Teaching you isn’t free development time

The WP Crowd

Roy Sivan

senior contributor
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Published: August 30, 2016

It’s the end of another Meetup and time for some networking, socializing, and Q&A. I love this time. Besides the occasional times I get to speak at a Meetup and teach the whole room something, it is also the time I can talk one-on-one with attendees who need help and want to learn.

However as the months pass I notice a trend with how the questions are phrased, and the undertone to what is being asked. Sometimes it’s easy to spot, sometimes not, and sometimes it comes days or weeks later in an email.

Wanting to learn something new is something I commend and want to help you with. Wanting to get your client’s website finished without spending money on the functionality that is over your head is not something I want to help you with.

Teaching & Learning is a 2-person commitment

Teaching is something I am committed to. If you want to learn something from me, and I have the time available to teach you, I will make the commitment and teach you. I will set aside time virtually, or even meet you at a coffee shop and teach you how to do what it is you want to do. Whether it is to build a website, learn more about JavaScript or Angular, or even talk more philosophically about leveling up as a developer.

I am so committed to teaching that I spend my time outside of my day job to write and record on Lynda.com, I also attend and speak at WordCamps, teaching things I know. I will be committed to teaching you and I’ll do it for free.

Learning is a commitment that you need to make to me: to listen, to take notes, and to actually digest. If I am a bad teacher, that is on me, but not being active in learning means you never wanted to learn in the first place.

This is where I’ve noticed my time being spent more and more with people finding me at Meetups. I get emails sometimes weeks after that start with “Roy, I have a client, and I don’t know how to do [insert functionality here] and I want to learn how…” or something along those lines. This is not a request to learn something, but a request to fake learning in order for me to help dig you out of a hole.

Free help IS Free work

There are plenty of articles, blogs, and videos out there talking about how free work in any other industry is laughable, however it still comes up. Earlier this year my friend Chris Flannagan wrote this awesome piece on how he doesn’t like helping people, but he will teach someone, which is exactly how I feel right now.

I Won’t Help You, But I Will Teach You

Losing faith

As I face more of these of individuals I have less patience for those who actually want to learn, and I hate myself for it. When I’d usually make time instantly for someone wanting to pick my brain or learn, I now question it and more often than not I try to shove it off in emails.

This is something I’m working on now. I’m trying to get back into giving back. I need to stop assuming that everyone wants to buy me coffee just to watch me code and not learn anything, so they can get paid. The thought of that, though, just infuriates me to no end, mainly ’cause I’ve been there more than a handful of times.

A new deal

I want to propose a new deal. I will help you learn whatever it is you need to do for your client if you take the time to learn from me so you advance yourself. If you have no desire to level up please be honest. I am not going to look down on you for not wanting to be a developer or learn how to code something. I will respect the honesty from you and in return I will be honest to you, and say I can help you for my hourly rate.

I want to preface this with something. If you want to learn something, I can’t take you the whole way. For example

  • Angular seems cool, can you teach me Angular? Will probably be a hard no if you don’t know any JavaScript, try picking up something easier with less of a learning curve.
  • Can you show me how to build a website? Will be a hard no if you just want me to build your company a website
  • I am using this plugin and… I’m going to stop you right there, I am not plugin support, especially not for someone else’s plugin.

However

  • I want to start learning JavaScript, where should I start? Great Question! I’d be happy to walk you through how I learned JavaScript and how I got to where I am today. I also have few podcasts, and can refer to you some awesome resources.
  • I’m OK with JavaScript and have forked your Angular WordPress Theme, and tried to do [this], can you take a look? Is a great question! It shows you know the basics and want to learn more, and further, have taken the initiative to move forward before contacting me.
  • I have an app idea and think WordPress API + Angular may be a good fit, got a moment to chat? Another great question! It isn’t asking me to build anything, but rather brainstorm how the technologies can make sense for the MVP of an app or product.

So let’s move forward with a new deal where you are honest to me. And if you do want to learn, I will make time to teach you. Sound good?

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Bob Dunn
Guest

I can so relate to what you are talking about here. I offered both training and support for 6 years via WordPress. When I dropped the support and focused only on training, there was this gray area and people found it hard to separate training and support, or as you put it, doing work for you. I cannot tell you how many times someone asked me for training, but what they really wanted me to do was fix it for them, then show them how to do it. 🙂 It was interesting, as even when I charged for training (although… Read more »

Marc Benzakein
Guest

Great post! Totally agree with you on this!

Pam Blizzard
Guest

As a formerWP Meetup Organizer, I can completely relate, and just one reason why I backed away from organizing WP Meetups.

WPezDeveloper
Guest

On one hand, I hear ya. The “Sharing Economy” takes on new meaning in the context of the WordPress “Community.” Mind you, so does “developer”, “industry standards” and a handful of other phrases/terms. But we can discuss those some other time 🙂 That said, perhaps the growth in this phenomenon you’re recognizing tracks with WP’s growth (read: relentless – if not senseless – quest for market share)? That is, as WP increases its quantity (i.e., market share) the *quality* of the participants (?) is sliding. Ya think? 😉 I’m sure there’s some fancy economics terms for that. I don’t know… Read more »

WPezDeveloper
Guest

p.s. Roy – I can only assume that if they are tracking you down – 2 weeks or 2 months later – they’re tired, frustrated, over-Google’d, under-fed, etc. They probably don’t have that steady Disney income, etc. Again, I hear ya. But I’m not so sure empathy is a word I’d use to describe the tone of this article. Also keep in mind my friend, there are TONS of WP “expertise” locked up in FB groups, beyond the reach of the search indexing bot. Heck, even within FB searching sucks. The question is (and perhaps the subject of your next… Read more »

John Locke
Guest

This post echoes something that I am having to address more and more, which is when requests step over the line from asking a question into “tell me how to do this so I can get paid by my client”. In particular, this line resonated with me. Wanting to learn something new is something I commend and want to help you with. Wanting to get your client’s website finished without spending money on the functionality that is over your head is not something I want to help you with. I have NO problem answering questions that people hit me up… Read more »

John Hawkins
Guest

I’ve run into this in the past as well. I try not to turn meetup members into clients, but sometimes you need to nip it in the bud and say something like “I’m happy to help you, but this goes above and beyond what I’m comfortable donating my time to do. If you’d like, I’d be happy to provide you an estimate for the work needed if needed.”

Being up front about it will help set boundaries. Taking on more than you’re comfortable with will end up zapping the enjoyment of going to the meetup for you.

Niels
Guest

Thanks for sharing this great article with us Roy! It’s sad that some “developers” try to take the easy path by asking more experienced developers for the final solution instead of the direction. 🙁

Bridget Willard
Guest

I will say this. I agree that learning is a participatory exercise. And we see that people are trying and that makes us feel like we aren’t wasting our time. I was a math teacher for a year and I tutored algebra for ten years after that. I hear the frustration. But you bring up a valid point that seems to be trending in our culture as a whole (not just WordPress). People who don’t value your trade, tend to expect you to give them free work. I can’t tell you how many resumes I have proofread or how many… Read more »

Kim Bruce
Guest

It is more time consuming to teach someone how to do something than it is to do it for them. I commend you.

Chris Flannagan
Admin

It’s far more rewarding though and in the end, you save time because they won’t need to ask as many questions.

Rebecca Gill
Guest

This makes me feel better. I’m strange happy to see the coding community runs into the same issues as non-coders.

I’m always receiving emails from people asking me to pick out WordPress themes for their business or tell them how to best optimize their website for SEO. Neither of which is possible based on a two sentence introduction in their email.

Ahmad Awais
Member

This is so much on point, Roy! ?
I have been meaning to talk about this thing, never got around it, though. It’s hard not to be a dick to tell people when they are being the offensive. Mostly, in local meetups and Twitter, I have been on the receiving end of such questions. You won’t believe that one day a guy from the audience asked me if I could share the list of my clients with him? Imagine that as a question to your 30 mins talk about WordPress as a career.

Casey van Bronkhorst
Guest

This arrived just in time to smack me in the face and divert me from yet another FB group ‘help query’ that was already spiraling down the Alice drain toward unlimited free help. Thank you, and thank you, Theresa Jennings!

Theresa
Guest
Theresa

Aww! Thanks, Casey!

Mike Storzieri
Guest

Great Post, this happens to me all the time.

Grant
Guest

I hate that you’re going through this. I’m. Glad however that you’re setting clear boundaries and that’s a great start. You’ve struck a chord here and I pray that it continues.

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[…] Teaching you isn’t free development time […]

mf simchock
Guest

Oops. Teach. Sorry I’m late. Please don’t make me stay for detention 🙂 There things to add that might help: 1) There’s a book by Dr Frank Luntz** called “Words That Work.” The tagline (?) for the book is: It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. (Think about that for a second.) The other key takeaway is that the responsibility of communications’ closure belongs to the sender, and not the receiver. (Again, give that some pause.) I highly recommend reading Chapter 1, it’s alone is worth the $10 – $20. The rest of it you can skim or… Read more »