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Peter Larsson

Thinking outside the box

Do people want help? I mean, real help?

Or do they just want to continue with their old habits?

The reason for this blog post is that I the last week have tried to help people on several forums. Most of them just want to know how to solve their current problem and there is no harm in that. But when I recognize the same poster the very next day with a similar problem I ask myself; Did I really help him or her at all?

All I did was probably to help the poster keep his or her job. It sound harsh, but is probably true. Why would the poster else continue in the old habit? The most convincing post was about someone wanted to use SP_DBOPTIONS. He had an ugly procedure which used dynamic sql and other things done wrong.

I wrote to him he should stop using SP_DBOPTION because that procedure have been marked for deprecation and will not work on a SQL Server version after 2008R2, and that he should start using DATABASEPROPERTYEX() function instead.
His response was basically “Thanks, but no thanks”. Then some other MVP jumped in and gave him a solution using SP_DBOPTIONS and the original poster once again was a happy camper.

Another problem was posted by someone who wanted a unique sequence number like “T000001” to “T999999”. I suggested him to use a normal IDENTITY column and add a computed column and concatenate the “T” with the value from the IDENTITY column. Even if other people several times proposed my suggestion as an answer, the original poster (OP) unproposed my suggestion! Why?

The only reason I can think of, is that OP is not used to (or even heard of) computed columns. Some other guy posted and insinuated that computed columns don’t work on SQL Server 2000 and earlier. To that I just posted that computed columns did in fact work already back in SQL Server 7.

Are people so stuck in their old habit and inept to change for whatever reason that might be? Could it be they are not qualified, or lack enough experience, for their current position? Do they lack basic education about relational databases?

My question to you is, how do you really help people with these mindsets?

Published Sunday, July 24, 2011 9:09 AM by Peso
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Uri Dimant said:

Hi Peter

I fully agree with you, but 'really' help people out on forums is probably impossible. I often see people want to solve that specific problem right now and do not open their mind for good alternatives ,so keep answer/help people as you always do (enjoy reading your posts) as it will help to many others who are also reading those posts.

July 24, 2011 2:32 AM

Bob said:

Keep giving the best answers you can.  They are what I would like to know.  As for people who do not wish to learn new stuff.  They can't be helped.

July 24, 2011 10:15 AM

Alexander Kuznetsov said:

Let me be the Devil's advocate here. I could easily imagine myself on the other side of your communication, being on of the "people with these mindsets".

Suppose that we are responsible for a legacy system. Suppose that we think that the legacy system is poorly designed, poorly written in a wrong language, in a language we do not want to learn (of course, others might disagree and think that the system is great).

Suppose that we are already in the the middle of replacing that legacy system with something much better, and using other, better suited, technologies. In the meantime we need to keep the old system going, but we absolutely want to spend minimal time keeping up with the technology we are not going to use in the long run - this will give us more time to learn some other technology, the one we want to become proficient in.

Does it make sense to you?

July 24, 2011 3:13 PM

Chris said:

Some folks only want the immediate answers to their current but common problems. This is the instant gratification of the internet. You can burn yourself out dealing with these questions from people that don't want to know more, and don't try to find the answer through trial or even Google.

I resolved this problem by only helping people in person. The exceptions are clients, coworkers, my spouse and the occasional local user group member. Life is too short to do the world's homework.

July 25, 2011 9:44 AM

James said:

You will probably find that it has little to do with databases or anything else as it happens in all trades. Normally these people will fall away at some point. Sooner or later they fail.

I have always divided most people into 2 areas. Farmers and Hunters. The hunter has to go and learn new things and have to adapt to survive. The farmers just keep doing the same old thing until their crop fails then their game is over.

July 25, 2011 11:18 AM

A. Guru said:

I know what you mean, but sometimes people need to solve a problem in a specific way for reasons that they haven't explained.  I'm sure people often leave out the background details just to keep the question "simple" but often there is a whole lot more to the story.  

Unfortunately we all sometimes have to go with sub optimal solutions due to a variety of constraints.  I've lost count of the times I've asked very specific questions yet recieved "better" solutions that just don't help.  In fact it is not uncommon to see posters having to fight hard to justify their question.

On other occasions I've simply disagreed that the "better" solution is indeed better.  We must surely also be open minded and consider that we might have missed something?

It might be worth considering that the poster does actually know more than we assume. By all means post the "ideal" solution but do so in a way that doesn't assume the poster wasn't aware of this and be open to the possability that they really do need the specific answer requested.

As much as I love doing things the *right* way, sometimes you just need to get something working before getting the opportunity to rework it.  

How do we get people away from the mindset that they know more about a situation that those who are actually in it!  Sometimes, not always, the responder might just need to trust that the questioner isn't a complete moron!  

Like I said, I do know exactly what you are mean but there are always two sides to a story :)

July 26, 2011 9:36 AM

Peso said:

A. Guru, I hear you but in this case it was about a deprecated procedure, so OP's code will fail and throw an error when upgrading to Denali at a later point. Even if you change the compatibility level, the old code will cease to work.

July 26, 2011 10:00 AM

Alexander Kuznetsov said:


Can you share with us why you are so confident that the code being discussed will ever upgrade to Denali? If this is not the case, than it is irrelevant whether something is deprecated or not.

July 26, 2011 2:39 PM

Peso said:

I've been in the database businees for 18 years now, and I have never seen an application that is not longer supported due to a database version upgrade.

Also, for this particular user, he has expressed frustration about deprecated features in the past.

July 26, 2011 3:26 PM

Alexander Kuznetsov said:

I have much less experience than you, of course, but I did see quite a few situations when modules have shortish expected life spans. If the expected remaining life of our procedure is less than half year, than it does not matter if it uses deprecated features.

For example, some time ago I sunset SSIS packages out of some system. If one of the modules being replaced would break, it would be unwise to spend more than ten minutes trying to fix it - it would be more profitable to just rewrite it. In that context, if I asked for a quick fix, I would definitely disregard anything else. I would not be learning the technology I was actively sunsetting. That just would not make any sense.

Regarding "frustration about deprecated features":

When we are satisfied with a system, would rather keep it as is, but forced to make changes because something is deprecated, we are losing money. Just imagine that plumbing in your house becomes deprecated every few years, even though you are just fine with it as is. In some cases all the business needs is plumbing - cheap, reliable, and not interrupting more important activities.

July 26, 2011 10:08 PM
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