I know what it’s like to be on a deadline writing code for something I am unfamiliar with and running into lots of weird issues.  I start out searching Bing, then I search sites like the MSDN Forums or StackOverflow.com.  I will go read the MSDN Library, hoping for community content that clarifies the problem I am having with a tool or API. 

Just like you, if I can’t find the answer easily, then things can get rough.  I start flailing for help, too.  I post to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn asking for help.  I might send an email asking for help.  If things are getting down to the wire, then I will look for friends on Communicator or Live Messenger and beg for help over IM.  My bet is that you do something similar.

If you’ve felt this way, this post is for you.  Things break, it’s the nature of why we are employed as software developers.  If writing software were easy, we’d probably be doing something else.  That’s why it’s helpful to understand some of your options for getting Microsoft support.

Premier Services

Your company might have a Premier contract and has already purchased someone’s time to help you with issues.  In fact, that’s what my job at Microsoft is, I am a Dedicated Support Engineer (DSE) that works with 1 customer who purchased my time under a Premier contract.  When they have issues, they ping me for help with remediation services.  It would be very much worth your time to find if your company has someone like this and if you have access to use this person’s time. 

I work with a group that manages their SharePoint farm.  I do things like review their IIS and ULS logs help them troubleshoot issues in their environment, review hang dumps to troubleshoot particular problems with code, show them how to do certain tasks by writing sample code for them, and help them proactively manage their environment.  I provide ongoing user education workshops and training to help them more effectively manage their environment, train developers on how to write code for SharePoint, train power users on how to use tools like SharePoint Designer, and show them how to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010.  We provide workshops for things like troubleshooting, debugging, and optimization.  We have lots of utilities and tools to verify, assess, and troubleshoot to maximize the investment that the customer made in our platform.  If you don’t have someone like this for your organization, you should.  Learn more about Premier services at http://www.microsoft.com/microsoftservices/en/us/support_premier.aspx

Support for MSDN Subscribers

Don’t have a DSE or a Premier contract, or your company won’t let you use their time?  Got an urgent issue and need someone to look at it quickly?  Something a lot of customers don’t realize is that each MSDN subscription comes with support incidents per subscription.  Over my years at Microsoft, I have worked with developers in a lot of big organizations, and very rarely do developers know that they have these support incidents at their disposal.  For example, if I have a Visual Studio Premium with MSDN subscription, I have 4 support incidents for the year of my subscription!  When I renew, I get another 4 incidents.  Someone else on my development team is facing an issue and they have their own MSDN subscription, they have their own 4 incidents for their MSDN subscription. 

From my experience, these support incidents are often underused.  If I were a development manager, I’d make sure everyone on my team was taking advantage of their subscriber benefits.  It’s easy to do, you can call in for support or submit your incident online.

MSDN Forums

Another frequently overlooked benefit is priority support in MSDN forums for MSDN subscribers.  A Microsoft engineer will respond within 2 business days to your posting if the community hasn't already gotten you the answer.  Yep, just post a question, and within 2 business days you will receive a response.  To receive priority support in the MSDN Forums, just sign in with the same Windows Live ID you use to access your other subscription benefits.  The product teams typically have a set of support people that monitor the MSDN forums, and this information is used by the product teams to understand opportunities to make their products better.  Not all products have this, though, so check the link above to see what forums have this benefit.

Besides the Microsoft support engineers, there is an active community of Microsoft MVPs and other professionals that participate in the forums to help answer questions.  It always amazes me when I see some very obscure issue that an MVP posts, “yeah, I blogged about that, here’s how to fix it.”  When I get emails from people asking me directly for help through my blog, I always mention this as an option since this is about the same as standing in a room of thousands of people with a megaphone asking the whole room for help. 

Software Assurance

When you purchase a server product like SharePoint, your company can also purchase software assurance.  They often do this so that they can get upgrade benefits for the next version, such as buying SharePoint 2007 with software assurance so that you can upgrade to SharePoint 2010 later.  This software assurance contract might also entitle you to 24x7 phone and web support.  You’ll need to become familiar with your contract, because the number of phone incidents available to you depends on your Software Assurance investment.  Check with the folks responsible for procurement and licensing to become familiar with the benefits of software assurance within your organization and how your company manages these resources.  Becoming familiar up-front can save your team time and money later if you face an issue.

Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP)

The Microsoft Partner Program (MSPP) includes a wealth of member benefits and opportunities for assistance.  For example, purchasing a partner membership includes business-critical phone support, and Silver and Gold membership includes a 5-pack of break-fix support incidents.  If your company is a Microsoft partner, check with your partnership manager to discuss what benefits your company might have and if you have access to these resources.  Again, becoming familiar up-front can save your team time and money later if you face an issue.

Problem Resolution Services

Developers are notoriously cheap.  That’s not a slam on developers, it’s actually a good thing.  We are resourceful, we often make do with less resources than we desire or often even less than we require.  Spending money on support is something that many devs wouldn’t easily consider.  That’s why I listed lots of other options first.  Your organization might have already paid for support incidents one way or another, becoming familiar with your options is in your interest.  However, if you’ve exhausted the other options, then you can pay for support as well.

From their web page:

Microsoft Problem Resolution Services provides assistance for problems with specific symptoms that you may encounter when you use a Microsoft product when there is a reasonable expectation that the problem is caused by the Microsoft product. Problem Resolution Services can be purchased on a per-incident basis or can be redeemed as part of another Microsoft program that includes Professional Problem Resolution Services.

This is paid support.  If you are facing an issue that you need help on quickly, don’t have Premier, don’t have MSDN, don’t have access to Software Assurance incidents… then you can pay per incident for support.  You can get business hours support, after-hours support, email-only support, or even buy a pack of support incidents. 

Non-Microsoft Resources

Of course, if you are looking for help, there are more places to look than just Microsoft.  There are a ton of Microsoft partners that can provide services to you for a fee.  There are also a lot of places to look for free online support, such as:

  • StackOverflow.com – a very active community of subject matter experts, highly recommended.
  • SharePointOverflow.com – a SharePoint-specific community based on StackOverflow.com.  There are many specialized versions of StackOverflow available.
  • LinkedIn.com – there are a lot of active communities in LinkedIn where people post and answer questions regularly. 

 

Got a Suggestion?

Do you know of a great place to ask questions and get help on developer topics?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section for this post.