This has been my fifth month as a Learning Assistant and I have some observations that I would like to share with the community. These are my personal opinions and are not that of Dataquest’s or any of the other community volunteers.
1. Before Asking Questions
Many at times when we come to the community forums to ask questions, we are troubled by a bug or a concept. We hope to tap on the knowledge to perhaps solve our doubts.
The Learning Assistants program was introduced earlier this year to encourage sharing of knowledge. Community Guidelines were also introduced to help simplify the process of crafting of a question template and aiding volunteers, Learning Assistants and community moderators answer questions in the shortest possible time. However, I found myself reminding learners about adhereing to these guidelines. Conforming to these undoubtedly takes more time, but can help save you and the volunteer time in understanding and answering of your queries.
Let me suggest a few other tips that I personally find really helpful in speeding up this process:
Google the answer: obvious as it may seem, this really saves time. Chances are that over 90% of data science questions that you have has been asked before. Even the pros do it. There’s really nothing to be ashamed of. It’s part and parcel of the learning process.
Use the search functionality: See that magnifying glass on the top right of the menu bar? That’s your weapon to saving time! Carrying on from the first point, questions you want answered have probably been ask in the community before, especially those regarding dataquest courses! So click the icon to search for the specific mission screen where you experience the issue on.
Read the docs: sometimes your answer is found here. Learn how to read the documentations and be comfortable while doing so. Arguments to a function/method and other optional parameters are often documented in these. Though long and intimidating, they are extremely useful in understanding the content in the mission steps and the sample codes. Trust me, once you get used to it, it won’t be so difficult to search for your answer or learn more about what a particular line does.
Hopefully you are able to find your answer using the above 3 methods, if not, read on…
2. Asking Questions
Community Volunteers are not superhuman. Neither are we paid to answer questions. Just like you, we are human and we make mistakes. I know how it is like to be extremely frustrated with a bug in our code as I have been there myself.
- Provide Context: Sometimes additional context go a long way in aiding us in answering your questions. After following the guidelines (Yes, they are very important so I put them here again ), help us as volunteers understand:
what you are facing
what you are thinking and
what you understand from your code/the sample solution (or what you have researched–with a link)
Like I said earlier, we do not know what you are thinking or what you understand. This helps us put into perspective your point of view and to better aid you in tackling your difficulties by putting us in your shoes.
This is especially important for
Non-DQ Courses. Let’s say you have come up with a project or used an external resource and post a query on the forums without context and we don’t have the background information necessary to give a specific and sound answer so we may just end up giving a generic answer, which is not what you are looking for.
Respect all of us: No matter how agitated you may be, remember that asking questions is part of the learning process. I don’t think its fair for you to vent your anger and frustrations on volunteers, who are earnestly trying to help you solve you doubts. These volunteers take time off their daily lives to serve this community and I think respect is the bare minimum that we should accord to them. Take time to pause and reflect and think about your question/response before you post… Does my language offend anyone? Am I using a rude tone? Would I want someone to treat me like this if I were them?
Be mindful of others’ feelings when using Caps Lock and multiple Exclamation Marks (
!!!) as these may make you seem rather demanding of the answer, which I do not encourage. (i.e. use it only when really necessary like in your code)
List all your questions at the beginning: Yes, it’s alright to ask follow up questions for clarifying doubts already answered. However, for those questions that you already have, feel free to ask them. Don’t ask your questions one by one if you already have them in mind. The outcome will not be a pleasant one–both for you and the volunteer attending to you. Another tip I would give is to use bullet points or numbering in your questions as a visual aid to the volunteer as a note to how many queries you have.
For subsequent questions that are not related to the initial topic, please create a new topic to have a clear segregation. This will help future learners find the answer more quickly and not be confused by your additional queries that are unrelated to the topic.
Tag your queries (for Dataquest-related missions): In addition to providing a link to your mission screen, providing you code, telling us what you are facing, what you are thinking and what you understand from your code/the sample solution, please tag your queries. You are doing the community a great service by doing this, because future learners can more quickly reference the solution to a similar problem/difficulty they may be facing. Use the
optional tagsfunctionality to search for the specific mission screen/step where you face the issue. (E.g.
GUIDELINE #4: Add tags to mention the technology used
At a minimum, specify -
R. Awesome if you add tags for
ggplotor other specific technology that you’re working with.
Known Bugs: The platform is designed by humans and thus, the software is not perfect. Here is a list of known bugs. Feel free to upvote them. For bugs that are not reported, feel free to report it or submit a ticket here. Please be patient with the staff as they attend to you/attempt to rectify the issue and show them the due respect they deserve (as mentioned in point 2).
Volunteer’s Imperfections: Do also understand that volunteers’ answers may not be perfect. Not all of us are subject matter experts and we are always learning like you. When required, feel free to reach out to us if you have further doubts and if possible, explain to us what you understand from our previous reply. If we are unable to come up with an answer, I’m sure others with experience in the subject area will be able to step in to assist you.
Thank you for your time in reading this lengthy post and I hope that you could consider to put these into practice to make the community a much better place for learning and sharing!