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Becoming a DBA, Part II

This is a follow-up to part I from last week. You've considered what you want to do, you've looked at your soft skills, and you still want to be a DBA. How then do you get started?

The first thing to do is decide which platform you're going to focus on. Each "flavor" has its own proprietary tools and commands. While all share a basic SQL language foundation, DBCC CHECKDB() doesn't run on MySQL and DESCRIBE doesn't get you anything SQL Server. Likewise, SQL Server Management Objects (SMO) don't help you with Oracle and if you're looking for "TNS" in SQL server, you're out of luck. Some of these are proprietary extensions to the SQL language, others are differences in architecture and/or tools. What platform to start with should be based on your opportunities, your knowledge of the various platforms, or both. Try and focus only on one because each platform has a lot to know in order to become truly proficient. Expert or "guru" status in a particular database product takes even more time and effort.

For instance, one of the reasons I started learning SQL Server so heavily as opposed to Oracle or DB2 was I had a stronger foundation in SQL Server due to being in "Microsoft shops" where SQL Server was used. SQL Server was the platform of choice partially because of the focus on Microsoft technologies but also because SQL Server came in the MSDN subscriptions and could be used at no additional charge in the development environment. Another reason is that most of the opportunities I was finding in my area centered around SQL Server. Therefore, SQL Server was my first choice and I put my energy into learning it better.

After you've decided which platform to pursue, you should get it installed and actively work with it. When I was learning SQL server I had SQL Server 6.5 installed on a server and SQL Server 7.0 installed on my workstation. When SQL Server 2000 came along, I installed it, and the same was true with SQL Server 2005. I ensured that my installs included the components I was interested in working with. Where can you find the products? In most cases the vendors have provided downloads of either evaluation or full-blown versions for people to learn on. Here are the links as of this blog post for some of the most popular platforms:
In some cases you may want to run virtual machines on server software such as Windows server 2003 but your workstation is running Windows XP or Vista. I realize that the statement I made is Windows-only but that's because I won't pretend to be knowledgeable on virtualization on the Linux side (and I won't even try and touch Mac). However, virtualization solutions such as Xen do exist. Back to the Microsoft side of the house, not only is there Xen, but there are more traditional names of VMware and Microsoft.
Don't just stop at installing the software (and don't just install it once, either). Learn the features centered around what you're most interested in. Work with the SQL and proprietary commands. Learn the tools. Get to where they are second nature to you. After all, the better you know the technology, the more efficient you become with it. The more efficient you are and the more knowledge you have with your chosen platform, the better an asset you are for the organization that picks you up. While knowing the technology cold may not guarantee a successful technical interview (that requires work on those soft skills), not knowing the technology well pretty much ensures a poor technical interview.

If you're thinking, "What tools are available to help me become more proficient?" there are quite a few. However, this post is getting long in the tooth; therefore, I'll focus on those resources, including discussing training and certification, next week.

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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Matthew on 6 November 2007
VMWare Server, the mid-range VMWare option, can also create VMs. It's not quite as customisable as the paid offerings, but you can get it for free, in return for a few basic contact details. They've got both Linux and Windows versions of it available, too.
Posted by James R. on 6 November 2007
I think it is also worth noting that even though MS offers SQL Server Trial (which is what the link in the article points to); that if you really want to continue your learning it would be recommended to get the SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition (http://www.microsoft.com/sql/editions/developer/default.mspx). The drawback is that it does cost $50 USD for it; however, the benefit is that you do NOT have a time limit. It contains 99% of the Enterprise Edition features (some features such as Remote Logins work with limitations). Like the trial version you can't use it for production reasons, but I think it's a great way to develop your skills; as well as your databases!
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