Google first, ask questions later

Submitted by on Fri, 05/04/2018 - 01:18

Because I have almost twenty years of experience developing software, younger developers will often ask me for advice. Depending on the person and how much time I have to get into the details, my advice varies. Usually, it includes some number of books to read (a good topic for a future blog post) and various habits to incorporate. One piece of advice that I give, no matter who I am talking to is "learn how to Google effectively" or "Google first, ask questions later"

I know, I know, everybody knows how to and does use Google. However, in my experience, it seems like a few times a day I get a question like, "How do I print out an array in PHP?" When I get this advice, my first step is to head to Let Me Google That For You to create a link to send to the offender. After closing the tab, I send a polite (and correct) reply.

Why "Google First and Ask Questions Later?" First, you will get your answer faster. If you constantly ask other teammates questions that are easily answered by Google, chances are those teammates will eventually respond more slowly as time goes on. Plus, those teammates are in meetings, working on their tasks, etc.

Second, you will look smarter. When your questions transition from "How do I list the running processes on the Linux server?" to "Based on the requirements for this project do you think we should use a NoSQL database instead of an RDBMS?", you will show that you have advanced in your thinking. Your colleagues will be much more willing to help you when your questions are not seen as a waste of their time.

As a bonus, if you get great at querying Google for the answers to your questions, you can be the smartest guy on the conference call. As a remote worker, I am on conference calls for a few hours each day. Many times questions will come up about whether or not something is feasible or what technical approaches could be used to solve the problem during my meetings. I can often come up with a solid, basic answer an offer to research the issue further.

If you find yourself asking your colleagues a question about syntax or what an error message means before you attempt to Google the answer, you are doing it wrong. That's not to say that every syntax or error message question needs to be answered by Google, but that should be your first step. If you follow this advice, your colleagues will thank you.