply those specific skills. Most of the time, the variation isn't a complete overhaul of the skill set either. So when those skills do change a lot of the time, they change only slightly. This is very different from the developer. Your value as a developer is that you know how to apply your experience and your previous skills in order to solve a myriad of future problems and acquire new specific skills and knowledge continuously throughout your career. In other words, as a developer, some of the value that you provide is not necessarily in knowing everything that you need to know, but rather knowing how to learn, knowing how to acquire the knowledge, acquire the skills that are necessary to do your job. You will encounter problems that you don't know how to solve right away multiple times in the future. In fact, probably multiple times per day. Not knowing the answer to a problem or a technical question is generally not an issue from a business perspective. In other words, you aren't going to cost the company money simply because you don't know the answer to a problem or a technical question right away. And we're gonna take a quick sponsor break and we're going to come back and answer how do you respond to this? How do you actually act this out at your job? Today's episode is sponsored by Linode. If you have questions, for example, about the technical side of servers, well, Linode answers a lot of those questions for you. They have eight data centers, a plan start at just $10 a month and it's gonna be even cheaper for you. We'll talk about that in a second. You can get a server running in under a minute and they have hourly billing with a monthly cap on all plans and add-on services, including backups, node balancers and long view. You can have a VM for full control. You can run your own Docker containers. You can set up your own Git server. You can do pretty much anything you want to with a Linode server. They have native SSD storage, a 40 gigabit internal network and an Intel E5 processor stack and they have a seven day money back guarantee. Now, it's only $10 anyway, but on top of that, Linode is offering Developer Tealisteners $20 worth of credit just for being a listener of the show. You can use the code Developer Tea 20 at checkout. That's linode.com slash Developer Teathat should automatically apply that promo code Developer Tea 20. By the way, as a July 1, Linode now offers two gigabytes of RAM for only $10 a month. So if your boss comes to you and asks you, how can we get a server up and running in the fastest amount of time, your answer is Linode. Go and sign up today, linode.com slash Developer Tea. Thank you again, of course, to Linode for sponsoring the show and making it possible for us to do this show day in and day out. Thank you again to Linode, our incredible sponsor. So we're talking about what to do when you don't know the answer, when you're boss or your coworker or supervisor or even a client asks you a question that you don't have the answer to. The reality is your goal, your goal in your job is to find answers. Finding answers is one of the most important things that you do in your job. So you need to focus on how you answer this question, right? You need to focus on how you actually respond. Not only your body language and your word choice, but your method of solving problems. Instead of saying you don't know, for example, explain the process that you would follow next to find the answer. People see the response of, I don't know as a dead end. They see that response as, I don't know and I'm not going to help you. That's how that comes across. Finding the path to an answer is a more important skill than memory. Finding a path to an answer is the same value as if you were to have that knowledge in your mind memorized for a later retrieval. With that said, it is important that you know and memorize certain important parts, certain key parts of the domain you are working in. For example, if you're a web developer, some of the information you probably want to keep in your working memory so that you don't have to look it up might be the basics of HTTP requests or the primary set of elements in HTML, the available properties and selector types in CSS or the control structures and other basic syntax of JavaScript. Things you don't necessarily need to memorize to be a good web developer might be the specific differences that specific technical differences between HTTP and HTTP2 or perhaps the full list of CSS compatibility differences between current browsers or every method in the library or framework you use in JavaScript, assuming it's sufficiently large, of course. This kind of specific information is easily reachable with just a few keystrokes if you know what to search for. The specific knowledge of these things is useful, of course, but knowing how to find this information and knowing how to apply that information to solve problems is far more important than remembering it for yourself. So focus on problem solving, not knowledge retainment. If your boss asks you a question that you don't have the answer to, then the best thing you can do is explain to your boss exactly the next step you would take and perhaps the following steps that you would take in order to find the answer. I remember the answer to any good question in development often starts with it depends. The answer then would detail the options as well as the trade-offs between those options. A specific technical question is often not the linchpin in the success or the failure of your career. Focus on communicating what you are thinking, how you are finding information and using that information to solve a given problem. Mochabba, I hope I helped you with this answer. I hope that this is clarifying for you. And I hope that the next time your boss comes and asks you a question that you don't have the answer to, instead of saying that you don't know, you immediately start in on your plan to learn what you need to know. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. Of course, today's theme once again was learning and we've talked about learning so much in the past. We're going to talk about it more in the future. So please, if you don't want to miss out on future episodes that talk about this subject, this subject of learning, then go ahead and subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use regularly. You just press the subscribe button and future episodes are automatically delivered to your device. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. And thank you, of course, to today's wonderful sponsor, Linode. If you are looking for an SSD cloud hosting solution, go and check out Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Use the code Developer Tea 20 for $20 a credit at checkout. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring Developer Tea. And until next time, enjoy your tea. Thank you so much.