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How To Win Career Gold

The start of a new working year is often a time for self reflection. This is a great thing, it’s the first step toward you achieving growth, improvement and ultimately better results.

My fellow countrymen from Team GB know all about striving for growth and improvement to achieve outstanding results. Their 2012 Olympic performance was nothing short of incredible. They amassed a total of 65 Olympic medals (29 Gold, 17 Silver and 19 Bronze) and finished 3rd overall. Results like that don’t just happen, they must be planned for. Each athlete had to train consistently hard and remain focused on their goal.

Team GB medal winners

Team GB medal winners

When it comes to our own goals it’s common for many of us to start out with plenty of ideas and good intentions about what we would like to achieve but before too long our efforts can fizzle out. It’s easy to get sidetracked by what’s immediately in front of us like an urgent project or that report the boss needs. Before you know it, time has flown past and your back thinking again about your professional development or more accurately the lack of it.

Set Your Goals With Focus

“Focusing on your desired outcome makes it easier to consistently take the required individual steps towards your goal.”

In other words, you have to understand and be mindful of why you are doing something. Frequently reminding yourself of your reasoning, especially when faced with doubt or adversity, will help you to stay on track toward your goal.

It’s easy to underestimate the value of what you can achieve through professional development. To help you define your own goals with more focus here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Retain and sharpen old skills
  • Development of new skills
  • Industry Trends – Keeping up-to-date
  • Fresh Perspectives
  • Networking Opportunities
  • Energizing and renewing

It’s interesting to see how these benefits are not all skills based, as is often the common perception for us technology folks.

Professional Development Opportunities

Fortunately for us Data Professionals there are a lot of different opportunities and ways that we can invest in our development. Here are some ideas and suggestions for you:

Read Your Subject

There is a phenomenal amount of reading for you to chose from including:
  • Books – Here’s what’s on my bookshelf.
  • Blogs - Thomas Larock (Blog|Twitter) maintains a SQL Server Blogger Rankings list that’s an ideal place to start. I also share a weekly round-up of my favorite posts (SFTW) that you can subscribe to via RSS and email.
  • Forums - Participating in forums is a great way to both learn and give back to the community. See my Top 5 SQL Server Forums.
  • Whitepapers – Packed full of knowledge and insight, what’s not to love. There are a lot of these scattered around the net so Let Me Google That For You.

Not studying towards becoming a SQL Server MCM? So what! I bet if you were to work your way through the reading list for “the fun of it” you could learn a great deal. Who knows you might just decide later on that you do wish to pursue an MCM after all.

Tip: If you commute to work daily then reading a Whitepaper or listening to a podcast are great ways to use this time more productively.


Certainly one of the more traditional options and for good reason, it gets results.
  • There are fantastic training opportunities available from the folks at SQLSkills, SQLCruise, Technitrain and many more.
  • Certification is a great way to learn and develop your SQL Server skills. You can learn more about my certification study method in My Guide To Passing Exam 70-432 First Time.
  • Attend a conference such as the PASS Summit or SQLBits here in the UK.
  • Don’t focus you’re development just on the technology skills. Consider ways in which you could develop those all important soft skills that are vital ingredients that make up the outstanding Data Professional.

Tip: Now is a great time to discuss training opportunities with your manager as excess budget may be available and the planning for the next financial year is likely under-way too. Get in there quick before your colleagues otherwise you will be relying on your own resources to fund training.


The wonderful thing about mentoring is that it’s a beneficial experience for everyone involved.

  • Seek out a Mentor – Perhaps you know of someone in your organisation that could make for a suitable mentor. You can also consider your wider network.
  • Become a Mentor – Offer your time, guidance and experience to a worthy protege.

Master or Padawan?


Getting involved in the SQL Server community at local, national and international levels is a great and enjoyable way to invest in your development.

  • User Groups & Local Chapters – Join your local SQL Server User Group. UK folks go here for more details on how to find out about what’s on near you.
  • SQL PASS – Join The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS). It’s the only official technology industry body for SQL Server professionals.
  • Present – They say the best way to learn something is to teach it. Why not earn your speaker hat this year by delivering a presentation.
  • Twitter – There is a thriving community of SQL Server professionals on Twitter. Join the conversation.
  • Blogging – Maybe now is your time to put virtual pen to paper and to Blog You Way To Becoming a Better DBA.

The value of investing in your own professional development is clear. I encourage you to take the time to devise your plan and you will achieve fantastic results. By scheduling time for your regular development activities and by consistently striving to improve, you too can achieve career Gold just like an Olympic champion.

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John Sansom - SQL Server DBA in the UK

John Sansom (Blog | Twitter) is a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) of SQL Server and publisher of the free SQL community ebook DBA JumpStart, an inspiring collection of advice for Data Professionals, written by 20 SQL Server experts. Awarded the Microsoft Community Contributor(MCC) award, John is a prolific blogger and can be found regularly writing about SQL Server and Professional Development over at www.johnsansom.com.


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