Sunday, 24 March 2013

Kuuliza Si Ujinga - (Direct translation) Asking is NOT foolish

Kuuliza Si Ujinga

As a native Swahili speaker, there are some things, especially Swahili proverbs, that I find impossible to express in English. So excuse the title - but sure hope the translation helps! ;) To elaborate on it a little, the proverb was used by encourage people to ask many questions, because asking does not mean your foolish. In fact, it means the exact opposite! 

I remember my teachers using this proverb a lot in class. After teaching a new concept, my physics teacher would always ask for questions - no hand was raised. This is because most of us were thinking that our silly question was going to waste time for the other brilliant students, and teacher. Plus, who wants to be the only one who did not understand?

So how does all this relate to opw?

One of my favourite activities during my internship is the opw meeting. The meeting is pretty informal - done over irc where the mentors and interns share their thoughts on whatever topic that's being discussed. You can get the logs here.

Doing the last meeting someone made a comment, and I thought I must blog about it.  Here is the comment:

I particularly ask, because I have sort of inhibition that people might be very busy to entertain my naive queries which I am sure to have

From my experience contributing to Deltacloud, these are my thoughts on this. 

It's totally OK not to know

Seriously, it's ok! When joining a new project, everyone else in the project knows more about it than you do. This is a fact. Everyone knows it. And there is nothing to be ashamed about. On day one on my internship, Marios gave me the most comprehensive intro to the code I was going to work with (and two fat pdfs! :) ). He gave me the intro, even before I asked thing. I choose to highlight this because it means one thing - he knew I didn't know as much as about the Deltacloud API as he did, which is ok! He probably expects "naive" questions from me (And he got many of them!). 

The comment up there got me thinking that a lot of people are not contributing to open source projects cause of that fear - which actually only exists in your head! FOSS devs are usually very willing to help out - it's actually part of the culture! There is no shame is not knowing - but there is shame in not wanting to learn! 

To emphasize my point, if a Ruby Conf was being held in Tanzania (a country that mainly speaks in Swahili) and Marios and I are attendants, I actually expect "naive" questions from  him! E.g, "How do I say hi?". These questions do not mean he is dumb - they mean he wants to learn! He could have chosen to just smile and wave to whoever he is saying hi to, but instead, chose to learn how to say it in Swahili. 

I hope this encourages someone to ask more of those those naive questions - they have a home in open source. ;)


  1. This is so true! Asking questions should be encouraged. It's better to ask now and not waste time struggling on your own for hours.

  2. I have to say its better to ask questions if you don't really know about some stuffs. It makes you know more along the way.
    Moving away from the topic, i need to ask you about some things about codeacademy and codeyear which i am having issues with. I am learning to be a developer and i will be very happy if we can get to chat. My email is or you can send me a mail. Thanks

  3. Übersetzungsbüro englisch Thanks a lot for sharing this, if you know urdu, I have urdu translation of Holy Quran in Poetry. if you want it please contact me