Is Your Open Source Community Still Telling Newbies to RTFM?

Recently, I was shocked to see a newbie being told to RTFM in a forum for an open source community I have been part of for years. It seemed so ludicrous at first I thought it must be a parody. ┬áMy disbelief was akin to seeing a roof being built with asbestos “Are we seriously still doing that?”.

Ok, ok, I’ll admit in the very early part of my career, I would have condoned replying to someone in a forum in that way. After all we were busy programmers, under pressure to get things done, why should we waste our time on users who couldn’t even be bothered to try to help themselves? It was a quick way to set them straight.

Knowing this was the culture, it would take me ages crafting a question to an open source community, spelling out the manuals I’d already read and things I’d googled before asking for help. Often I wouldn’t even bother posting at all. I could easily handle being ignored, but not the subconscious fear of an RTFM. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate how really toxic such responses are for open source communities and their growth.

It was oh so arrogant and often too easily done, but I’m glad I now know better. Asking someone to RTFM is never justified and always unprofessional. I was glad to see that in this specific case, another member of the community jumped in to help the newbie and a senior member of the community put out a request to keep things civil.

Like me, the communities are growing up too. One of the best things to happen in the Eclipse community has been establishing a code of conduct, not just for conferences but for daily dealings of the community. Yes, as I found out, it turns out we really do need one after all – laid out in writing for all to share as the common culture. The best bit? Now if you see someone exhibit this behaviour, you can take them quietly aside and ask them to Read The, erm, Manual.