Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why share knowledge with others?

[This was originally posted at http://timstall.dotnetdevelopersjournal.com/why_share_knowledge_with_others.htm]

I'm a big advocate of knowledge sharing. However, I understand why some developers may be hesitant to do so. We live in an era of unprecedented competition. People (and therefore Companies) compete against one another for employment opportunities, promotions, recognition, mindshare, and plain-old-power. In today's cut-throat world, it almost seems counter-intuitive to "undermine" yourself by sharing your knowledge (read: "competitive advantage") with others (read: "competition").

While obviously you shouldn't share trade secrets and proprietary knowledge with the competition, I still think there are a lot of good reasons to share general knowledge with the community, and especially your coworkers.

  • It teaches you
    • Explaining something to others forces you to better understand it yourself.
    • It is self correcting - By sharing your knowledge, the other dev may be able to help you improve it by offering tweaks or suggesting gaps that you need to fill.
    • It provides a chance to practice your communication. To communicate, you need a "receiver", someone who wants to catch (i.e. listen to) whatever message you're "throwing". This means that the message needs to be relevant. What's more relevant than a message that is solving the problem that the "receiver" actively wants solved?
  • Social benefits
    • To have a friend, you need to be a friend. If you never share your stuff (knowledge, tricks, tools), people may be hesitant to share their stuff with you.
    • Some people just enjoy helping others.
  • It's part of your job
    • It frees up co-workers to do something useful (which could in turn benefit you, and more importantly, the company who is paying you), as opposed to them re-inventing what you've already done.
    • It's your job as a good developer - Good developers share knowledge. Also, when a company is paying you to code, it's no longer "your code", but the company's code, and therefore the company has a right that tricks and knowledge be shared amongst the team.
  • Demonstrate leadership
    • Knowledge-sharing increases your credibility. By sharing objective things that other devs can verify to be correct, these devs are more likely to trust you on subjective opinions or predictions that are much harder to verify.
    • Become a thought-leader - Often consulting firms encourage their star consultants to demonstrate thought leadership by blogging, writing articles, or contributing to open source projects. Sometimes this is great marketing for that company, and even leads to sales. For example, thousands (millions?) of people use CruiseControl from ThoughtWorks, which in turn gives ThoughtWorks name recognition and marketing.
    • It is necessary in order to be promoted. Leaders communicate, and usually the higher up you go, the wider the audience you need to share knowledge with. If you never practice knowledge sharing until you absolutely have to (via a job demand), then you will probably not be very good at it.
    • It helps make your approach the official standard (which may be good or bad). If you hide your tricks and code, only you will use them. If someone publicizes and shares their code - even if it's worse than yours - their code will be used by more people and hence adopted as the "official" team approach.

There are many ways to share your knowledge, such as:


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