Monday, September 21, 2009

Google ninjas


I’m on a number of technical email lists. These lists allow people like myself to post technical questions that get read by a whole group of other technical people. The hope is that someone on the list knows the answer or has some experience they can share to help the person making the initial request. It was the sort of thing done before all the Web 2.0 stuff came along, and yes, it is really ‘old world’ stuff but for the technical people who use these lists they are yet to come into the 21st century. As I have said many times, just because you work with technology don’t assume you understand technology. Nothing could be truer than in this case. That issue, however, is not the focus of this post, it is instead around how Google is having a major impact on technical professions.

What recently used to happen on these technical email lists was that someone would post a question and someone else would tell them to use Google before they posted the question. Fair enough in my book. Now I see questions typically start with ‘I have a problem that I can’t solve using Google’. Recently one such question resulted in a reply from another member of the forum that they found the answer on Google as the top result in their search request so why could the original person find it on Google? This exchange raises some very interesting issues.

Firstly, with the vast array of information available on the Internet, in-depth technical information on just about every product and technology is available for free. How can you therefore compete on a technical ability any more? Google allows someone with much less knowledge and experience than you the ability to find a solution in potentially less time than you ever could. So, you may have spent years building up your technology knowledge but guess what? Google has just about made the playing field equal for all players no matter what their technical skill or experience level.

Secondly, no longer is it your technical ability that will distinguish you, it is your ability to find relevant information faster than your competition. However, I ask whether many people actually spend time improving their informational sources? Likewise, I ask whether many people actually spend time improving their searching skills? I know for a fact that most people do neither! Most people don’t know that Google has advanced search options. Most people don’t know that Google allows the use of operators (+, –, AND, OR, etc) in searches. This means when they use Google they get millions of results rather than thousands. Give that order of magnitude difference with results returned how effective do you think learning more about improving your skills with Google is going to pay off? Seems like simply math to me but nobody seems to do it.

So don’t be fooled into believing that all that technical knowledge you have accrued over the years is going to put you in good stead. Your most likely younger and smarter competition are investing their time in improving their informational sources as well as improving their ability to search these sources. Honestly, as the power of search technology improves and the amount of information available on the Internet increases, your ability to compete technically doesn’t stand a chance. So spend time improving your searching skills grasshopper and become a true Google ninja.