How developers should ask for help

How developers should ask for help

Summary: Few people are better qualified than Tom Kyte to instruct developers on how to form questions asking for help.


Few people are better qualified than Tom Kyte to instruct developers on how to form questions asking for help.

Kyte is the man behind Oracle's long-running Ask Tom help desk — starting out as a magazine column and now an online forum.

In this video interview with, Kyte explains how many questions he receives equate to "my car won't start".

"I'm going to do it to you — my car won't start, why? Give me the solution. I'm not going to tell you what errors I see on the dashboard; I'm not going to tell you if I filled the car up with gas recently; I'm not going to tell you if it's making a noise or not making a noise; but my car won't start, why not? There's insufficient data to even begin to answer a question like that."

Kyte also explains how the internet has changed how questions are asked, and how he doesn't reply with RTFM.

Topics: Browser, Broadband, Oracle, Software Development


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Somewhat arrogant comment

    If people have a problem, I would suggest putting it to a forum rather than asking this guy - he seems to busy/fussy to reply.
  • Tom Kyte Is Awesome

    This is a very good interview by a man who has been answering questions about Oracle for longer than most web developers have been programming.

    Lots of this stuff should be common sense, but as he points out, developers who have been staring at a problem for a long time, forget that other folks do not have the context or the reference frame to help with that problem. It is the responsibility of the questioner to properly frame the problem.

    The Anonymous Poster below clearly has no experience answering technical questions on open forums, mailing lists,or any other such avenue.

  • not arrogant at all, he wants people to think through before they ask

    Nothing wrong with his comments. Many people nowadays ask stuff on the internet without even searching for it. Why bother reading the documentation if I can get someone else to answer it. Let Me Google It For You ( is still my favorite website.
  • How to... ask

    Actually somepeople don't know to start with developer. So they don't know they should ask...

    By the way, when they find out information on internet(ow to create table, procedure...). they can see blogs, forums or .... able to help them.

    However, we should find out information before ask anybody ;)
  • Arrogant!

    "he seems to busy/fussy to reply"

    Yes, what a prissy, fussy, arrogant man.

    He is of those Oak Table useless experts.
  • The Emperor has no clothes

    Do you know in Who wants to be a millionaire there are three lifelines? Well my friends, don't put this fellow down as a phone a friend as he may not like the way you frame your question. Instead - ask the audience - or in other words - as a forum. There's plenty of smart people out there who can help!
  • Help him help you

    In my humble opinion, I don't think he sounds like some guy who is busy, he looks as if he is always glad to help others, that is why he nevers goes for RTFM. He is just trying to explain how we can help him to help us, so that the work for both the people is easier :)