Dinner with a Ninja

I went home to Michigan over the Memorial Day Weekend. While I was there I had dinner with a SQL Ninja who I’ve mentioned before, Brent Ozar.


I met him almost exactly a year ago when I came across his blog. He had an excellent article on Perfmon, and I was attempting to use it to troubleshoot problems I was having on my M2M server. I read the article and followed up with questions regarding it, as well as questions about the future of SQL Server and how I could gain a level of mastery with it.

He has been more than helpful and has suggested different avenues for me in SQL. Anyway, the reason this post has been so long in coming is I wanted to make it more than just a “look at me with this famous guy” post. I’d like to share a few tips on how to get help from others, not just in a technical sense, but in other areas such as career advancement.

  1. Obviously be polite. These people are not paid support and have no obligation to help you. Further, if you don’t receive a response, do not chastise them for not responding. This happened to me about 6 weeks ago. Someone sent me an e-mail asking for help with Crystal Reports and M2M. However, my spam filter caught it. When I went through my spam filter a little over a week later, I had three messages from this person and each was more rude than the last. Obviously, I didn’t bother helping this person.
  2. Do your best to help yourself. If you send someone a bunch of basic questions about invoicing they may very well tell you to watch the instructional videos on M2M Expert instead of helping you. I’ve always loved the following picture:


    It’s worth noting that Google is of limited value for M2M Questions.

  3. Ask for direction, rather than solutions. You’re more likely to get assistance if you show a willingness to experiment and learn. If you want someone to do your job, you’re likely to be rejected.
  4. If you get help and it is ultimately successful make sure to tell your benefactor and thank them again. In fact, if you found the answer yourself, still thank the person for taking the time to try to help you. You’ll be more likely to get help in the future.
  5. Offer friendship first. If at all possible, network with others before you need help.
  6. Form as complete a question as you possibly can. When you ask a question, and I have to ask you four separate questions before I can answer it, this does not bode well for you.
  7. Ask in a convenient way. If possible, send an e-mail as opposed to calling. Calling interrupts a geek’s normal work flow, and e-mails can be read and answered at our convenience.

Now, I should mention that Brent is one of the most helpful people I know in the business, so I could have made any number of mistakes and he still would likely have helped me. However, why lessen your chances?

What do you think? Do you disagree with my tips? Do you have anything to add?

3 comments to Dinner with a Ninja

  • bigdaddy

    Even in my field of computer aided drafting and design these same 7 tips are extremeley relative. Very good post indeed!

  • Hmm, Brent does look a bit like a ninja, doesn’t he?

    I’d say that’s a pretty good list that’s standard across the board.

    I would say taking the time to look up the answer yourself via Google or other methods is one of the best things you could ever do for yourself. If someone comes to me with a problem that I don’t immediately know the answer for, you can pretty well chalk about 80% of my solutions up to a Google search. Another 15% usually comes from social networking, primarily Twitter. And the other 5% is change chance or dumb luck. “I have no idea why changing your desktop image fixed your database corruption, but we’ll take what we can get. Call me if it happens again.”

    I think I would probably include documentation in the list as well. Documenting what they said after receiving help, restating it back to them to be sure you got their instructions correct, and then having that information saved in a place where it can be shared with others.

    It’s pretty annoying to go help one person and then get a call from someone else with the same problem, and have that turn into a repeating issue. I usually find that people like to ask their office neighbors first when they have a problem. If one of them has taken notes on how I fixed it for them, then that’s one more issue I don’t have to fix myself, and one more person who has learned to fix a problem for themselves. The more knowledge they gain in general areas, the more they can apply it to different specific problems.

    The other side of the Documentation coin is that you don’t have to bother asking me for help with it again either. When I have to switch your default printer for you for the eighth time in two weeks and you still haven’t learned how to do it on your own, I’m probably going to take my time getting to you and put everyone else on higher priority. But maybe that’s just me.

  • Hahaha, ninja. I’m going through my feed reader to catch up on what I missed after vacation, and sure enough, I have to say, “Sorry I didn’t say hi sooner!” Heh. Good to see you though, sir!

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