Learning New Things : Finding Information

In an age where almost all information is a Google search away, why do people find it so difficult to get answers?

Let Me Google That For You!

This is going to sound silly, but I’m convinced most of the people who seem to have trouble don’t actually Google the question in the first place. Countless times I’ve answered a question by putting the subject of the email or forum post into Google and searching. Typically the answer is in the top 3 links.

This could mean one of several things:

  • They haven’t Googled it.
  • They have Googled, but don’t trust the answer.
  • They are working asynchronously. Machine gun out the questions, and work on something else while they wait for someone to come back with the answer.

Let’s look at these individually.

They haven’t Googled it.

If they fall into the category, they really need to leave IT and do something different. Seriously. If you’ve not figured out Googling for answers after the first day on the job, you are in the wrong job. You can’t be helped!

They have Googled, but don’t trust the answer.

This second option is more interesting, because the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet is a problem. Fortunately the answer to this is equally simple too. When you search for something and find what appears to be an answer, if that answer doesn’t come with a working example you can try yourself, you should probably question the value of it. At the very least you need to figure out your own test case to prove it. Either that or check out the next link on Google to see if that has a working example.

I appreciate not all problems can be replicated in a little copy/paste example on a laptop, but a great deal of them can. I was lucky that early on in my career I was influenced by Tom Kyte who always tried to give small test cases to prove a point. It’s a really good habit to get into. So many times I’ve “known something to be true”, then been unable to demonstrate it, then finally proved the opposite to be the case. 🙂 Your understanding changes over time. The database changes over time. What was true then may not be now.

Over time you will start to recognise names of content producers, and you will start to identify trusted sources of information, and perhaps more importantly, those whose content you should avoid.

Remember, even when you have built up a list of trusted sources, you should still constantly test what they say. Everyone can make mistakes.

They are working asynchronously

I suppose you could say they are trying to be efficient, but I think ultimately this approach will fail. You are not learning how to learn. You are still reliant on other people giving you the answers. This is not personal development. What’s more, you still need to test things or you are at the mercy of what some random person told you in a forum. Think about what I said in the previous section.

Your ultimate aim should be to become as self sufficient as possible. I’m not suggesting you will do everything yourself, but you should be able to find information, evaluate its worth and use it, without having to post help messages on forums every 30 seconds. If you are taking personal development seriously, asking others for help should become the exception, not the rule.

Where should you be looking?

As I said in Learning to answer questions for yourself!

  1. Google. A lot of the time, the first couple of links will give me the answer. Sometimes it’s one of my articles that gives me the answer I’m looking for. 🙂
  2. Search the Oracle documentation for the topic and/or quickly scan through the table of contents in the relevant manuals.
  3. Search My Oracle Support.
  4. If at this point you’ve not got the answer, you might be asking the wrong question. Try to refine your search criteria.

I’ve mentioned many of the points raised in this post over the years. You can see other posts on this type of thing here.

Check out the rest of this series here.