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If you learn only one technical skill, learn THIS one

When I first started coding, I was lucky enough to have a coder friend who was willing to be on call when I inevitably needed help.

He was my guru on the mountain. An enlightened being, one with the computer universe, he had been coding since birth and knew absolutely everything!

As I was learning, I would frequently get stuck and frustrated. Desperate, after hours (or minutes) of banging my head against a wall I would turn to my guru.

“Dear all knowing one, please share your wisdom with me!” I would plead.

“Sure my fair haired child, I can help you” he would say. “Here is the answer to the question you ask.”

And so it went, I would start working on something, come to an impasse, turn to him for help, he would give me the answer, I would go back to work, come to another impasse…

And so it went about 15 or 50 times before I started to notice something: everytime I went to my guru for answers, he would send back a link to some blog post or another that explained what to do.

And then it dawned on me…he didn’t know all the answers! Turns out my guru was just googling for ‘em!

Better yet, I realized I could THAT. I might now know so much about coding, but I DID know how to use the Google.

This is the single most important thing that you have to know about coding.
You have to know how to find the answers.

What made my guru all knowing was not being all knowing, but knowing how to find all the answers.

And guess what? That’s not so hard to learn! In fact, I am going to guess that you already know how to do it.

So next time you are facing a technical challenge you don’t know how to solve, do what every developer from Mark Zuckerberg to your kid sister does: Google it!

Already good at the google? Then start learning to code!

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6 comments

  1. saralindquist Replied

    Exactly what my nerdy UX brother told me. Spot on :D

  2. stephenbooth Replied

    …[continued] Include a description of what you were trying to do. Google is very good at returning results similar to your search string, dropping terms if they don’t appear in a page which otherwise looks to be a good fit. But, the more detail you give it the better your results are likely to be.

    So “Sharepoint filter doesn’t work” is a bad (and real) example of a search string which returned a lot of wrong results. “sharepoint 2010 Foundation XSL Date Filter in aspx page sharepoint designer 2010 returns wrong date formatted en_GB server localisation but US format returned” gave the answer in the second result.

    Finally, and this is more of a begging plea than suggestion, when you find the answer, please post it to your blog along with a reasonably detailed decription of the problem and the solution along with the search string you used and a link to the page witht he solution on. This will increase the page rank for the page you found the solution on making it more likely to be found by people and will mean that if you hit the same or a similar problem again you’ll have a record of how you solved it before.

  3. stephenbooth Replied

    I’d say there’s something more fundamental than that, you need to know how to find the questions. That might sound a bit Zen but it’s not really. If you don’t ask the right question then you probably won’t get the right answer. That goes for if you’re asking a person or Google, the main difference being Google is less likely to lose it’s temper if you ask a question stupidly (there’s no stupid questions but there are questions asked stupidly). If you’re asking people, especially in online forums, then there’s a good (if sometimes a bit harsh and with a few F-bombs) guide to asking good questions written by Eric S Raymond (open source guru and advocate): http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

    If searching using Google then I’ve found the best ‘question’ (i.e. search string) will include every word I can think of relating to the issue at hand. If there’s an error message then include the full error message (but learn the difference between and error message and the associated stack trace). Include version numbers and product types in product names….

    • Adda Replied

      I think this is an excellent point Stephen :) You do absolutely have to learn to ask the right question. Often it takes quite a bit of googling & search refining to get to the right answer.

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