Last night I gave a presentation to the Pacific Northwest SQL User Group. I mentioned that we often think our biggest problems are lack of time, too much work, people we have to deal with or technical issues. But all of us get done only what we can, we manage to deal with the people at work that are difficult, and all of us know how to type and click a mouse. The biggest issue we face is properly defining a problem and knowing how to solve it.
And that brings us to problem-solving techniques. I use five strategies to learn, and through it all I try to take effective notes (using OneNote) so that I only learn things once:
1. RTFM (Read the Fine Manual) – There’s more in Books Online than you might realise (58,000 pages). Learn how to use all the tools in it such as filters, searches, indexes and the like.
2. Learn to search – I use the Windows Live SQL Macro to search when I have a question, and I also make effective use of other search engines. I also maintain a “link library” when I find something that comes up a lot. Then when others ask questions, I can just point them to the link that answers them.
3. Poll the audience – I’m a heavy user of forums, particularly the MSDN forum. I try to make sure I answer twice as many questions as I ask.
4. Develop a library – Find (and actually read) good books on technology, and keep at least two magazines or web-zines that you stay up with the latest developments. A danger we all face is learning something and thinking we don’t have to learn it again – things change, and you have to stay current.
5. Phone a friend – When all else fails, call an expert. But always make it easy for people to help you. Don’t just dump the whole problem on the person, do a little research first using the other four strategies (and tell them you did that already) and present the bare minimum of the problem that represents its essence. That way you can get out of their hair quickly. Be grateful, and offer to reciprocate.
These are the strategies I use most often – do you have others?