In many technology fields, people who have years of experience and specialized knowledge routinely charge consulting rates of $100/hour (or more) to assist companies in solving problems. It might seem a bit counterintuitive then, to learn that many of these people spend their free time answering the same types of questions for complete strangers ... and charge absolutely nothing.
The Oracle community is huge and there are scores of such people who routinely answer questions asked on public forums. Many (although certainly not all) of them are well-known experts in their fields who regularly write books or speak at Oracle OpenWorld or other public venues.
If you are having a problem that you cannot solve on your own, or if you need a more detailed explanation about a particular topic than the documentation provides, then posting a question on one of these forums may be a reasonable option. I have been working with the Oracle database for 20 years and I still post questions on occasion when I hit a brick wall on an issue.
That said, if you want to make the best use of forums, there are a number of etiquette rules that you should follow. The vast majority of the people who contribute to forums are volunteers. The best of them are ones who have been answering questions for years. These experts will sometimes decide not to answer questions from posters who they feel are impolite or are wasting their time. Four of the most important rules are:
Remember Your Due Diligence: Prior to posting any question on a forum, try searching for the answer on Google. It is sad how often I can copy a question posted on a forum, paste it directly into Google, and get a dozen hits providing the information requested. Performing such a search will often provide you with the information you need immediately, and will not require that anyone else spend their time solving your problem.
Don't Be Vague: When posting a question (and where it makes sense to), provide detailed information about your situation. For example, if you are getting an error with a particular piece of software, provide the version of the software, the specific error message, and a description of the steps to generate the error. If you have performed any diagnosis or corrective actions, include those in your post so that people know what you have already tried.
Be Satisfied with Getting a Head Start: Do not expect the forum community to provide 100 percent of the solution. Generally the answer provided on a forum will be one that gets you started on a potential solution, or one that helps to refine a solution that you have already started.
Attitude of Gratitude: If you receive an answer, or even a helpful suggestion, be sure to thank the people who have tried to help. In addition, many forums have a built-in method for marking a post as being helpful or correct. Some have means for liking the post or saying thanks. Taking the time to mark helpful posts demonstrates to the community that you recognize the fact that they are providing a valuable service.
Most forums will also have the rules and etiquette posted somewhere for newbies. Taking the time to locate and read this document can save you a great deal of grief. Most of the people who are on the forums answering questions do so because they are interested in helping people. They do not want to feel, however, that they are being taken advantage of.
There are dozens of forums for various software and hardware products on the Web. You can apply these same methods with respect to just about any IT or IT certification problem. For those serving the Oracle database, however, there are currently only three that I regularly visit:
Oracle Technology Network Forums — This is easily the largest and most active Oracle forum available. It is the "official" forum presence and is hosted by Oracle itself. Some of the more active areas such as Database and SQL & PL/SQL receive dozens of new threads (and hundreds of responses) most weekdays.
A significant number of well-known experts in various facets of the Oracle product suite are constantly answering questions here. Because so many people use it, questions normally receive extremely fast answers. If there is a downside to the OTN forums, it is that they are not always newbie-friendly. On many occasions, I have seen some of the forum experts be rude to new posters who fail to follow forum etiquette.
OraFAQ — Almost as well known as the OTN forums, OraFAQ is another place that has a high volume of traffic. Many of the same experts that answer questions on the OTN forums do so here as well. In my experience, it has somewhat less traffic and possibly a slightly longer wait for an answer. On the positive side, I have not seen the same level of newbie-bashing on this venue.
Club Oracle — Compared to the first two, this is very definitely a niche site. Both the volume and the number of expert contributors are fraction of either of the above. That said, it is easily the most newbie-friendly of the three.
There are a few other forums that cater to Oracle. Most, however, have an extremely low volume and have nothing that drew me to either use or contribute to them.
Forums can be quite valuable as a learning resource even if you do not have a specific question to ask. I will often look through some of the questions that have been asked on the forums. They provide examples of how others are using the database and related software.
The answers are even more interesting. Often several posters will provide different solutions to a given problem. This provides valuable insight into how other experts in the field think. On several occasions, this has caused me to revisit (and recode) portions of my own applications to make use of a new technique.
This is one of the reasons why so many highly experienced individuals spend their free time on the forums. It provides the opportunity to view the thought processes of other high-performing individuals in their field and use that to further refine their own skills. If you do not make use of that same opportunity, then you are missing out.