I love getting questions in email about SQL Server. I tell every class that they can send me questions and they'll get a response – sometimes just a URL to read, sometimes I engage for hours if it's a really interesting bug, for instance. It's a great way to help the community, it fosters good will for SQLskills.com (we're a business after all), and it provides me with some interesting real-life problems as source material for the various Q&A columns I write. Everybody wins.

However, I've noticed a disturbing new trend – people sending questions which seem to demonstrate little or no thought, little or no research, and most irritating of all, little or no politeness. Please and thank-you cost nothing but seem to be sliding out of use during online communication. I mean, if you're going to ask someone for something for free, shouldn't you be polite about it and give them something reasonable to reply to?

This afternoon I got a doozy, and I thought I'd share the anonymized conversation with you. I really didn't expect to be argued with in a response so I thought I'd engage and argue back. No, this doesn't show me in a particularly good light – sometimes (rarely) my irritation overrides my self-restraint and I reply with some mild invective – but the end result was worth it as now I can help him out. If only he'd started with the final email then none of this would have happened and you wouldn't be reading this.

Random email questions should roughly have, in my opinion:

  • Greeting
  • Please
  • Problem statement(s) – but not 100s of lines of code with "Incorrect syntax near ','"
  • Question(s)
  • Thanks
  • And be relevant to things people know (or at least pretend) I know

Enjoy! And keep the good questions coming!

Interested in your thoughts… was I right? was I wrong? I hum'd and hah'd about blogging this at all, but I thought you'd find it interesting.

Original email:

Paul.

What is the best source to study for the MCTS and MCITP certs.?

That's it. My reply:

Seriously? No please, no thank you and you expect a response?

Not the nicest, and certainly not the usual for this type of thing, but he was the straw that broke the camel's back today. His reply:

Awesome!.
 
You've just made my day Mr Randall. Really.
 
I've dreaded asking you questions in the past because I've seen you rip people to shreds for silly questions.
 
I thought, Paul seems like a straight forward guy and doesn't need any fluff. Plus, he's busy.  I figured a short and direct question would be best. I spent about 5 minutes contemplating how to craft my email.
 
Even if you don't respond, it was a great pleasure just to be shot down by you.  My co-workers will get a kick out of it.
 
Please forgive me for wasting your time.  I follow your work closely. It's made me a better DBA. I'm an insider and a big fan.
 
Thank you for your time.
 
Take care. 

Interesting. I feel sort of like I'm being blamed for this whole thread. Game on. My reply:

Ok – you got my attention for 2 mins.

Yes, yours was a really silly question. And you were not polite about it – if you follow my blog you'll see me railing against people who don't say please or thank-you for random questions, which I usually answer regardless.

Did you do any research into answering your question? Google/Bing? As you know, we don't teach any of these certifications, and I don't think much of them, nor do I have any of them, so it's unlikely that I'll know the best source for studying for them. You didn't even specify which one you were interested in.

And best in terms of what? Cost? Depth? Breadth? Material? Teacher?

Yes, I'm very straightforward and very, very approachable – but I have no time for questions that really shouldn't be sent and occasionally when someone sends one with no politeness in, I respond as I did. You lucked in this week. Feel free to share this reply with your co-workers too.

Btw – my last name is Randal, not Randall. It's in my email signature.

Next time, ask a longer question, with more information, on a subject I'm likely to know about, plus say please and/or thank-you and you'll get a better response.

Thanks

His final reply, which is a bit over-the-top, but gutsy to reply again, so I'm going to write a short, considerate response helping him out a bit:

Mr. Randal

When you get a free moment, would you please do me the honor of sharing some career advice.

I'm at the point in my career where I can no long consider myself a newbie. However, I'm feel completely lost and direction less.
I want to be an excellent, well rounded DBA, but I don't know the best way forward. I'm a very good Production DBA, but I feel I'm rubbish when it comes to planning and architecting a database environment. I know little about Network, Storage, Virtualization etc. I also have little to no experience with the SSRS,AS,IS. I can really geek-out of SQL internals; and as I mentioned I really wont to know how to have an intelligent conversation about Network, Storage, etc. I only mention the BI tools because it's good to have them in your tool belt.

If you were to mold a DBA, how would you do it? What sort of training? Is there an Immersion Event that fits? I've attached my resume to give you an idea of my experience. [As if the great Paul Randal has time to read a resume. Worth a shot!]

I just need a little bit of direction. I'm hungry, and I've been aggressively trying to plug learn, but I want to make sure I'm doing it the right way.

Please help.

Thank you.