This is a topic I’ve thought about posting for a long time.  It seems almost like common sense, and I didn’t want to insult anyone, but the more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realized that this is an art.  Or perhaps a skill.  Maybe even an intuition.

What the hell am I talking about?  Googling.  You know, your server just blew up.  10,000 users can’t get their email.  All you see is a stream of errors in the event log, and at the same time, end users are yelling at you because they *have* to send this super important file using a non-guaranteed delivery mechanism (email).  Managers are calling you on the phone, sending you an IM, your pager is going off, and you’re getting urgent tickets in your ticketing system.  What to do?!?!?!!11??omgwtfbbq!!

Well first of all, take a chill pill and be thankful you don’t have a flesh eating bacteria.  Yeah, it could be worse.  Seriously.  You always want to poke around the system for obvious stuff (is the disk full?  what was the first error event in the event log? was another admin logged in and now you aren’t hearing a peep out of them?), but you know what, the most simple brain dead way to help track down a problem is to just google it.

Now here is what separates experience from omgwtfbbq?!!11!!.  What do you google for?  This is almost basic troubleshooting 101.  Don’t just search for “email broken, halp”.  You need to at least try and find the source of the issue, or if your logs don’t go back that far, just search for the event ID and source of whatever you do see.  Or if a system-generated error message shows up, search for that, because you KNOW that a system-generated message will be the SAME on every other system in the world running that same version.  And thats what you want to find, other people running the same software, who have seen the same problem.  If the search results are too broad, add some additional keywords that are relevant to the problem.  If you suspect it could be a bug, limit your search to the vendor’s website only.  For example, add to your search query.  Over time you will start to see the same blogs or message boards pop up, so you will know which ones are likely to have useful information.  Even if you don’t find the exact answer, it will at least get you thinking about things you may not have realized were relevant at first.

Remember that search engines are just a tool, and although rare, it *is* possible that you are the first person to have a particular problem, although probably not.  I can’t tell you how many times someone has come to me with a problem that they’ve been working on forever, and I typed in google, word-for-word, what that person just told me, and the answer was the first result.  Don’t be that guy.  GIYF!