- How do I do X?
- How do I do X in a clean, maintainable, and elegant way?
But I think it's crucially important to make a distinction between the two forms. The second form is a far more difficult question, asked far less commonly, and to which good answers are even rarer. When questions of this form are asked in forums, people are usually given a link to a page describing a pattern, or if they are really "lucky" a page with a sample implementation of that pattern. To be fair, patterns usually are the answer to these types of questions. But what we find written up on the web, or even in books, is most commonly pathetically oversimplified, without context, and often even without guidance on what support patterns are necessary to obtain the benefit or when alternatives may be preferable.
Essentially, most developers are left with no choice but to apply Matt's answer to form 1, to questions of form 2, in a much less information-rich environment. I contend that, while it may be one of those proverbial activities that "build character", it is ultimately more likely to be harmful to their immediate productivity--possibly even to their continued professional growth.
What we end up with is a pandemic of developers trying to hack out pattern implementations, being discouraged by the fact that the pattern seems to have no accounting for any possible deviations or complications in the form of the problem. Worse, developers are often dismayed to find that the one pattern they were told to use is merely the tip of a huge iceberg of support patterns without which the first may actually be more problematic than an ad hoc solution. Most often the developer in this position will end up determining that their deadlines will never allow them to go through the painful trial and error process on every one of these patterns, and accordingly drop back to the ad hoc solution.
It's time that we acknowledge that software development, whether you consider it an engineering discipline, an art, or a craft, has a history--albeit a short one. Things have been tried. Some work, some don't. There do exist "solved problems" in our problem space. To say that every developer should try and fail at all these efforts on their own ignores and devalues the collective experience of our community. Worse, it stunts the growth of the software development industry as a whole.
Yes, one can learn these things by trial and error. Yes, the understanding gained in this way is deeper and stronger than that gained initially by being tutored on how to apply the solution. And yes, there's a certain pride that comes with getting things done in this way. But this is not scalable. Putting each person forcibly through this crucible is not a sustainable strategy for creating experienced, productive, wise programmers. Every hour spent grappling in isolation with a question of "why won't this pattern do what I've been told it will" is an hour that could be spent creating functionality, or heaven forbid solving a new problem.
That is why those of us who have managed to obtain understanding of these "solved problems" must be willing to shoulder the responsibility of mentoring the less experienced. Being willing to explain, willing to discuss specifics, mutations, deviations, exceptions. Willing to discus process, mindset, methodology. These are the things that make the distinction between a programmer and a software developer, between a software developer and a software engineer.
The internet may very well not be the appropriate place to seek or provide this type of mentoring. I suspect it's not. And unfortunately, there are too many development teams out there buried in companies whose core competencies are not software, and consisting solely of these discouraged developers, lacking an experienced anchor, or even a compass. There are online communities that attempt to address the problem at least partially. ALT.NET is one such, for .NET technologies. But there really is no substitution for direct, personal mentorship.
So I would encourage young developers out there to seek out more experienced developers, and ask them the tough, form 2 questions. And I would even more strongly encourage experienced developers to keep a watchful eye for those in need of such guidance. Maybe even consider proactively forming a local group and seeking out recruits. Be willing, able, and happy to provide this guidance, because it benefits all of us. Every developer you aid is one less developer creating an ad hoc solution which you or I will be condemned to maintain, overhaul, or triage somewhere down the line.