RTFM And Man Files

Okay, fair. So you don’t want to answer a question that someone could answer for themselves if they weren’t a lazy bag. But when RTFM is the response to a novice not reading the man pages, I get a little upset.

Man pages are archaic, difficult-to-search blocks of text. And yes, they’re better than nothing (especially if you don’t have access to the internet!), so I’m not calling them obsolete, but if other references are available, the last place you should direct a newbie is the man page. Their eyes are going to glaze over and you’re going to discourage them from trying to learn anything new. And often times, the answer to a simple question doesn’t require the depth of explanation that a man page provides. Sometimes, all the user really needs to know is what order the arguments should be passed in, or where the file name goes. Useful one-liners shouldn’t be discouraged as answers. As the user grows (or not) as a technology professional, they’ll learn more about these tools out of necessity.

We were all novices once. We all had to rely on the advice of experts and teachers to help us get to where we are today. If we’re going to support the growth of our industry and usher in young, new talent, we need to foster a supportive environment – one where newbies aren’t turned away to the man pages as a rite of passage.

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