Peter Larsson Blog

Patron Saint of Lost Yaks

Do people want help? I mean, real help?

Or do they just want to continue with their old habits?

The reason for this blog post is that I the last week have tried to help people on several forums. Most of them just want to know how to solve their current problem and there is no harm in that. But when I recognize the same poster the very next day with a similar problem I ask myself; Did I really help him or her at all?

All I did was probably to help the poster keep his or her job. It sound harsh, but is probably true. Why would the poster else continue in the old habit? The most convincing post was about someone wanted to use SP_DBOPTIONS. He had an ugly procedure which used dynamic sql and other things done wrong.

I wrote to him he should stop using SP_DBOPTION because that procedure have been marked for deprecation and will not work on a SQL Server version after 2008R2, and that he should start using DATABASEPROPERTYEX() function instead.
His response was basically “Thanks, but no thanks”. Then some other MVP jumped in and gave him a solution using SP_DBOPTIONS and the original poster once again was a happy camper.

Another problem was posted by someone who wanted a unique sequence number like “T000001” to “T999999”. I suggested him to use a normal IDENTITY column and add a computed column and concatenate the “T” with the value from the IDENTITY column. Even if other people several times proposed my suggestion as an answer, the original poster (OP) unproposed my suggestion! Why?

The only reason I can think of, is that OP is not used to (or even heard of) computed columns. Some other guy posted and insinuated that computed columns don’t work on SQL Server 2000 and earlier. To that I just posted that computed columns did in fact work already back in SQL Server 7.

Are people so stuck in their old habit and inept to change for whatever reason that might be? Could it be they are not qualified, or lack enough experience, for their current position? Do they lack basic education about relational databases?

My question to you is, how do you really help people with these mindsets?

Legacy Comments

Jason Crider
re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
I try to look at it the same way that I do my blog. If what I'm talking about helps one person (even if it wasn't my intended audience), then it's worth it.

I also try to go into each post or question with the humility that I may not gave the best or even right answer/solution. It also reminds me of the saying "throwing it all against the wall and something has to stick."

Don't look at it like you are only helping the person who you are starting out trying to help because you never know who is reading or what google will bring your way.

re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
Sometimes people don't want to answer the "why do you want to do that?" response that is typical on the forums for a question like this.

My advice is to answer the question that is asked, tell the OP that the function is deprecated and that there might be a better solution, but at least answer the initial question.

This is one of the reasons I stopped participating on the forums at sqlteam. It seemed like it was a race to have the most number of posts while completely disregarding the quality of the response.

Also, don't puff yourself up to where you think you are saving someone's job. I've never once thought about letting someone go because they didn't know one small piece of information, or that their job situation was so tenuous that one nice solution was what it took for them to keep their job.


Robert Matthew Cook
re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
peter it was very nice to read about other people dealing with similar struggles. personally, and regrettably, i essentially, temporarily, undeniably gave up on the forums some time back for this exact reason. being in the forums as active and long as have, you are probably well aware that the answer is both yes and no. yes *some* people want "real" help and *some* people want no "real" help, they just the answers. if only it were possible to indicate which askers are which and then indicate which answer-er-er-ers only want to answer and not teach

Louis Davidson
re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
My attitude when in the forums (it has been a while!) or speaking or writing is "Who cares?"

Helping out people is great, and I love giving advice, but there are a lot of thick headed people out there who are happy in their own mess, so what are you going to do? Presenting readers with the correct way to do things is what makes folks like you worthy of the MVP award. I tend to try to answer the question that is asked in the way that it is asked (if I still remember the old ("wrong") way of doing things, but then give the right answer and release it to the ether. If they say "great" then great. If they say "no, that isn't what I want" then great. I might comment back to make sure future readers understand what the correct answer is, but at that point we have done our (self imposed) duty.

This is why I always try to tell people that you answer questions, speak and write for yourself as much as the person you are helping out. I learn more researching how to answer people's questions and speak on a topic than any of the people attending could (since you can't tell them everything), and then if my answer or topic isn't appreciated...then only I win. Which is still okay :)

re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
Many people don't have the time for the "right" answer, they just need to solve the problem and move on to the next issue. The "right" answer may take too long to implement, or maybe the OP doesn't even understand it and therefore will take even longer to understand it and then implement it.

I think it's all just due to their experience level. Give them time, and they'll work their way into a better IT professional. I am amazed at some of the crap that I put into production many years ago. Doesn't mean I wasn't willing to find out how to do it better or right, just means I lacked the experience and time.

Although it does happen, it's rare for someone to want to know more about the "right" solution. You can generally tell by their initial post if they are willing to listen. I love participating in threads like that.

re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
In IT industry , What I notice that companies ask too much experience(8 to 10 years of experience). If we visit Dice we will hardly see any opening in IT with one year experience or come as fresh man. So people start putting fake experience in resumes.

From my friends circle or the the people I know , many of them are working on fake experience. When you don't have real time experience and you are working as experienced Professional then you need to fix things quick, So you come to forum and get the answer and move forward.

And some of friends I know they have worked in different domain and due to job situation they got Job in SQL Server and need help to solve day to day issues on job , so they come on forum or call friends to get help.

By helping people on forum actually you are saving their jobs, some of them might try to learn

above link shows that OP got the answer for his problem and wrote comments
"Hello Naomi,

i went through your first link thread msdn question that is with examples i did complete my work but i have to know more how this works etc..."

re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
Hey Peter,

As someone who was thrust into needing to learn SQL in a short amount of time, no resources and a crappy "SQL Lite" type of interface, I can definitely understand both sides of the argument. While I'm by no means an IT professional, I think I've come a long way from trudging through simple select statements with bad joins to developing a data warehouse. The necessity to learn really opened up my eyes and gave an area of interest that I had no idea existed.

That being said, I can understand the desperation by some of the folks who come on here trying to figure out problems; whether it's due to frustration, lack of education, an employer who is asking you for results when you have no way of getting them or simply a student who doesn't feel like doing their homework.

Each action is for us to choose. For those who decide they don't want to learn, they simply want to get through it, honestly, I believe it's their loss. Yeah, they might be able to get by another day, but they're not really accomplishing anything long term. Some of us are notorious "bad posters". I know from my standpoint, it was simply a combination of ignorance (the database world is vast and I'd venture to guess you could probably learn something completely new every day for the rest of your life) and difficulty with communication. I still find myself having a difficult time explaining some of the issues I run into. Largely because of my inability to effectively communicate my technical thoughts at times, but it's also due to crappy programming for the vendor software we use.

Whatever the reason, there are going to be posts that are challenging to deal with. As a person who largely consumes your (collectively) help, I'm prepared to recompile my thoughts if no one is responding. For those who can't deal with the bad postings, I just say, keep trying to encourage them to seek the most effective way to get their point across and hopefully, they learn.

As much as people get irritated by lazy posters, I think it's equally irritating to see some of the snide, condescending comments some of the veterans post on the net. There is one poster who frequents this forum who is quite famous, at least by his/her biography on here. Every time a person posts anything less than full DDL, sample data and output, the veteran routinely posts a diatribe 3 times longer than mine stating why it is "netiquette" to post those attributes. I find it tacky and just generally unhelpful. Someone completely new to SQL would probably have a difficult time even knowing what DDL means. I think the best way you can help someone is to let them know the best way to get your answers, but to also pose some probative questions to guide the person along.

Just my 10 cents. (by the Peter, you've helped me early on. I remember most of the folks who've taken the time to walk me through and I've always very much appreciated the help! The example above was definitely not pointed at you)

vCloud API
re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
I see where you're coming from. I notice the same type of thing in the forums I partake in. All some people want is an answer to fix their current issue and they do not focus on understanding how the issue was fixed. It seems they are not learning from their mistakes. Whether it's learning SQL, C+, or how to use the cloud, sometimes all people care about is getting past a problem and not how to actually fix it. It wasn't until I learned how to fix problems on my own that I really began to learn and understand what it was I was doing. Trial and error is how I eventually learned SQL a few years back. I'm thankful I didn't have people to go to with my problems because it forced me to learn on my own.

re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
I have tried to help people out in forums and usually I can help them fix their problem but they never ask me why they encountered the problem in the first place. They don't care about learning, they only care about moving on past their problem. I help out with a specific website made for Marcello's Indianapolis Jiu Jitsu Academy and I have had to learn how to avoid problems by myself and my past experiences. I wish more people relied on learning how to use their software rather than just moving through it by the help of others.

re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
I think that it comes down to people not really loving this job. It may also be the fear of trying something new. I always tell people that if you want to be a coder you have to treat it like you are playing a musical instrument. First, you have to love it and second you have to practice all the time because you want to not because you have to. If you can't do this then Business Analyst is another great choice.

Jeff Moden
re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
>>My question to you is, how do you really help people with these mindsets?

My dear ol' friend Peter,

I've found that the true test of a Teacher, especially in this world of data and databases, is a tolerance for those who simply don't want to learn or think they're so smart that they've stopped learning. You and I have seen all the different types of people in this business. They run the full gambit from "just answer my damned question or shutup" to "I want to learn my job better" to the selfish moroff trying to rack up points at any cost to the arrogant, ring-knocking, know-it-all who thinks he spits silver and poops ice-cream just because he has some form of "education" or "experience".

All I can say is to hang in there. Don't deprive the "I want to learn my job better" type of person just because they're the wonderous exception rather than the rule. Even some of the other folks (yep, even some of the ring-knockers) can be salvaged but only if other folks (like you) continue to help.

Yeah, there will always be those folks with inflated resumes that don't deserve their jobs. Those people aren't your fault. They're the fault of the inept manager that hired them and they actually deserve each other in the long run. Even though you may "save" a couple of these folks with a good answer, I assure you it's temporary. They eventually crash and burn, just like that fellow with sp_configure will, simply because they will not learn.

You're an incredible Teacher of the fine arts of data and data manipulation, Peter. Someone has to teach in the "streets" because some don't know where the "schools" are at. Don't ever give up on the forums. A great man once said something to the effect of "all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage". Don't ever become like so many before us have by giving up on the "streets" and the common man. Keep the courage and share the knowledge. The one person in a thousand that deserves it is worth it. Think of the rest of them as "soft skills training" for you. ;-)

As for "how do you really help people with these mindsets", remember that the most successful people are the ones who have been given the opportunity to fail.

Dana H
re: Do people want help? I mean, real help?
I did not read all of these but i do know that i have needed and still need help.I would post anything and everything because people out there mess things up for us that really need help and then you do not believe us> I have been stressed and manic depressed(yes i am) and wanted to die many times and came close.Yet i do not want to die,i want to pay my bills and be happy again! I hope people will at least try and talk or meet people instead of going by how many different posts they put up.