I’ve been having a problem with my car, so I brought it in to the shop today. (No, this is not a parable invented for the purpose of this post. This is a true story, I promise.) I brought the problem to the mechanic, who said, “It could be that your [part] is broken. The [part]s are along the back wall; you can buy one at the register there, then bring it around to me, and I’ll put it in for you.”
I don’t know a thing about cars, so it seemed to me that there was a flaw in this plan.
“What if,” I asked, feeling like a jerk already, “it turns out that my [part] isn’t broken after all, and the problem is caused by something else? Then I’ll have a brand new [part] on my hands that’s of no use to me.”
The mechanic looked frustrated. “Well, I could run an electrical test first. We charge $35 for that. Do you want me to do it that way?”
I resisted the urge to retort, “You’re the mechanic; you tell me!”
The thing is, he really wanted me to pay him for a part, and I really wanted to pay him to make my car work. If I’d been an expert myself, and knew in detail what my problem was, and how to fix it, I would have been very happy to buy a part. I bought one in any case and crossed my fingers — I got lucky this time. But next time, I’ll be looking for someone else to help me, someone more able to speak to me in my language.
I’m sure there’s an analogy to software in there somewhere.