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Posted Saturday, August 24, 2013 5:37 PM
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Hello people,

I have no experience in the IT field however I'm "young" and looking to get into databases. I'm studying towards the MTA currently not even at MCSA yet. My question I guess is with little knowledge of "other aspects" and just focusing on database fundamentals is it naive to attempt to enter the job market with said knowledge. Even just to gain hands on experience with sql in action.

To know about databases someone mentioned mathematics and logic? I haven't been trained in these things. I guess the point I'm making is that my knowledge currently is in the cert I'm doing and building of course around this from any angle possible. however is it green of me to think this starting point from the cert is sufficient in enabling me to acquire the knowledge needed to perform in a job without formally studying set theory and stuff like this? I am looking for insight into how to build myself in both knowledge and credibility. do i need to build myself from what's thrown at me in terms of "IT" knowledge or is there other than this that I am required to understand?

thanks for reading!

questions/ responses welcome
Post #1488174
Posted Saturday, August 24, 2013 7:57 PM


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If I were just starting out in this field today, I'd be asking the same questions. I was fortunate to be an "accidental DBA" starting back circa 1996 and had been in the world of computers long before that. With the understanding that I'm probably not qualified to help someone trying to break into the field figure out how to break into the field, I can tell you what I'd do if I had to start now.

You're on the right track. The certifications will help you focus on the "what is" and "how to". Except for the coveted MCM certification (think PHD in SQL Server) that may not be enough to land you your first DBA job any more than graduating from medical school qualifies you to be a neurosurgeon. There are also things that no certification will teach you. For example, I know of no SQL Server cert that teaches things like the "Tally Table" and how to use it to make blazing fast code instead of using certain types of WHILE loops. You either have to learn that on the "streets" (forums like this one) or, if you're lucky enough, to find it in a good book.

With that in mind, start building your personal "brand". Step 1 is to buy a copy of the Developer's Edition of SQL Server and start solving problems by researching the solutions both on the web and in Books Online (the technical bible for SQL Server which is available by pressing the {f1} key in SSMS). There's no better source of worldly problems than forums like this one. Pick a forum or two and participate heavily. Remember that you won't only be judged by the problems you solve, but how you solve them and how you react to people on the forums. You could do the same thing with a personal blog but I find that the exposure in well known public forums is a much better teacher and witness to your skills (including people skills) than a private blog ever will be. There are exceptions, of course, but neither you or I qualify as a Paul Randal, Kimberly Tripp, or Brent Ozar.

If you can afford it, buy a couple of machines and setup your own network at home. I don't know if there's such a thing as the Developers Edition of Windows Server, but the Developers Edition of SQL Server (about $60 USD including shipping and handling from Amazon) is the same as the Enterprise Edition and will work on a standard desktop box without Windows Server.

If you really want to be recognized by future employers, dedicate some time sharing your newfound skills with a charity or two of your choice.

When you think you're ready for the "show", contact a trusted recruiter or two and tell them that you're trying to break into the DBA world. Be prepared to tell them if you want to be "only" a Systems DBA, "only" and application DBA, or a "hybrid" that can to some of both. They should be able to help a lot because they know what every company in the region does, what the culture of the company is, and not only whether or not you not you might be able to do the job, but whether or not the company will give you a chance and whether or not you'll fit in.

To actually get a job, you have to pass an interview. Nothing in this world can prepare you for such a thing except the interviews themselves. Don't be nervous. When they ask you a question, answer the question honestly and, if you can (when appropriate), show that you really know the answer but talking about it, it's pros and cons, and any alternatives there might be. Any bulls4it or floundering on your part will be easily caught and weighed very heavily against you. It's better to answer "No, but here's how I'd find out" than it is to try to BS your way through a question that you really don't know the answer to.

To get an interview, you need a resume. You have somewhere between 1 and 15 seconds to have someone put your resume in the "look at again" pile or the round file during their first pass through the resumes. What are they looking at to make such a decision so quickly? Whether or not you have an "Objective" or not and if you do, what is says. If you put in some touchy-feely crap like "To further enhance my skills" or "To learn from the best", you're usually toast. A simple list like "SQL Server Certified DBA, T-SQL, SSIS, SSRS, and SSAS programmer" is all that they're looking for in the objective. The next thing after the objective should be a summary of what you can actually do. Think of it as an extension of the Objective. And, contrary to belief, honesty goes a very long way. If you're in the middle of learning something really good about SQL Server, it's ok to list it with "(Training in progress, 50% complete)" next to it.

Of course, you'd better be able to actually do what you state on your resume.

There's also the matter of job history. Although the recruiter should write the cover letter and they should explain your change in career, you should also include that explanation right at the beginning of the job history section of the resume because the cover letter doesn't always make to the people that are going to do the interview. Include your studies as if the were a full or part time job from some date to "Present". Include important points like how many hours of study you put in, that you have setup your own server and practiced, that you DO have and use a copy of SQL Server Developers Edition, and a list of the books you've studied in depth. Again, anything you put in this section, you'd better be able to actually do or have actually done.

I have to emphasize this and then I'll get off the soapbox and stop bothering you. If you get caught in lie, your new career as a DBA is over before it even started because being a DBA is one of the most trusted stations in life that you'll ever have. And, yes, if you lie, you will get caught. It's the nature of the position.


--Jeff Moden
"RBAR is pronounced "ree-bar" and is a "Modenism" for "Row-By-Agonizing-Row".

First step towards the paradigm shift of writing Set Based code:
Stop thinking about what you want to do to a row... think, instead, of what you want to do to a column."

(play on words) "Just because you CAN do something in T-SQL, doesn't mean you SHOULDN'T." --22 Aug 2013

Helpful Links:
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Post #1488183
Posted Saturday, August 24, 2013 10:25 PM
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Jeff Moden (8/24/2013)
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thanks a lot really very helpful.
Post #1488190
Posted Sunday, August 25, 2013 1:22 PM


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The field of databases is quite big.
You have 3 main pillars regarding jobs: a DBA (the position Jeff talked about), a database developer and business intelligence.

My personal opinion is that if I ever have to recruit a DBA, I wouldn't recruit someone just entering the field. A DBA's responsability is to take care of my servers and my data, so you trust someone who has been on the streets. Data is one of the most strategic/crucial assets of a company.

The other two functions are more accessible to junior people. Personally, I knew almost nothing about databases, but I was lucky enough to have found a company that took the risk to invest in me, so I became a business intelligence developer. This is something you can do when you're "young", because if a company hires you and invests in training for you, they'll most likely pay you as a junior.




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Post #1488227
Posted Sunday, August 25, 2013 4:19 PM
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Koen Verbeeck (8/25/2013)

The other two functions are more accessible to junior people. Personally, I knew almost nothing about databases, but I was lucky enough to have found a company that took the risk to invest in me, so I became a business intelligence developer. This is something you can do when you're "young", because if a company hires you and invests in training for you, they'll most likely pay you as a junior.


Thanks a lot for your input. Although I cannot say I am sure of my current interests database developer is what I had in mind when posting. The sound of BI is very compelling but I'm hesitant to be lured by the "wow" of the way it sounds. Perhaps this is due to my lack of knowledge/ experience. That's not to say it doesn't sound very interesting. And the idea of it kinda what I see myself doing.

Would it be safe to assume at my current no knowledge of DB to say that there is overlap in the required skills a db dev/ BI individual requires in their toolkit? Not to suggest that I know what these would be in the first place. so what to learn as aspiring BI dev / DB dev any additional details?
Post #1488260
Posted Monday, August 26, 2013 1:32 AM


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There is certainly overlap.
A good BI developer should be able to write decent TSQL.
He should also know about partitioning (to speed up ETL), indexes, recovery models and so on.

A database developer might also know a thing or two about BI. It's possible he needs to use SSIS to move data, or SSRS to create a report for his manager.




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Post #1488307
Posted Monday, August 26, 2013 7:21 AM
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Jeff and Koen covered the subject pretty well, but I'll toss in my $0.02:

I sum up the whole process in three words: Read, Learn, Do.

Read whatever you can. Blogs, forums, books. Books On Line (or BOL) is included with Sql Server Developer and is also available on the Web. Read up on database design fundamentals. Things like entities, relationships, normal forms, data types, etc. (Joe Celko has a very good Stairway on the subject right here on SSC). Read up on the branch of Databases that really floats your boat. If you like tinkering around with code and writing procedures or whatever, then development might be your career path. If you are fascinated (as I am) with the data itself and manipulating it to find out what it is telling you, then business intelligence and/or data science might interest you.

Learn. Always be curious and willing to invest time in learning subjects that will help. You don't necessarily need a math or computer science degree to design, develop and administer databases. But on the other hand, there are subject areas which you should at least be conversant with depending on the database speciality you want to pursue. Statistical knowledge definitely comes in handy for business intelligence and data science if for no other reason than to be able to communicate with and understand the math geeks who do have formal degrees.

Do. Like others have said, buy a copy of SQL Server Developer, volunteer your time to charities or non-profits, whatever you can to actually build the "street smarts" of databases. I started out by building stuff in MS Access. I'd build queries in the design grid then flip them over to the SQL view to see exactly what was going on. Then I'd start changing this or that to see what would happen. That led to reading up on design fundamentals (normal forms in particular), SQL syntax and so on. I found I had a knack for it. Later on I got into desktop support but now I've managed to leverage that into a position where I still do support but also have my own SQL Server sandbox (2005 Developer) on my desktop at work where I can go to town.

In the IT world in general, it's more about what you can do than what you know. Yes, there's some minimum level of knowledge, but I don't think you'll have any trouble with that. Once your foot's in the door - that's probably the hardest part - prove yourself and always be willing to learn.


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Post #1488369
Posted Monday, August 26, 2013 10:23 AM
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Koen Verbeeck (8/26/2013)There is certainly overlap.

lshanahan (8/26/2013) Read, Learn, Do.


thanks so much guys. I wasn't expecting beneficial responses like these. It seems I posted in the right place!
Post #1488447
Posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013 7:14 AM
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I wonder how you even know you want to be a DBA if you don't know anything about it? I think most of us are accidental DBAs in the sense that we started doing something else, and the discovered we had an interest and aptitude for database work. I learned database design using MS Access and writing T-SQL queries as a VB programmer. Both gave me an interest in database work and by then I'd learned some essentials of the job. There was still a lot of learn, but I was more than well on my way.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who "just knew" they wanted to be DBAs. Like one of the previous posters, I'd have trouble hiring someone directly into any of the positions. There are too many designers, both in database design and business intelligence, who lack the ability to see how everything interrelates. Someone coming in new would have to prove to me that somehow they had an intuitive grasp of table design. I didn't have that at first, but as something other than a DBA someone gave me a feel for how it was done.



Post #1488745
Posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013 7:25 AM
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I think the previous responses are great but i would emphesise the 'Do' part of the equation. As a DBA your really paid for that couple of percent of your time when everything has hit the floor, the business is screaming for blood and they need someone with a cool head to put the pieces back together again. This takes someone who has 'Done' the relevant steps not just seen them in the book. The books don't show the worst case scenario's and can't prepare you for that feeling when your stomach drops as you are informed its all gone bad.
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