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Wise words from Nic Brough, all-star Atlassian Answerer Edited

Bridget Community Manager Mar 04, 2020

@Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ has earned the respect of Community Leaders, Community Members, and of Atlassians alike. And this is not just because he has answered thousands of questions and received hundreds of thousands of kudos. It's because he's a great guy who is motivated by helping others. I can't imagine a better first interview to kick off our Atlassian Answerers series! I hope you enjoy and can learn from the following post about Nic's tips and experiences...I know I did! 

When did you start Answering questions on the Atlassian Community, and why?

I think it was about 2006. I know Community is a lot newer than that, but there's a background story that gives some context.

I first started using Atlassian stuff at the beginning of 2004. I was thrown into it by telling my team lead that I had scripted myself out of a job and I'd like to look into wider engagements in the Environments team I was part of. It turned out he had a Jira admin who was leaving and needed replacing, so I tried out. Donal's handover was great, but once he left, I was on my own.

So I sought out help. I quickly found the Atlassian Jive fora (which had maybe 10-20 thousand posts - not just questions, but the comments and answers too), and started asking and reading, and learning. I learned from people like Nick Minutello (whose boots I eventually filled at a bank several years later), @Neal Applebaum, @Jamie Echlin and @Matt Doar . I learned, I read, I tried, I fixed, re-learned and eventually, realised that I was increasingly able to help out with some of the questions.

I was, and still am, very grateful for the help I got there and want to put back in.  And I enjoyed the engagements, so I carried on doing it.  I can usually find an answer in Community now, so I rarely ask questions any more.

How many Answers do you think you’ve given to date?

I have no idea. I think the Jive forum reported the numbers, but that got moved to OSQA, then Confluence with Questions, and then on to the current Khoros (Lithium) platform.  This still does report, but because of the migration above, a lot of my original answers have been dropped by each migration (This isn't as sad as it sounds - answers for Jira 2 probably aren't much use for Jira 8 or cloud people)!

But it's not a numbers game for me. I don't do it for that. I like helping. A secondary reward is that I have a reputation that has got me a job, and, more importantly, enabled me to make new friends.

What is your system for Answering questions? (How do you decide which ones to Answer, how do you sort your Community feed, etc).

Community feed is not something I use a lot.  I do use it to look for unanswered questions. The main thing I've got is watching the collections I am interested in. I then get an email that I can quick-read to see if it might be interesting and if it is, I'll open the link in a browser to go back to later. After I've gathered a handful, I'll work through the browser tabs. 

Note that this is not just answering, it includes following up on comments or further questions and also reading the topics I'm interested in. A typical set of tabs might have 5 Jira things, 2 Confluence and 10 things I want to read but probably not respond to.

What do you wish Question askers would include in their Question?

Proper explanations. The things I dread seeing the body or problem descriptions are:

"It doesn't work"

Ok, you've probably told me the area that's not working, and most people will tell you how they got there, which is appreciated, but "it doesn't work" is useless.  You need to tell us what you did, what you expected and exactly what happens.  If, for example you've modified a workflow transition and "it doesn't work", then what is the actual symptom?  You don't get offered it?  It executes instantly when you were expecting a pop up (or vice versa)? You get an error message? Box pops up, but the transition button throws an error or just depresses and does nothing?  And so on.  

When I get exasperated by people not telling us what is wrong because they won't answer "what does not work", you may have seen something like that list before.  Except it usually includes a penguin as well.  "It doesn't work because there is an angry penguin jumping up and down on my keyboard" is absurd, but at least it gives us something to work with.  Unlike "It doesn't work"

"Integrate"

This is a suitcase word.  Great for a summary, but "I want to integrate X with Y" is also mostly useless. We can't give any useful answer until we open the suitcase and see what is in it. You need to tell us what you want from that integration. 

For example, "I want to integrate Jira with Outlook". Right, so we can assume it's an email thing, but are you talking about send, receive, displays, or something else? In what direction?  "Integrate" is, again, useless. Tell us what you really want.

No evidence of trying for themselves

Stop trying to use us as a search engine. We're slower, grumpier and, sometimes, less helpful than a search engine, and you're wasting your time and ours.

I am delighted with a question that shows that someone has tried RTFM / LMGTFY before asking us. Even if they've found totally the wrong stuff, or misread it, they're asking a genuinely useful question. That evidence really makes me want to help them. 

I do not like the ones where we can respond with a link to a documentation page or a one-liner that's almost an RTFM. Because the questioners are probably not in the slightest bit interested. There's someone just farming us and passing off Community expertise as their own.

"Why?"

Quite often, we see questions that are a technical "I want to do X with Y". These questions might look ok at first, but they often unravel into totally different things and it turns out that the questioner has picked a bad way to achieve a good goal and really needs a different approach.  I think the first one of these I got caught out by was "I want to do something complex and clever with a plugin I'm trying to write, here's some code, help me wrangle it".  It got increasingly complex, and I did eventually ask "why are you doing this?". Turns out the answer was "try the Participants field in the Jira Toolkit".  Because I didn't know what the real desire was, we ran in the wrong direction. If someone asks a question that proscribes a limited way to do something without explanation of why that approach was chosen, stop, and ask the five whys.

What do you think makes a good Answer?

Something that gets the questioner further towards something that works for them.

But that is the minimum of a good answer. A good answer:

  • Solves the problem
  • Clearly explains the problem the questioner has run into and why it is a problem
  • Does not spoon-feed an answer that no-one else can use
  • Encourages understanding and learning, rather than just doing it by rote

You don't learn by blindly following instructions, a good answer points people in the right direction without spoon-feeding, so they learn from doing.

What do you like the most about answering questions?

Learning something new while trying to help.

What is the most frustrating thing about answering questions?

People who don't read the answer. I find it very frustrating when you answer the question (or even just ask for missing information), and the questioner just repeats the same question. They have not bothered, so why should I?

Arguably worse are the ones who don't like the answer and start to attack it instead of learning that their dislike really just means that they don't quite understand Scrum/Kanban/DevOps/Reporting/Project Management/Scaled Agile/CICD/Agile/and/software development/or/or/or..../

What is a question that YOU want to know the Answer to?  <- this one is meant to be fun

  • Why don't penguin's feet freeze?
  • Do black holes exist as we think of them, or are they really boson stars?
  • How long is "now"?
  • How many Chuck Norrises could Chuck Norris chuck, if Chuck Norris could chuck Norris?

Actually, no, I read "New Scientist" so I know some of the answers already.

On the Atlassian subject, it's one I've seen a few times before, but haven't had an update recently. How does Atlassian deal with the negative feedback they get from changes or failure to implement highly requested improvements? (Apart from the ones that are not real improvements of course - I know about the diplomatic "no")

10 comments

Thank you Nic for all the helpful answers and for the fun interview! You too Bridget, thanks for that!

Like # people like this

Cool stuff! 

I am an often visitor on answers and I learnt quite a lot from you. Thanks Nic for all the work you do!

Like # people like this
DPK J Community Leader Mar 05, 2020

Nice stuff @Bridget 

We need more this kind of interviews to stay inspired. :-)

Like # people like this
Bridget Community Manager Mar 05, 2020

Coming your way! Let me know if you're particularly impressed by an Answerer and I'll reach out. @DPK J if you're not careful, I'll be bothering you in your inbox as well ;) 

Like Monique vdB likes this
DPK J Community Leader Mar 05, 2020

I'm real easy to impress. Everyone who give time to help other is an inspiration.

So whom do I want to see,

  1. Authors (Awesome authors)
    • I'm really interested in knowing their process, and background
  2. 9+ Levelers
    • How come guys, how?
  3. And, finally super awesome managers,
    • Orchestration of this community

If all are busy, them I'm happy to share my story. :-)

Nic is what i would call an atlassian ninja.

I cant count the times i've found an answer by him that helped me out somewhere in my daily work.  And im pretty new to this community still, so thats that. Great job man.

One last thing:

"How long is now?"

Who cares. It's over :)

Keep up the great work and know that we do benefit from you knowledge more than you might think. <3

Like # people like this
Jack Community Leader Mar 05, 2020

great article. I really appreciate the insights as always Nic.

Like # people like this
David Willson Community Leader Mar 22, 2020

"Does not spoon-feed an answer that no-one else can use" - anyone able to elaborate on this?

Also i love this quote "Arguably worse are the ones who don't like the answer" this is a MAJOR issue. And as a user that uses the community to find solutions its very challenging. There is a very fine line between training and support. 

Nic - you are an absolute legend.

Jack Community Leader Mar 25, 2020

oh no....there goes Nic's head exploding again! ;-)

but then again it is true. :-)

Credit where credit is due! Even in 2009 when I started my ... JIRA Journey (?) ... he was already the wizard in the kingdom.

What do you wish Question askers would include in their Question? section
So you're saying there is such a thing as a stupid question... knew it! 

Appreciate the honest and insightful viewpoints. Mental note made to keep a lookout for Nic's answers 

nina_schmidt Community Leader Sep 19, 2020

Nic‘s answers always help me out! 👏

Nic's answers have also helped me out a LOT of times. Most of the problems my team has that I cannot solve myself appear to have been addressed by Nic at some point in the past, and a couple of the follow-up questions have actually lead me to find the answers I needed without needing to ask anything more. 



Laurens Coppens Community Leader Nov 05, 2020

Nic rules, Thanks for your great work in the community, helped me out a lot!

But @Bridget can we get an answer to Nic's question?

On the Atlassian subject, it's one I've seen a few times before, but haven't had an update recently. How does Atlassian deal with the negative feedback they get from changes or failure to implement highly requested improvements?

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