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.
- 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.