Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The IRC mentality

In recent years, more hacker forums have sprouted up, moving away from the traditional "somebody asks, a bunch of people reply, and then there are replies to that", to some newer ideas.

For example, there's Stackoverflow.

StackOverflow is an excellent idea.

By introducing gamification into the idea of answering other people's questions for free, they've changed the entire scene of programmer forums. This causes people to think twice (well, for the most part) before posting useless questions, and the same for question answerers.

This works with amazing efficiency; ask a fairly easy to understand question on StackOverflow (SO), and you'll get an answer within a couple of minutes (unless its something incredibly unpopular like running ARM assembly on a MBR), and the answers are immediately filtered out because the upvote-downvote system.

As a added bonus, the interface is clean, succinct, and clear.

Frankly, its just all out awesome.

Coming from places like Daniweb (ads above the fold; aarrgh), its a welcome breath of fresh air.

But, that's not where I started.

I started on IRC.

IRC is facing popularity issues these days; with all the new solutions for collaborating (for example, Stripe uses Campfire by 37signals).

I'm not going to talk about how IRC is outdated, and, I'm not going to tell you that its the only "real" way to chat with people, because that's your decision.

But, I will tell you about the community around IRC.

When you're a beginning programmer, and you're starting to walk around the intricacies of a language, and you're faced with a problem you can't solve with, say, 10 minutes of work, what do you do?

You try to ask for some help.

Consider two scenarios, one on a website like StackOverflow, and one on IRC.

You post it on SO, and you get a response in five or six minutes that tells you how to solve the problem, and tells you what you're doing wrong, and you're able to get your code working, you hope that the person who gave the answer has a nice dinner, and move on.

Second, you go onto IRC, and you ask the question. Someone comes to your assistance. Then, the first thing they usually tell you is to check the "docs", and if you don't know what this is, they'll point you towards where it is. You search around for 10 minutes, find something you think might be right, and the person helps you get it working. But, he just gives you a few hints like "see, you're trying to pass in a string right there, but, $num is supposed to be a number", and at the end of an hour, you've finally solved your problem, and you feel amazing.

What would you pick?

I would  pick the IRC experience.

It teaches you HOW to go about solving problems in general, not just the solution to a particular problem that you're facing right at that current moment (well, that too), and you get a much more deep understanding of the problem you're facing, and you'd be apply the same knowledge of "check docs, figure out function, pass in right types" to hundreds of other problems you'll face pretty soon.

Now, this is for a new programmer.

If you're an experience programmer, and have been trying to solve something for 4 hours without success and think you're missing one small quote somewhere, or you're getting a NULL pointer, you'd be better off on SO, but, for new programmers, IRC is important.

That's what I think, do tell me what you think in the comments section below!

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  1. As a new programmer, I think that this is fantastic advice, but so far being an autodidact has left me missing out on a community with similar interests. My problem is that I'm unsure of how to get started with IRC, particularly where to start looking for the right channels. You have any advice?

    1. Yeah, sure!

      I recommend Freenode as an IRC network, they're incredibly helpful and supportive, and for an IRC client, XChat or Pidgin would be my recommendation.

      If you are writing code in python, #python is an enormous community.

      Basically, if you're writing in language X, #X is probably the place to go.

      I hope you enjoy the journey of programming!

      Follow if you liked it :) (top right)

  2. IRCForumlari.COM bütün bireylerden bağımsız Turkçe ircd ve ircforumlari alaninda hizmet veren bir kuruluştur.