Being a Problem Solver

David Cramer, in Be a Problem Solver

For me the best thing that happened to our generation was Google. Not necessarily Google itself, but the idea of search. The Internet is a sprawling amount of unstructured information, and products like Google Search empower people like myself to solve problems they have little to no experience in.

My days are split into two kinds of categories: ones where I know what I need to do, and ones where everything is burning to the ground. Tools like search allow me to deal with that rain of fire.

Do you remember how to configure HSTS in Nginx off the top of your head? I intentionally don’t. A quick Google will give me a link to Stack Overflow or some random blog post, both of which will happily give me the answer. I don’t need to maintain that knowledge, because the Internet is doing it for me.

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In the past I've under appreciated people who are willing to answer questions themselves [...] most notably how someone with context and knowledge can be fairly effective until they hit an issue in unexplored territory.

Spend a few extra minutes looking for an answer. Be open to asking questions on various mediums (Stack Overflow, Twitter, IRC). Literally type in “How do I [X]” into Google. Be surprised at how easy things get.

I couldn't agree more. Here's the first line of my bio, at rossp.org:

My name is Ross Poulton. I'm 30-something, and I'm a problem solver.

If you know how to troubleshoot, and you know how to be a problem solver, then your product-specific training quickly becomes less relevant.

Having an awareness of how something works - understanding the broad pieces that you are working with and their relationships, as opposed to knowing exactly how it works - makes it so much easier to know what to search for when something goes wrong. There's nothing wrong with Googling your way out of situations that are rare or unexpected.

It's one of the reasons I want my kids to grow up knowing how to do basic computer programming and how to build things with their own hands. When they come across something that doesn't work, even if they don't know exactly what's wrong they'll have the knowledge to perform some troubleshooting or testing (be it on a computer, in their car, or fixing a cabinet hinge in the kitchen), they'll be able to search the web for answers with confidence, and be more likely to fix it themselves.


Thanks for reading.

I'd love to hear your feedback and comments. E-mail me, ross@rossp.org, or get in touch on Twitter where I'm @RossPoulton. Chat soon!