Getting help from people like me

I want to let you know that I appreciate all the work you do for me. You write Wikipedia articles for me, you buy my crap on eBay, and you solve my computer problems. You’re so good Time made you Person of the Year back in 2006. Remember that? Your mom was so proud!

The big thing I notice in a post-Google world is that when I need help, I almost never get it from the pros. Not from the vendors or the documentation writers. Not from the technical support staff. I get my help from you.

I’ve been saying this for a while, as in this invited piece I wrote for Desktop Engineering last year: MATLAB Central Has Answers to Share. The same principle applies at The big idea is that nobody understands my pain like someone who shares my pain. If someone is paying you to think about my pain, that’s never going to be quite as good.

Here’s a recent example that spurred me into writing about this topic one more time. I was using Word the other day and added a horizontal line by typing <dash-dash-dash-dash-return>. Did you know you could do that? You get this nice line that stretches right across the page. It’s pretty cool… until you want to get rid of the line. You can’t delete it. You can’t backspace over it.

These days I know not to waste time worrying about what to do next. Looking at the Microsoft documentation is a fool’s errand. Don’t bother! Instead I went to Google and typed in these words: I can’t get rid of the annoying horizontal line in Word. The first item solved my problem. Naturally, Microsoft would never refer to the line as “annoying.” But that’s one of the words that led me straight to my solution.

(By the way, it turns out the line is the border of an invisible table.)

2 thoughts on “Getting help from people like me”

  1. One day recently I was Googling around doing genealogical research. One of my searches yielded a post in a forum that got me very excited: the guy was interested in some of the same family lines in the same geographic areas as I was! I scrolled down to find that it was a message I HAD POSTED MYSELF over a decade ago. Thanks, Jay!

  2. A related situation comes up at work for me.

    The canonical observation of a software developer, when looking at someone else’s code is: “Who wrote this crap?!” Often enough you have that sheepish realization that it was actually Younger You. I always think about that when I’m encouraging people to comment their code. You’re putting those comments in for a lot of people. Future You is just one of them. Future You is another person, and frankly, he’s just as mystified by the strange behavior of Younger You as anyone else.

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