The XYZ Problem
“A ho ho ho!” exclaimed the nerd, “I get to call out the XY problem! I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants now!”
So you’re a nerd right. Of course you are. What is it that makes you tick? Knowledge! Wrong. You like to feel smart.
Once upon a time you were a lowly noob, asking questions wrong and being called an idiot in various IRC channels. We’ve all been there.
One day though you saw magic. Someone asked a question that made no sense at all. Everyone was baffled, what dark sorcery was this user trying to achieve?
Out shuffles the elder nerd. In a croaky grizzled font they ask “My child. Please, explain the problem you’re really trying to solve?” and sure enough the user was trying to do something simple and going about it in a weird way. “The XY problem” was born.
A new internet rule, one grasped by even the most green of helpdesk techs. Doctrine, to be followed always. Find out what the user really wants to ask, and ye shall be at peace. Also you can be smug about it.
The problem of course is that not all questions are the XY problem, you’re just too unclear on the solution that you don’t think you can help. The next best thing? Chime in with something that makes you feel smart instead.
Jump right on in and quote the holy rule “What is it you’re really trying to solve.” [Insert panflute sting here]. You’ve done it, you’re the smartest person online right now. Get rekt, noob!
Everyone gets super stoked on you and some in the audience note the XY problem as a thing to quote in future. The poor sod asking the question is irrelevant, you don’t need them anymore, let some other sap deal with actually answering the question. Your job is done here. You smugly exit the room.
It’s been 20 years since the original elder coined the term. Generations and generations of nerd have fallen to and begun to use “The XY Problem” in their troubleshooting toolbox. The antibiotics of tech support. There’s so many of them now that nearly every question on the internet has a smug git trying to find out the real problem. Every question must be investigated and interrogated to find the true core. Nobody gets a straight answer.
This is the XYZ problem.