How to read a technical blog

4

January 17, 2018 by Kenneth Fisher

There are thousands, tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of blogs out there on all sorts of topics. If you do a search on a subject you are likely to get back multiple (if not large multiples) of responses and it can be hard to know what advice is good advice and what advice is .. shall we say .. not so good. And in many cases it may have been good at one point, but not so much now.

Check the date

The first thing to do is check the date. Most blogs will show the date at the top or the bottom of the text. Some blogs (like mine) also have the date in the URL. If the date isn’t easily visible that doesn’t mean the advice is useless, you just need to be more careful when processing the information.

Now, once you have found the date: If it’s April 1st then this is probably not a blog you want to take seriously. I mean it’s possible it’s a serious blog, but it’s unlikely. From there it depends on what you are looking for/working with. If you are working with the cloud then you need the most recent information possible. That stuff changes fast. If on the other hand, you are working with older technology (a 16bit ODBC connection for example) then you’ll be lucky to find anything that isn’t pretty old so a blog from a decade ago (or older) is not unreasonable.

Check the author

Who wrote it? Is it someone you trust? Is it an expert in the field? This doesn’t really affect if you should read it or not, just how much you are going to trust the information. See below.

Read the comments

If you talk to writers, actors, etc they’ll tell you don’t read the comments. However in this case you really do want to. There is a lot of information out there and the blogger won’t know it all, even on the subject(s) they are writing on, even if they are the expert on the subject. Lots of times you’ll see corrections, additional information, suggestions, or dissenting opinions in the comments. Occasionally you’ll see someone being a jerk but you can generally ignore those. Same rules as above (and below) apply. Check the author and date of any comments and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Think it through

Critical thinking! This is super, super, super important. If it doesn’t make sense based on what you know then something is wrong. The blogger may be confused or flat out wrong. Or maybe you are. Here’s where knowing the author can help. If you know they are an expert, and you aren’t, then maybe trust them more and your current knowledge less. You still need to use logic though, and of course test everything! Even an expert can be wrong. If there are code samples and there are obvious flaws or mistakes then that takes away some of the credibility of the post (so be careful of those when you blog). Easy to follow examples (that work), well-charted statistics, etc will add to the credibility. I don’t worry too much about grammar and spelling. I personally have a hard time with that and English is my first language. If it’s someones second language they may very well have a hard time getting it all right, that doesn’t take away from their technical expertise. And…

Read additional information

Read a second, third, fourth blog until you are comfortable that you understand what’s going on.

Conclusion

Given the way technology and best practices change you can’t assume that even though you’ve read a dozen blogs on a subject and they all agree that they are right. That’s where checking the author, the date, critical thinking etc come in.

Last but not least, given the amount of information out there, it can feel incredibly lonely when you can’t find anything written about your question. There is, however, an easy solution. Once you have an answer YOU write a blog. Don’t worry if it’s perfect, don’t worry if maybe your solution is a hack, or only got you halfway there. It’s still likely to be helpful to the next person dealing with the same thing.

4 thoughts on “How to read a technical blog

  1. ScaryDBA says:

    Great post. I like it. You can’t over-emphasize blog post age when it comes to cloud technology. Some of that is fairly stable, but a lot of it is not. Most of it is not. I would add one more point to your suggestion for others to blog. Every time you solve a problem, write up a blog post. Even if you solved it using someone else’s blog. Link to their blog. Share both the knowledge and where it came from.

    Excellent info. Thanks.

  2. ddecasse says:

    I would ask. Do best practices change or are they interpreted differently.

  3. They do in fact change. There used to be a best practice that said make sure your PLE (page life expectancy) is at least 300. Now if your PLE is 300 then you have a significant problem. Now I’ll admit that’s more of a numbers thing. But there was also a best practice that said split your database across multiple drives for performance (more spindles better performance) but with the way network drives work these days your drives are likely to be pulling from the same spindles, and any given drive is going to have multiple spindles anyway.

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