Survival Guide: IRC

As a developer you have many tools in your arsenal, often times you are unaware how useful a tool is until you know how to truly use it. IRC was one of these tools; for the longest time I couldn’t understand why and how it was useful. Then I saw this episode of Numbers.

Which pretty much summed up the idea. We need more pirate and internet analogies now! Quick take a screenshot!

For those of your with low attention span and other internet content to consume here is the TL;DR version.

  1. Don’t ask to ask.
  2. Give the people as much useful detail as possible.
  3. Ask a question with a definitive answer. No Flame wars.
  4. Contribute when you can.
  5. Be polite.
  6. Wait.

Now that we have gotten rid of the low attention span keyboard monkeys. I am going to share with you the greatest IRC client ever, XChat enjoy.

Here are some prime examples of the DOs above not being done.

Don’t ask to ask.

If you want to piss off the most knowledgeable person in the room; simply ask if you can ask a question.

  • Idiot: Is it okay to ask a question?
  • Expert: yes…
  • Expert: * Expert dies a little inside.

Usually when you enter a channel, the topic is post across the top, and people prefer you get to the point instead. I know this is common courtesy in real life, but for some reason it rubs people the wrong way.

Give the people as much useful detail as possible

When you are asking questions provide as much context and explicit detail as possible. Use sites like pastie to pass in stack traces and debug information.

  • Idiot: Hi, I am getting an error page when I try to load
  • Expert: I sense a disturbance in the force, idiot you is.
  • Expert: * Expert wishes he really was a Jedi. These aren’t the answers you are looking for.

I would first start off by describing what you would like to do and where your currently having trouble. This also gets people to engaged in solving your problem as supposed to fixing your current symptom.

Ask a question with a definitive answer.

When you ask a question, ask something the room you are in is able to answer, for example.

  • Idiot: Hi, my girlfriend dumped me and I was wondering if the #django room could help me. I think if I build a hydrogen powered bike for her I can win her back ideas?
  • Expert1: Who is your dad? I want to kick him in the nuts.
  • Expert2: * Expert2 I misses his girlfriend.

I am not saying the django guys aren’t debonair in the ways of women, but I am definitely saying, they don’t know much about building hydrogen bikes. Know your audience.

Contribute when you can

If you can help someone with their problem, guide them to the answer. Often times people find when they start helping someone, they become their go to person when anything bad happens. The best way to avoid this issue, don’t become their technical support; point them to where the answer can be found, and wish them luck. Trust me, better for them in the long run, and saves you hours of typing the same thing over.

Be polite

This was my biggest problem when I was introduced to IRC, I am very outspoken person in real life with a low tolerance for bitchassness™. So when someone is a smart ass online; I tend to uncheck my rage in the form of many many swear words.  This is basically IRC suicide, avoid it and swallow your pride; get in and get out.

Protip: Learn to laugh it off. Another thing when you decide to be a bitchass; add a smiley. Trust me it makes all the difference.


Nothing can be more worse than when someone is impatient. Ask your question as best you can and keep looking else where. People in IRC don’t live to be on your beck and call.

  • Idiot: I need help making emails work with my server
  • Idiot: Anyone?
  • Idiot: Someone here?
  • Idiot: I wish I had friends.
  • Idiot: Mom I just wanted you to hug me.
  • Idiot: * Idiot has left #apache
  • Expert: I just came up with the cure to the common cold. Anyone need help setting up email on their server?

Some channels are filled with people some aren’t. Slow down and be patient. :)

A little note for you Experts out there. Don’t take yourself too seriously; We are all here to learn and grow. Coddle the dumb ones and challenge the smart ones.

I hope this summarizes the the mine field that IRC can be.

Mahdi Yusuf

engineer, speaker, writer, and home labber.