Monday, August 13, 2007

How to get help with Oracle - Part 1

I've been using Oracle products for almost 25 years. And been trying to help people use the same products for almost 20 of those years. And I've watched others doing the same thing, in the newsgroups and in the Oracle forums

Some people get help very quickly, whereas others simply don't get help at all.

There are a few very, very consistent things I've observed. I'll probably expand this over the next few blogs as well.

Realize that the people helping are volunteers from all possible industries. That means there is a very good chance they have experience that even Oracle may not have. However, that also means they have jobs, and are probably doing this in their spare time.

Respondents appreciate the little things that make their lives easier and allow us to get at a solution faster. Conversely, a number of us will simply quit or ignore some requests when there is insufficient information.

a) make the title interesting

I see about 250 forum questions a day. I respond to about 30 of them. The decision to respond is often based on the title.

b) use a proper language

I will respond in German, attempt to understand questions posed in French, Spanish or Italian and respond in English - if the post looks like there has been some effort put into the post.

People who use IM-speak often can't be bothered to use a proper keyboard or to type all the keys. That generally leaves me with the impression they would not even be bothered to attempt a solution. (I also wonder how many IM-speakers are keying the question during a test ...) So I simply will not respond.

c) tell them the operating system, in a reasonable amount of detail.

I've had some discussions that have taken up to 10 posts before we've found out that the person is trying to get the Oracle 10g Database Control working on Microsoft Windows XP Home. Unless you can figure out a way to access the security settings behind the scenes to turn on things like 'Log on as batch job', this simply ain't going to happen.

There are times when operating system is not relevant. In which case the operatinig system reference is 'any operating system'

Note the word size (32 bit, 64 bit) as that can make a huge difference, especially if you are looking for performance help. Occasnionally the patch level may be of interest, especially if things appear to work differently after applying the patch.

Windows is not Windows is NOT Windows. Windows XP and Windows Vista are not enough of a description. It's Windows XP Profession Edition SP2, or Windows XP Media Center, or Windows Vista Business Edition.

Linux is not Linux is not Linux. The kernel is the same. The distro is different. And ity's the distro that gets certified. And it's the distro that causes differences and causes difficulties. There are at least 12 different flavours of 'Red Hat', 8 different Fedoras, several different SuSE Linux variants including the OpenSUSE and SLES variants.

(Apparently some people have not caught on that different editions and distros are out there for a reason.)

d) tell them the product, including Edition, version and patch level.

Oracle uses a fairly consistent version numbering scheme, as described in Chapter 1 of the Database Administrator guide. It's very important for respondents to know the version. It may seem silly, but there are a lot of people who have not grasped the idea that things actually change between versions.

e) tell them the exact error message

Paraphrasing simply doesn't work. Cut and paste a console session or the actual error message is the ONLY way.

f) tell them what you have tried

I lose interest very quickly when I find out - in the 7th post - that they have already tried that but did not tell us.

g) tell them WHY

One of the most common mistakes is to assume the solution and then fight tooth and nail to obtain that solution. If you tell us what you are trying to do, and why, we may come up with alternatives. Funny thing is that many of us have already tried and failed at exactly the same thing as you are trying. And then redefined the problem and succeeded.

One of the rewards for helping is getting to tell the world about those hard-fought solutions, and the reason why they work.

and finally (for now)

PLEASE explain why you absolutely must put an unsupported version of Oracle on the absolutely latest version of the operating system. In other words, please help us understand why that operating system had to be upgraded if you are not planning on upgrading the rest of the environment.

Usual disclaimer - trademarks, such as Oracle, are the property of their respective owners. I own nothing other than ideas, and even some of those are not originally mine. My hat is off to the originators of those ideas - whoever you may be.

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