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Free Advice or Free Consulting

By Grant Fritchey,


Today we have a guest editorial from Grant Fritchey.

“I have a 300 million row table. Can you send a specific design to make it run fast?”

That is a fairly common type of question here at SSC and on other web sites that allow for people to communicate with one another. It’s simultaneously a perfectly innocent question and the fervent wish that someone with more experience and knowledge will come into your office, remotely, and do your work for you, for free.

I’m an active participant in the forums because of two things. First, I like helping people where I can. Second, trying to solve problems provides a great way to learn. This means that, depending on how one looks at it, I’m providing free consulting. But if you go and look at most of the answers that I’ve provided, I’m frequently answering specific technical issues or offering general advice. I just don’t get into trying to design someone’s entire OLTP system for them, although those types of questions are out there. Most of the other prolific posters here on SSC work the same way. Most of them are either full-time employees, like me, or they are paid consultants. Funny thing, especially with the consultants, they don’t want to work for free.

These types of questions wouldn’t be so bad, except people get truly indignant when the answer isn’t, “Sure, let me send a full set of technical specs, a complete database design, tuned queries, some coffee and a tasty snack over to your office right away.”  I’m not sure what it is that leads people to believe that if someone provides you with an answer to a detailed question, without charging you, that automatically means that the people answering questions are now obligated to provide you with unlimited free consulting time. That’s just not how it works.  Those people are volunteering some time to pitch in because of any number of reasons; they received help once in the past and want to pay it forward, they’re trying to learn and, like me, use this as a great laboratory for building understanding, they’re just nice guys. Etc.. Whatever the reason, you need to remember that they are volunteers. Not some sort of pre-paid, on-call technical support that is ready to drop everything to design you a new database, tune your queries, fix your corrupted database, restore the logs to a point in time, all questions that have come up, with URGENT or IMMEDIATE HELP or even NOW, attached.

Please, ask us questions, we want to help. But please, think about what you’re asking and keep in mind who it is that is likely to be answering it. If your expectations are set appropriately, you’ll be more likely to ask questions that will get good answers and help you out and you’ll be much less likely to get frustrated or disappointed when no one answers your question or someone suggests you go hire a consultant, again, something I’ve seen on the forums. We’re all trying to take part in this community together. This means free advice, yes. Free specific answer, yes. Free long term consulting, absolutely not.

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