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Argenis Fernandez

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 24x7, on whatever topic under the sun. Just go look at sites like, 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.

Published Thursday, October 24, 2013 4:32 PM by Argenis
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@sql_handle said:

Great advice!  I also like helping via #sqlhelp or the forums because of what I learn.  And because I like to help but don't consider myself a good fit as a classroom- type instructor or a sqlsaturday-type presenter.  If there is a willingness to help, there's a vehicle appropriate for you :)

October 24, 2013 8:02 PM

Ewald Cress said:

Great post, and great point. I'd like to follow up on the issue of "a guy who, like you, knew nothing about SQL Server". There are many of us who enjoy reading the exchanges of others, but who don't join the conversation because, well, surely there are so many real experts in the room.

One "downside" of the wonderful amount of information and help available online is that any sufficiently perceptive person can't help but realise just how little he or she knows. Picking up on @sql_handle's comment, there is still a case for finding a vehicle for learning through helping/teaching/explanation. Merely by expressing your understanding of an issue, you will inevitably get a better grip on it, and will likely get feedback from others to help refine that understanding.

Perhaps we get paralyzed too readily by the realisation that there are so many people who know more than ourselves. Worth remembering the flip side of the coin, namely that there are also loads of people who can learn from us.

If all else fails, you can always practise by explaining indexing to your dog :-)

October 25, 2013 9:24 AM

Rob said:

I have been a DBA for only two years. There are 2 SQL DBAs in our shop and over 800 DBs. The other DBA started 2 weeks ago and knows very little. By explaining things to him I realise how much I have learned and how far I have come and by making sure I read plenty of blogs and forums and watching twitter I am more than aware how much I have to learn before I will feel like I am anything other than a newbie.

But by blogging and presenting to my user group I keep developing and learning and my understanding grows. Mostly I look at sqlhelp and the questions are beyond my experience or already answered by some clever dude like @DBArgenis 😃 but I have answered one question and I try to find questions I can answer in forums because a - explaining it deepens my understanding but also I feel it is my way to pay back to the sql community for all the help I have received and will receive in the future.

I know what its like to sit and think "I haven't a clue" - If I can assist one person with that, then that's a good thing and I like good things

October 25, 2013 3:48 PM

andyleonard said:

Excellent post, Argenis!


October 26, 2013 5:17 AM

Argenis said:

@Ewald given our short conversation at the PASS Summit, I'd be inclined to think that the world would benefit from your (and @sql_handle's) wealth of knowledge :)

Lonny has already saved the day more than once on #SQLHelp :)

@Rob thanks, man. That's the spirit.

@Andy thanks!!

October 31, 2013 12:50 PM

merrillaldrich said:

Great post - very true.

November 6, 2013 1:20 PM

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