Updated on 2020/02/10
2. Helpful from the start

Three Tips for Efficient Googling

It may sound a bit corny, but the most important skill for programmers and people who want to teach themselves something is the successful usage of a search engine. You're wondering if said is not true for every human in the twenty-first century? And of course you're completely right, this skill is one you should be honing anyway. Heck, we live in the information age, where it's not about knowing things but knowing where to find that knowledge quickly.s

As you're a programmer and learner or on the way to one or both, this is especially true for you. In programming, how fast you're finding the information you seek can easily make a difference of hours if not days. And as time's the one thing we really don't have too much of, we should care about how efficiently we find information; not only to reach our goals faster, but also to have a lot less frustration and a lot more fun on the way.

Before you start (learning) programming, you should consider how you can improve your googling skills. Apart from general usage tips (like these or these) I recommend the following strategies:

  • Just because you don't get any results does not mean there are none. Try to rephrase your search, try it from a different perspective or direction. Do not give up after the first try but give it a couple or runs before you throw the towel. And try to be creative, the people writing up the information you're looking for might have been as well. The more you creatively diversify your search patterns, the more your google skill will improve quite naturally, by the way.
  • If you find results, they are not necessarily the best ones for your problem. Even if you're satisfied with the results you have found: try yet again, try to find an even better, simpler, more elegant solution. Even if you will not find any, you most definitely will learn something along the way.
  • Sometimes it can make sense to take a step back and improve upon certain prerequisites for your problem. Sometimes you lack the words to properly phrase a search; when you feel unable to describe the problem or feel like the results you get seem off topic for your specific problem, you might want to go back and read up about the problem in more general terms.

Always be aware how much you can profit from clever searching and your googling skill will improve quite naturally. Even with all these tips you will most probably waste a day here and there chasing a solution to a problem. As a programmer or autodidact or both, that comes with the territory.

But let me put it like this: over the years, the amount of time I have wasted on googling solutions to my programming problems has massively declined. Partly of course because I became a much better programmer and did run into fewer problems to begin with, but mostly because I know much better how and where to find those solutions if I do run into problems.

And at the end of the day you realize that we programmers will only be able to remember a tiny fraction of all the stuff we need on a daily basis. We have to look up all the time which parameters this standard function takes or how exactly the new feature in our favorite framework actually works.

As programmers, we don't know how the most things work exactly, but we know they exist and how and where we can find out how they do work. The better you are in using a search engine, the more time you will save as a programmer, regardless of wether you are solving a problem you have never had before or wether you are looking up an implementation detail for something you have already done a dozen times.