This is an article on how to answer questions, earn points and become an expert.
In my travels in Experts-Exchange, I see people wanting to be an Expert and wanting to earn points. I wrote this article to help you earn points, to help you become an expert, and to use as a reference when I am assisting people.
Let’s go to the last reason first. I like to earn points as much as anyone and I am somewhat skeptical of people who say “points are not important”. At a basic level, if you can earn 3,000 points a month on a sustained basis, you get free Premium Service. That is a real value of about $200 a year and worth it if you can answer questions. At a more substantial level, 5 Million points gives you free Premium Service forever. That is a bit of a leap, for sure, and only about 113 members have achieved that level (as of the end of 2015).
In between, however, with any substantial level of points (say 1 Million points), you gain the respect of the community around you, you demonstrate the ability to solve problems, and you earn points at the hands of your peers. This is really the core of the Experts-Exchange Question and Answer forum.
I will explore earning points shortly, but first the question: “Why do we bother earning points?” I earn points as the result of answering questions, and I answer questions in order to help people. I have had enough interaction over the seven years I have been a member here to know that people who ask questions are (in the large) happy to get a good answer and happy to reward the expert for that good answer.
I like first helping people and then, I am always pleased when a member gets the help they came looking for. I like the Good Answer! email. It just plain feels good. And then I like the points that go with it.
So how do you earn points? Let me tell you how I went about it and how my background fits into this.
I have been running my own business for 15 years, and that has given me a lot of experience in solving problems and a lot of experience in different kinds of systems. I had never heard of Experts-Exchange until 2008. In 2008, I purchased a ThinkPad T61p laptop with Windows Vista Business 64-bit running on it (later Windows 7). One thing I need to be able to do before putting any computer into production is to be able to access my clients via their VPN. All my clients (and my colleague’s clients) have Juniper Netscreen VPN boxes. I had used the Juniper Netscreen client for XP for 5 years, but it did not work in Vista 64-bit. I determined that the OEM counterpart was SafeNet Soft Remote. I ordered and purchased license at an absolutely obscene amount of money and then could not make it work. I took the machine to a (really good) VPN consultant I know, and he turned to Experts-Exchange, found a solution and we got it working. That was my first exposure to Experts-Exchange. I looked at Experts-Exchange, decided that a one-year subscription for $100 was within my business budget, and I signed up for a year. I remember thinking at the time “I will just read, not post anything”.
I remember the first question when I relented and posted an answer. A member wanted to migrate from Server 2000 to Server 2003. I had just done that at a client. I had engaged a consultant to help, the consultant recommended Swing-IT, the employees went home Friday, we worked over the weekend, and on Monday morning employees came back to a new Server with everything just the way they left it. So I posted my experience and about two days later, I got this Good Answer! email. I remember it feeling good and I remember the member was happy for the advice. So much against my own better judgement, I started answering questions and the rest is just history.
How do I answer questions and how to I earn the Good Answer! (or Good Assist!)?
- You need to have a logical mind and be a problem solver. You need to look at a set of issues and be able to determine a likely approach to a solution. Most answers I see (in the zones that I watch) have a fairly logical set of steps providing a solution.
- You need to have experience. I have been working for myself for nearly 15 years and I am used to clients expecting me (and my colleague) to solve any problem they can dream up. So I have gotten used to searching for, and then doing the work to implement solutions. Searching for solutions and not testing the results is easy. Implementing a solution normally requires a bit of skill. By 2008, I had already seen lots of problems, and worked on lots of solutions, so by the time I got to Experts-Exchange, many of the questions (in the zones that I watch) were already familiar to me.
- You need to have patience. On many times, I need to work with askers over an extended period (days, sometimes weeks) to arrive at a solution. Lots of time, the first response may not be what an asker needs and so we need to work together. It takes patience and it takes time.
- You need to work hard. Answering questions, becoming an expert and earning points takes persistent daily effort. I peruse the recent questions, maybe 100 in a day and see what (a) interests me and (b) what I think I might be able to contribute to. I post to between 10 and 20 live posts each day that I am working on. It takes time and effort to do this and answering just one or two questions a week will not build expertise quickly. You need to work hard and on a sustained basis.
- In the operating systems and Office application zones that I work in, you need to have used a lot of different systems. I started with DOS, and I have used every reasonable Windows operating system ever since. I started using Microsoft Office with Office 95 and have used every Office system since then. My Windows 10 Pro host machine runs Office 2016. I have a Windows 7 Pro guest with Office 2010, a Vista Business guest with Office 2007, 2 Windows XP Pro guests with Office 2003 and Office 2002, a Windows 2000 guest with Office 2000, a Windows NT4 and Windows 98 guest with Office 97, and a Windows 95 guest with Office 95. I can create a real world solution out of this and post the results in answers. It is a good lab for this work and to support my clients.
By the way, I did not skip Windows 8 – I used it for 2 and a half years before I upgraded my computer to Windows 10. There is enough similarity between Windows 10 and 8.1 and between Office 2016 and Office 2013 that I did not build a Windows 8.1 guest machine. Maybe I will one day. I have a Windows 8 license on my shelf.
- This one is important. Don’t post links! Please, do not post just links. Posts with “See this …. link” have always annoyed me (and many experts). It happens that, after years of hard work, I have been made a Topic Advisor. I now routinely delete such posts. “See this … link” is the mark of somebody who knows how to use Google, not much more, and is not the mark of a good expert. A good expert will normally post a succinct answer that demonstrate a knowledge of the subject along with a proposed solution. The problem with links is that they may die (404 Not Found error on the link) and will force askers and other members to pore through the links looking for the tidbit of a solution buried in the link. The practice wastes all of our time.
- You need to use good grammar and good sentence structure. As an expert, you want people to understand what you are saying, so be clear and direct. Use simple sentences and point form (bullets, numbers) if you are trying to make several points. Practice using good grammar as it will improve your ability to answer questions. Avoid acronyms if you can and spell things out. Grade 8 reading level is a good comprehension level to work at because most readers (however capable) can work with simple, well-written material.
- Be polite. When you get a Good Answer email, click on the link and post an appropriate Thank You message. This lets the asker know you are paying attention and appreciate the points.
- As you will surmise by now, my native tongue is English. I go out of my way to help people for whom English is not their native tongue. I always do my best to understand another person's post and to help them on their way.
So to summarize, know your subject matter very well, work hard, keep at it for years, remember good decorum and to be polite, and soon you will be an accomplished expert.