Recently at work I’ve been helping to onboard a few new folks. When they run into a technical issue and they ask for help, it is often the case they aren’t aware of what the actual problem is. They will often ask about something else entirely that actually isn’t the problem that they ran into.1

I often find myself saying something along the lines of

can you post the whole log?

Once they do the problem usually becomes immediately clear.

When we get stuck on a problem a lot of the time its because we overlooked some important detail. Thus we rely on other people to help us identify what we overlooked. When you don’t give someone the whole context of the problem, it’s like asking someone to solve a cross word puzzle, but you’re only given the clues and a blank grid.

To give the whole context of your problem you should do the following things:

  • state what you’re trying to accomplish
  • state what you’re doing
  • show what you have observed.

If the person that is helping you needs more context, that you didn’t know to provide they then should prompt you to provide it.

Like this:

post the whole fucking log

PTWFL for short, or PTWL if you prefer.

It may be a tad bit dramatic or passive aggressive. But it’s somewhat warranted since when you ask someone to help you and you didn’t provide a crucial piece of information you are just wasting everyone’s time.

Since it is dramatic, and quick to the point it should only be used when it’s immediately clear what context is missing.

Example: I post online about a issue with hugo that I have encountered, but I don’t post the log printed by hugo when I encounter the issue. My question should immediately be replied to by someone telling me to Post the whole fucking log.

  1. this normally shouldn’t be an issue given a clean codebase, but we were only just recently a scrappy startup, and our codebase reflects that. But I’m sure problems like this are common in most places where people gather and work on software. ↩︎