New Skill Unlocked: Targeted Googling

Formally, the Fieldschool taught us many many things –  from the principles of DH project management to the difference between JavaScript’s ‘methods’ and ‘functions’ – but inevitably some skills arose a little more, um, organically.  One great skill I picked-up related to problem-solving and troubleshooting my own (frequent) mistakes. The tech/dev team really honed a strategy that we called ‘targeted Googling’. We should have given it a more dynamic name but at least it’s functional. Anyway, this phrase just refers to the process by which we solved almost all of our technical problems: just Google the heck out of it.

This sounds both facetious and really obvious but I recommend it quite seriously (and it won’t be any kind of secret to people who work permanently in programming or web development).  There is definitely a knack to targeted Googling too. For those of us who usually use Google to solve trivia debates, it’s a different kettle of fish using one search bar to explain and elicit a useful response to why you think you just broke an entire web-page and/or visualisation.

The first challenge is understanding what’s wrong and how to describe your problem correctly. It was a great day when I realised that a web browser’s JavaScript console provides you with an error message: it wasn’t just a case of ‘timeslider not appearing leaflet plugin’ but that, in the plugin’s JavaScript, the ‘variable SliderControl not defined’. Until I discovered this, I kept trying to describe the errors in terms of how they presented as symptoms, using (often uselessly) broad terms. But the trick to getting useful results is describing where something went wrong – and the error message tells you! My overwhelming recommendation to other newbies: find the error message. It will become your best friend and ally.

The other troublesome step is interpreting the hits you get back. The results are inevitably forum after forum after comment thread after forum, but somewhere in there will be a response to exactly your problem and the piece of correct code you need. I learned to read more than the first page of hits,  look at all of the forums and try all of the solutions. I wish there was a more polite way of saying ‘trial and error’ but implementing the solution is just that: you have to get used to persevering and somewhat blindly plugging pieces of code in that maaay be right (though you’re not sure why).

The last point/caveat is this: unfortunately, knowing all of this still doesn’t mean that I can fix my own problems every time (that’s a whole different story) but knowing what’s wrong, using the right terminology and feeling comfortable being a little bit blind is a significant start to getting the answer you need.

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