How do I best find the person I’m looking for?

And other frequently asked questions – an interview with our CTO

AJ Holloway (Linkedin) has been working with for nearly 10 years and has been heading up the IT department with his team of developers the entire time. Nobody knows our web product better than he does, so we decided to borrow some of his time to quiz him on some of our more frequently asked questions. Here’s what he had to say!

Jason: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today – I know you lead an awfully busy schedule. To jump right in, what techniques do you recommend to best find people with common names? ‘Robert Miller’, for instance, or ‘John Smith’?

There are tricks to finding the person you’re looking for

AJ Holloway: Of course! That’s an excellent question and one that our support staff gets asked a lot. For common names, I always recommend using as much “narrowing” information as possible. Searching for “Robert Miller” nationwide without any other parameters? Good luck! There’s a lot of Robert Millers out there – even if you include a city and state with that search. Luckily, most people aren’t doing a completely blind search – you’ll probably have some other identifying information. DOB, phone number, or SSN are the most common. Adding one of those parameters to the mix, can narrow down your results significantly – making your job much easier

Jason: What exactly do you mean by “narrowing information”?

AJ: It’s really just the information that you use to search. Just how “narrowing” it is depends on how many other people in the country have that same information. A first name of “John” is not very narrowing – there are millions of people in the US named John. But how many people have the phone number “614-555-4215”? I’m guessing there’s only a few who have ever used it. Therefore, the phone number is much more “narrowing”

Jason: That makes sense. So when in doubt, always use as much narrowing information as possible?

AJ: Not necessarily… our product uses “AND” logic. This means that every piece of information you search with is “ANDed” together

Jason: I’m not following

AJ: Well, if you search for Robert J Miller with a phone number of 614-555-4215, SSN of 271-00-8712 and DOB of 04/12/1975, we’re taking ALL of those pieces of info and trying to find a person who has all of those matching criteria. First name is Robert AND middle name is J AND last name is Miller AND SSN is 271-00-8712 AND… Sounds great, right? But what if the Robert Miller you’re looking for actually has a DOB of 12/04/1975? Or what if he was never reported to have used that phone number? Now you won’t find the person you’re looking for.

Jason: So how do I know when to search with all of my information and when to search with just some of it?

AJ: The best rule of thumb is to search with the most narrowing information ONLY first. Just an SSN. Or just a phone number. Then if you’re not finding the person – or if you don’t have an SSN or phone number, search with their name, city, and state. Too many people? Add in an address. No results? Maybe they moved – try removing the city.

Jason: So by the sounds of it, this can be a bit of an art.

AJ: Yes, Exactly! It’s a constant battle between getting too many results and no results. You must always think to yourself “How many other people have this same piece of info?” How many people are named Robert Miller? How many people may have used this SSN? How many people are named Quincy in Juneau Alaska? How many people have lived at this address apartment building? How many John Smiths were born in 1975? These are all things to keep in mind when entering your criteria.

Jason: That’s so helpful – any parting words?

AJ: Sometimes giving too much information can lead to no results. Sometimes not giving enough information can lead to too many results. It’s easy to develop a feel for how much information to search with.

After the interview, AJ agreed to meet with us a few more times to discuss some other topics in the future, so look forward to that! Also, we checked and there are about 30 people named Quincy in Juneau Alaska.

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