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If you’re a SQL Server data professional on Twitter, you’ve probably seen the #SQLHelp hash tag.  Here’s how to use it:

  • To get help with a short, to-the-point question, post it on Twitter with #SQLHelp in your tweet. Keep Twitter open for the next 15-30 minutes and respond quickly.
  • To give help, set up a #SQLHelp search in your Twitter client. As questions come in that you’d like to help with, just respond back and include #SQLHelp in your tweet too so other people can follow the discussion

It’s pretty simple, and there’s a vibrant #SQLHelp discussion going on around the clock.  (Well, more vibrant during business hours in the US.)  It works best for simple questions that don’t require a lot of back-and-forth clarification, and when things get too detailed, the discussion often moves off to a forum like DBA.StackExchange.com or SQLServerCentral.com.

The benefits:

  • Nobody has to be “on duty” – it’s just staffed by people with free time
  • You’d be amazed at the quality of answers you can get fast
  • Everybody from full time admins to power users to amateurs can ask & answer casual questions fast

Which leads to the question – would something like this work in your own company?  Could you start an open dialog between the admins and power users to get easy problems solved fast before they escalate to help desk tickets?

Twitter isn’t the place for this sort of company discussion because your managers usually don’t want your internal technical infrastructure details aired on a public site.  Some options include:

  • Yammer – like a private Twitter for one domain name, but costs money to get what you really want like outsider consultant access
  • Skype group chats – one of my clients just leaves an open Skype chat at all times, and both internal staffers and outside consultants can drop in to help out
  • IRC – old-school internet text-only chat.  Been around forever, and is still popular amongst open source developers
  • Or any number of private software solutions

If your company doesn’t have one, start one and start evangelizing it to your internal users.  When someone emails you a question directly, here’s the template I use to push people to a more scalable discussion area:

Instead of being a bottleneck to getting problems solved, I’ve decided to help people find a better way to get their answers quickly.  The best way to get help on something like this is to narrow down the question as tightly as possible, then post it on (your discussion area).  Include as much example code as you can so that others can quickly run it and get an idea of what you’re asking, and they might even post your code back with fixes.  If you don’t get good answers fast, let me know and I’ll take a look at the question to see if there’s a way we can get better answers.  This way, you can get help even if I’m out for the day or working on an urgent project.

Then delete the email.  Out of your inbox.  Gone.  An hour or two later, check into (your discussion area) and get them an answer if they haven’t received one yet.  I know, it sounds like you’re punishing them, but this is how you teach people to fish – or at least get their fish from an entire team of fishermen rather than one person directly.

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  1. I love #sqlhelp although by nature of twitter, as you say, it as some disadvantages. Also use MSDN and SSC quite a bit. Not had much luck with StackExchange, although tried it a few times.

    • Mala,

      I’ve found stackexchange very useful. Do you not get answers or are your questions closed? Would you mind sharing your stackexchange profile I’d like to see the answers you got to your questions.

  2. Thank you so much for this tip! I recently caved in and set up a Twitter account, but haven’t had much luck finding SQL content. This is exactly why I setup my Twitter account. Now I can participate in it.

    Thank you also for the suggestion at work. I do ALL SQL code reviews for our team. I’ve recently started a weekly email with one tip each week to help get our developers up on formatting and writing better SQL. It has been a positive addition to our team for both the Developers and myself.

  3. Brent,

    I really like the idea. Two points though.

    First. it shouldn’t be a SQL centric thing. Helpdesk, Sysadmins, network admins and devs should all be invited to participate, especially in a small shop where everyone wears multiple hats. With yammer specifically you could setup a #sqlhelp, #devopsHelp #ciscoHelp etc groups (I forgot what yammer called them).

    Second, I was a unix admin before becoming a .NET dev so IRC does hold a special place in my heart. However, something like yammer or salesforce, or an RT ticketing system creates something searchable so you can tell people to RTFM. In a place with poor documentation, this system will become your documentation. #sqlhelp works on twitter because there are eleventy bazillion blog articles out there, and BOL is continuously improving. #SQLHelp is usually more about pointing people in the right direction, the fundamental knowledge is already written down. For most orgs internal systems, this is not the case.

  4. Great idea Brent! We kind of have this at work, where we have an e-mail group of SQL Server gurus where folks can ask questions. We’re trying to crowd source some more help, but it’s difficult because of the generally low level of SQL related skills outiside the so-called SME (Subject Matter Expert) group (a.k.a who’s on that distribution list). Hopefully as time goes on we can develop some more folks to where we can really leverage community knowledge.

  5. I too have had great help from #sqlhelp

    A fantastic resource. Thanks to the folks who respond.

  6. Pingback: Something for the Weekend - SQL Server Links 07/09/12

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