Is there more to Googling than you think?

As a developer I Google stuff. Alot. It almost happens automatically:

  1. Working on something.
  2. Unfamiliar error appears.
  3. Google it.
  4. Choose the first StackOverflow link in the results.
  5. Problem solved (usually).

That trivialises the process somewhat. Most decent developers will spend some time considering the error and trying a few things to fix it before resorting to searching. And of course we don’t just seek help when errors occur: looking for best practices during the design phase of a project, finding a more concise way of implementing some logic and learning from the mistakes of others are all common use cases.

So I was surprised when recently I was tutoring at a ‘bootcamp’ style programming course and noticed many of the students struggled to construct useful search queries. They would do things like searching for an error verbatim, including their custom variable names and data. They struggled to abstract and generalize a problem. They also struggled to use the results of a first query to make improvements to subsequent queries.

It turns out being a good Googler is a skill many of us have subconsciously built up over years of work. Is my problem language or framework specific? Do I need to widen or narrow my search? Is this even a problem that the wider developer community would be able to help with or is it an issue specific to my company’s codebase?

Wisdom of the Ancients


So, if you’re involved in teaching programming or mentoring junior developers, consider working with them to construct useful searches. You may already know the answer to the problem and could go straight to helping them with it. Teaching them to find the solution themselves may actually be more beneficial.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.