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How developers get answers to questions

The other day I was reading Joel Spolsky’s blog post on his new site he just released called Stackoverflow.com. To summarize, Joel and his team created Stackoverflow as a resource for developers to get answers to questions they have.  This got me to thinking about the resources I utilize on a daily basis.

Just Google it!
Joel points out that the way Developers usually go about getting those answers is to Google their question and grab the first response they find. I agree that this is usually the first thing I do, and for the most part, this usually works.  For instance if I’m trying to get a client’s C++ project up and running, and I’m coming across strange and cryptic compile time errors, I’ll do a Google search in hopes of having some light shed on the problem. Probably for most of us, Google does the trick, as nothing beats a finely indexed resource.  Like many Devs, I used to have a ton of those 600 page Wrox and O’Reilly books spread out all over the place.  But since just about any piece of information I need is on the web, tech reference books are pretty useless anymore.  In fact, I gave all of mine a way about a year ago on freecycle.org.

Use your networking skills
Of course if you work in an office with other Devs, you can always hit them up when you come across a problem.  But if you’re like me, and you telecommute, you have to build a network of resources you can bug.  I have a few pals whose ears I bend from time to time via instant messenger (and they do the same with me).  More times than not, just talking out a problem solves itself.

Message boards
Sometimes Google just doesn’t cut it and you just can’t get your question answered. So the next best thing is to post your question on a message board.  For instance, on the project I’m working on now, I’ve had to interface with the Quickbooks SDK. Intuit has a very nice message board with lots of activity. A lot of boards allow you to specify to have an email sent when a response is given to your question.  I would recommend looking at the current responses on a board to see how often people post (ie:is there a new response every minute versus a day).  If it appears as though only a few new posts per day get entered, then I would look elsewhere.

Paid technical support
A lot of products offer technical support you can pay for. One client I worked with actually purchased a year’s worth of tech support from Business Objects (Crystal Reports) and had me call them about an apparent bug with Crystal Enterprise.  I can report to you that this was a big waste of time, with me spending about a month going back and forth with the support people, who in the end, couldn’t address my issues.

Still no answers huh?
Sometimes no matter how hard you Google, or how many people you bug, you just can’t get an answer.  What I end up doing in times like this is to approach the problem differently.  For instance, I recently had to get a legacy COM application running in Windows SXS mode (this is COM free registration with the help of a manifest file). I had the majority of the app running ok, but there was one component that would continue to read from the registry rather than the manifest file I created.  I was able to narrow it down to line of code where this was happening.  I tried a few alternate approaches until finally I got it to work.

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September 25, 2008 Posted by | Programming | | Leave a comment