Best Advice Ever: Learn By Helping Others

I remember when back in 2001 my friend and former SQL Server MVP Carlos Eduardo Rojas was busy earning his MVP street-cred in the NNTP forums, aka Newsgroups. I always thought he was playing the Sheriff trying to put some order in a Wild Wild West town by trying to understand what these people were asking. He spent a lot of time doing this stuff – and I thought it was just plain crazy. After all, he was doing it for free. What was he gaining from all of that work?

It was not until the advent of Twitter and #SQLHelp that I realized the real gain behind helping others. Forget about the glory and the laurels of others thanking you (and thinking you’re the best thing ever – ha!), or whatever award with whatever three letter acronym might be given to you.

It’s about what you learn in the process of helping others.

See, when you teach something, it’s usually at a fixed date and time, and on a specific topic. But helping others with their issues or general questions is something that goes on 24×7, on whatever topic under the sun. Just go look at sites like DBA.StackExchange.com, or the SQLServerCentral forums. It’s questions coming in literally non-stop from all corners or the world. And yet a lot of people are willing to help you, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what time of day it is.

And in my case, this process of helping others usually leads to me learning something new. Especially in those cases where the question isn’t really something I’m good at. The delicate part comes when you’re ready to give an answer, but you’re not sure. Often times I’ll try to validate with Internet searches and what have you. Often times I’ll throw in a question mark at the end of the answer, so as not to look authoritative, but rather suggestive. But as time passes by, you get more and more comfortable with that topic. And that’s the real gain.

 I have done this for many years now on #SQLHelp, which is my preferred vehicle for providing assistance. I cannot tell you how much I’ve learned from it. By helping others, by watching others help. It’s all knowledge and experience you gain…and you might not be getting all that in your day job today. Such thing, my dear reader, is invaluable. It’s what will differentiate yours amongst a pack of resumes. It’s what will get you places. Take it from me – a guy who, like you, knew nothing about SQL Server.

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