This month, Chris Yates (@YatesSQL) is hosting T-SQL Tuesday. The topic is "Something New Learned" – Chris wants us to share something we learned recently from a conference, event, webinar or colleague.
I'm going to take a slightly different tack, and explain how – over the long term – I learn about the things I learn. I learn primarily from the experience (and, all too often, the mistakes) of others. You might think, "Well, yeah, his title is Senior Consultant, so…" – but I am not talking about *those* others. I am talking about people all over the community, from my sessions at SQL Saturdays, SQL Cruise, SQL Bits, and the conferences above, to the many Question and Answer sites out there, like ours (answers.sqlperformance.com) and those in the StackExchange network (primarily Stack Overflow and Database Administrators). There are many others, of course, but I mention those three specifically because one is extremely popular and I'm a community moderator on the other two. =)
It is really the Q & A sites I want to focus on today. While you may get in front of a lot of people while giving a session at an event, and you may get some great questions during or after your session, only so many people can benefit from that – even at the biggest events, and even if the session is recorded (along with the good questions, which often aren't). At a SQL Saturday, you might reach anywhere between 5 and 100 people, typically; at the bigger events, maybe more, but there is still a practical limit.
And there are only so many speakers, too. You might submit to events and not get selected; you might not submit because you don't think you'll be a good speaker. (I'm not going to try to sell you to yourself, but I believe everybody has this in them.) That is up to you. Even if you only attend sessions, you can still learn from the questions you ask, or from listening to the questions others ask. (Getting sidetracked might be a common theme here.)
There are some nice things about the Q & A sites that don't exist at the conferences. For the most part, these questions and answers live forever, for all intents and purposes. One of my most popular questions across all networks was a pretty simple question about using SQL Server's proprietary
UPDATE...FROM syntax; it was posted over five years ago, and its view totals to date rival those of any blog post I've written in my career. I've answered much more complex questions in that time frame, and these are the ones I really thought about when I read this month's topic – sometimes I go out and learn a whole facet of SQL Server in order to help some stranger somewhere solve a problem. The reward is immense – not only did I learn something new, but I also helped make someone else's life easier.
You can do this too.
Almost every question you see is based on someone's real problem. By definition, I don't think there is a better category of problems to learn from.
Just browse. You can use it for much better blog and presentation fodder than trying to guess what people might want to read or hear about based on what you happen to be exposed to at this moment. (My "bad habits" presentation, which I've given a few dozen times, is based almost wholly on questions people ask repeatedly on these sites.) And who knows, you might even feel inspired to start answering some questions.
Worried about your answers being scrutinized? Don't be. Still worried? Use a pen name. Many of us are quite open about who we are, but you don't have to be. You can sign up with any free e-mail address and use a clever username just like the funky handles used by many of our twitter folks.
And no, I'm not trying to discourage you from speaking – not in the slightest. But get out there and visit some real, interactive Q & A. I promise that you can learn a lot from this experience, and that ultimately it will help you help others learn, too. And this is kind of what our community is all about.