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TSQL2sday #008 – Gettin’ Schooled

TSQL2sDay This months TSQL2sday is being hosted by Robert Davies of MCM and Microsoft fame, you can find his post here. This month’s topic is titled ‘Gettin’ Schooled’ and for those participating in the blog party this month we will be looking at how we learn and how we teach.

This fits in quite nicely with my post from last Thursday where I wrote a short note on the SQLBITs conference being held in the UK this Autumn.

How do I learn?

I have been working with SQL Server since 2002, for most of that time as a DBA. This post will focus on the learning that I have undertaken since becoming a DBA. I know we all went school, some of us went to university, some of us may have even taken higher degrees in the form of Masters or PhD's etc. There has actually been quite a lot of debate and quite a lot written about whether you need college/university degree to be a DBA and I don’t want to go down that route and discuss that topic here, instead I want to look at the type of learning I think most DBAs and developers will have gone through at some point to train themselves to do their jobs.

Technical Training

When I first started out working with SQL Server I was very lucky.  My employers at the time had a reasonable training budget and they were prepared to send me on several official MCT courses. All SQL Server based and all based around the MCDBA. I forget about the actual course titles but there was a course on administering SQL Server. As a ‘newbie’ to the DBA profession and relatively new to SQL Server those courses did actually provide a good grounding for me because I was able to apply what I learned on the course in a practical environment, supporting production SQL Servers. I did also take the exams/certs associated with the courses and I have achieved both the MCDBA (SQL Server 2000) and the MCITP for SQL Server 2005. Certification is another discussion altogether! The training was good for me because I was able to combine  the theoretical  lessons and labs of the course with practical hands on experience. This meant I learned and gained experience in the technology and later I was able to pass the exams. I think  that practical real life work experience was vital though for any DBA.

Experience

The best learning experience for me personally was in doing the job of a DBA. I was lucky, I got good training, more importantly I got two great mentors in my first full time DBA job. These guys taught me a lot and they helped me greatly early in my career. They gave me plenty of responsibility but at the same time were always available to help me out when I needed it and because of the help and responsibility  those guys gave  I was able gain great experience.

As the years have gone by and I have changed jobs and setup my own contracting company I have found that as technology changes and new features and products have come out the best way to learn these new technologies is to use them and figure them out for yourself. I’m lucky I have a MSDN subscription which allows me to use the Microsoft products and technologies as they come out. I have a very powerful desktop where I can run a several virtual machines at once so I have very own test domain setup  where I can try different  technologies and experiment with different setups.

Books

I have read many SQL Server books over the years and books are still a great way for a DBA to learn. These are three of my current favourite titles:

SQL Server MVP Deep Dives

Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Internals (Pro - Developer)

Blogs

I read a lot of blogs from people in the  SQL Server community, I find this a great way to learn and keep to update, from the documented experiences and knowledge of other people doing a similar job to myself. My top 10 SQL Bloggers (Taken from my Google reader reading trends) are

1.Paul Randal
2.Kimberly L Tripp
3.Steve Jones
4.Brent Ozar
5.Brad Mcgehee
6.Buck Woody
7.Jack Corbet
8.Adam Mechanic
9.Thomas LaRock
10.Denny Cherry

There are many more great bloggers out there and I read most of them but I could fill the page with a list of the good blogs that I read, apologise if I haven’t listed you, but feel free to leave a link to your blog in the comments if you think it is something that we all should be reading.

User Groups and Conferences

I like conferences they are a great way to learn and good way to network. There are many conferences and user groups out there, I wrote a post last week about the SQL BITS conference you can find that post here. I also recently attended a SQL Server Master Class held by Paul Randal and Kimberly L Tripp you can read my review of that great event here. There are a number of virtual user groups you can attend. I like the events put on by pass especially if travelling distances is difficult for you, you can attend these events from the comfort of your own desk and they are a great way to learn.

Writing

I have been writing about SQL Server since 2007. I have been writing this blog since late last year. I found writing on my website a little more time consuming and tricky than writing on the blog so I tend to write more on my blog these days but the website is still available. I started writing to improve my knowledge and enforce my understanding of SQL server. If I’m required to learn something new I like to write some blog posts about it. It reinforces my knowledge, If I get anything wrong people are very helpful and point out my mistakes or maybe ask questions which again allows you to grow and expand your knowledge. If you write on a blog or website it will be there for future reference and you might just help somebody else along the way.

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