Monday, August 22, 2011

Time Travel, or plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

I've been posting at Utter Access since June of 2002. That's nine years of getting help and giving help. Utter Access is a very fine forum, widely acknowledged to be one of the premier sources of Access help on the web. I absolutely agree that it is, although I am very sure there are other fine forums, staffed by volunteers who are as knowledgeable and dedicated as my friends at UA. I just think we're very good.

Recently, though, I've become weary of a type of post and poster that is, unfortunately, all too common. These posts go like this:

"I have a major project that involves doing "So and So" for my organization. I need the following functions to be included in this database:
  • Function A
  • Function B
  • Function C
Please help me design and build this application. Thanks in advance.

Oh, I'm not very good with VBA or SQL, so your explanations need to be as simple as possible."

Well, no. Actually, I won't do that for you.

It's YOUR application and someone--I assume--is paying YOU to create it. If it's part of your job to do this, and you have no choice but to tackle it, I'll cut you a little slack. If you took this on as a paying project, though, you get not one single inch of leeway here. You want to get paid to do the work? Learn the skills and tools you'll need first.

I WILL answer specific questions about specific problems you might encounter, and I'll be happy to offer advice and suggestions, and I'll even lead the cheers when you achieve success. But, no, I'm not in the business of building databases for people too [insert your own adjective] to do their own work. I have enough to do without taking over your project for you.

I don't think I'm being too harsh here. Of course, over at UA, where I happen to hang out a LOT and where I try to make sure new Access developers get a good start, I never write this kind of thing in a forum. These questions, and the attitudes behind them, go with the territory, so to speak. Some of these posters do end up working very hard to learn what they need to know, once they realize just how much is involved. I think it's good policy to encourage that kind of behavior.

Nonetheless, it's part of a pattern that has been going on as long as I can remember. It's part of a world view that says:  "You can, and therefore you should, take care of me."  Those folks have always been around, and I guess they always will be. And not just in the Access help forums. Back in my high school days, I was one of the "volunteers",  who "helped" the local hard-luck family get their hay in the barn every other year or so. Somehow, the other farmers in the area managed to get their own crops put up, and still found time to lend a hand when the time came to help that particular neighbor. My daddy made sure I understood the importance of neighbors helping neighbors, although he occasionally had this look on his face when he said it. You know what I mean, I think.

Back in High School, I also studied French--and the pretty girl who often sat next to me in class. And not necessarily in that order. We're Facebook friends now, and she's apparently very happily married, so I won't say anything more that might identify ça fille jollie. 

Anyway, one of the few French phrases I do remember from those days is "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose". It's a very fine way of saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

I sometimes wish I could go back to the 12th grade and pick up a few other, perhaps more useful, phrases, but, well, it is what it is. All I know  for sure is that whenever I see one of those posts in the Access forums  laying out the high level specs for a database project that needs to be done as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible, my thoughts go right back to the third desk in the second row, right behind the prettiest girl in the class, and I repeat to myself, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

In a way, I guess, I'm still helping my dad put up the neighbor's hay.