Preface: I’ve kind of wanted to write some more personal and opinion-based blog entries for a while, but it’s been hard to start because I’m more nervous about self-expression than self-explication. And I think “Why would anyone want to read my random strange thoughts anyway?” And then when I think about some potential topics, it seems like I need to do a whole bunch of research and thought, that sounds like it would take a long time, so I don’t actually start to write. But there are things I’ve learned that I’ve wanted to share. So, time to give it a shot, start with something simple, and see how it works.
From time to time I read a blog post that says something like “One thing I’ve noticed about successful people is that they ask lots of questions, so they always keep learning. Ask questions.” All right, seems like sound advice, but the posts usually don’t bother to comment on why we don’t all already ask questions as freely as four-year-olds.
A story: When I started working for Mozilla, in late 2007, the first thing I did was go to a week-long meetup in Toronto . Over dinner one night, conversation turned to ‘They do it like this in WebKit’ or ‘WebKit has this feature’ or some such. Just because I didn’t know any better, I asked “What’s WebKit?”
I saw a couple of cocked eyebrows. One of my dinner mates answered: “It’s the iPhone browser.” Me: “Oh”, thinking they’re thinking we just hired this guy and he doesn’t know what WebKit is? Well, I made it through dinner and I’m still here, so I guess it was OK.
The point is, it can be scary to ask a question. Is this a stupid question? Am I supposed to know this already? Does everyone else know it already? Will it make me seem like I don’t know anything? Will everyone think I’m wasting their time? To ask a question is to admit ignorance.
It makes me wonder if part of the reason “successful” people have a reputation for asking questions is that they have less to fear. If you’ve already founded a $100M startup or given a hit TED talk, you probably  worry less about anyone thinking you don’t know anything.
But maybe ignorance shouldn’t be embarrassing anymore: the universe of knowledge is huge and constantly expanding, so to a first approximation, no one knows anything anyway. If you don’t know fact X, maybe that’s just because you were too busy learning topic Y. And remind yourself that a bunch of smart, successful people ask lots of questions so you won’t look bad imitating them.
That’s what I did during a recent discussion where WebRTC came up. I didn’t understand the discussion, and I wanted to, but “WebRTC” sounded like a pretty basic thing that I was supposed to know about, being an web browser person and all, so I didn’t speak up the first few times I heard it. But when it came up again, I told myself smart people ask questions, took a second to calm myself, and said, “Hey, dumb question –What’s WebRTC?” And I learned.
So I have a little suggestion: Next time you hear about something and don’t know what it is, and you’re feeling a little bold, feel free to ask “What’s WebKit?” And even more important, when you get asked that question, see not ignorance, but curiosity, and be sure to reward that person’s desire to learn, and their courage.
 The meetup was on “Mozilla 2.0”. Sounds pretty quaint today.
 Just speculation: I wouldn’t know.
 See what I did there?