Monday, September 15, 2008

How long can a developer survive without Google?

How many times did your boss come up with "can we do X?" and you didn't have a clue about it but answered "Yes, no probs at all - consider it done"? You were probably thinking "WTF - I have no idea about this", and first thing you do when you're back and safe at your desk is googling the damn thing up. We can do stuff like that only because developers are merging into a collective intelligence through internet + Google.

Mortality rate (= getting the axe = being let go = being fired) would be dramatically higher between developers if Google wasn't there to keep them from falling apart (or reverting to slow and painful alternatives) every time they have to learn something new (meaning almost every day unless you are a Reporting Engineer - if so good luck with that).

I am not saying nothing new here, just that today being able to quickly find answers on Google is - if not the most important - at least the second or third most important skill of a developer/software engineer.

Said so, I tried a little experiment: I kept track of how many times I look up work-related stuff using Google during an average day of work (9 to 5 let's say):

10:05 - looked up C# 'as' operator to refresh a few concepts

10:48 - looked up COM on C# sample (there's always something wrong - if you do suck)

12:30 - looked up CoCreateInstance COM function

14:30 - looked up Abstract Factory Pattern sample (no good - Factory is enough for me)

15:55 - looked up T-SQL reference for 'collate' statement

16:40 - looked up osql to run .sql scripts from SQL through xp_cmdshell (BAD idea!)

So turns out on an average day I looked up 6 times on Google - none of those things were crucial for what I was doing but I needed to shed some light on some doubts or explore possibilities I wouldn't have had otherwise. To answer the headline, I start craving for Google after a couple of hours. After a day I would probably start to freak out. After a week or two I'd probably quit (OK , maybe not, maybe I'd switch to Yahoo before quitting). I am not able anymore to count all the times Google really made my day- and I have to say that this is the reason why I opened this blog, to participate in this awesome process of merging my experience based knowledge with the average guy out there who's probably doing the same.

In my experience sometimes people are ashamed of looking up stuff on Google - well they shouldn't be since today is more the 'look up on google skill' is more valuable for a developer than any other static skill and you don't have to waste your time trying to memorize APIs or looking for perfect references 'cause google is the perfect reference (if you know how to filter all the crap - obvious). Sometimes it is astonishing to see people that revert to Google (or the web in general) only if all other means fail after a few days of blood-sweating quests (meaning all the books on the shelves and everyone in the company have been consulted) - it is (most of the times) the other way around guys.

I won't go as far as saying that I couldn't do my job without google (did I already do that?) - but certainly I couldn't be as productive without.

OK - enough boredom for today.

P.S. if you don't agree I'd like to hear why.

kick it on


Anonymous said...

You are so right....
If you need to improve your skills just search in google for:

"filetype:pdf google hacking johnny long"

klang said...

In 2002 I declined a consulting job with an army contractor (partly) because of the missing internet connection in the location we had to work. There was one computer connected to the outside world running on a completely separate network than the rest of the machines.

I would probably be better at just remembering how to do stuff today, had I taken the job, but there are a huge amount of problems I wouldn't have been able to solve without my old friend: Google.

Johnny Idol said...

Time ago I went to an interview and the worst interview nightmare became reality: they shoveled me into an empty circular room with just a machine and a requirements worksheet.

First thing I did was check out if Google was there - it wasn't (no internet connection!) so I freaked out a bit, then got my act together and implemented the hell out of the requirements.

Just to say that having Google/Web out there with you is not everything but gives you the confidence to tackle virtually any task.

Didn't got the job though - but that's another story.

Robert Robbins said...

Yes, I've heard of developers who are not allowed to use Google at work or do any online research. We should all pity them.

Anonymous said...

I think that in an age when most companies expect developers to be "jack of all trades" type programmers, limiting the use of online reference is not only detrimental but also pointless. Problem solving is the most important skill for a developer, not knowing EVERY technical detail about a particular language. Does it help, absolutely, but being able to use reference sources is just as valid IMO.

Scuffia said...

In 2 years I've learned twice using google...using only manuals wouldn't have been the same rate!

Aviv said...

Guess what?
My current work place has internet connection on 1 machine per floor, so people are usually too lazy to get up and google.
Don't even get me started on how much time it wastes...

Anonymous said...

you wouldn`t survive in the army :)

Brian Clapper said...

I've been at this programming thing for 25 years, long enough to have been doing it before the Internet extended much beyond government and academia. Way back when, I used to buy computer textbooks; once a year, I had to winnow my book shelf, removing less used books in favor of new or more often used ones.

Enter the search engines. AltaVista was the first real kick-ass search engine, in my opinion, but Google eclipsed it quickly. I buy very few computer books these days, compared to 20 years ago. If I can't find a web page about a topic, I can usually find a decent online book (PDF or HTML) that has the information I need.

While I continue to use reference books (they're still more portable), I use them far less than I used to use them. Google and other search engines have been a real boon to my job as a software developer--not to mention saving me money.

Rob said...

I completely agree. I have learned all the programming I know from online reference. I may be a hack at it as I am still a new programmer (3 years), but nothing better then finding and expanding on examples for a problem. No point in re-inventing the wheel for everything you do.

Anonymous said...

Einstein wasn't all that smart...he just knew where to find all the answers.


Jax said...

i should add googling as a technical skill on my resume

Johnny Idol said...


Johnny Idol said...

To anonymous:
a quote from Albert Einstein

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I look everything up on Google"

(OK - this stinks, the original one goes like this anyway: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer")