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T-SQL Tuesday #008 - Learning

It’s time for another T-SQL Tuesday, the brainchild of Adam Machanic (Blog|@AdamMachanic) of SQLBlog.com. This time we have a SQLServerCentral author, and MCM, Robert Davis, running the show.

How To Learn

I’ve had a lot of school in my life. 12 years of primary education, 5 years of undergraduate level education, 2 years of graduate school education, 7 semesters of calculus, and even a few programming classes since then. In all those hours, I have learned a few things, but the most important things were learning how to learn.
A high school degree (US) or an undergraduate degree (BS/BA) doesn’t really teach you a lot of practical skills, IMHO. However what they subtlety teach you is how to learn. You have to develop the skills more and more to teach yourself, research, analyze information. Those are the skills you will need as you move into a career. Even engineers, who learn a larger percentage of skills in skill, need to learn more in the workplace, and successful students tend to have an easier time picking things up later.
Not that average/below average students can’t. Sometimes it’s just finding something that brings out your passion, which often isn’t school.

How I Learn

So how do I learn? As much as I like lectures, and I listen to many of them at SQL Saturdays or other conferences, it’s not necessarily helping me learn or build a skill. It increases my knowledge base, gives me the ability to think more laterally when confronting issues or searching for a solution, and it inspires/excites me. It gets the juices flowing.
However to actually learn something, to build a skill, I need to do. I typically learn by actually writing SQL statements. Setting up mirroring, testing restores. Those skills, just like muscle memory from performing a task, are built for me by repetition and practice.
That’s one reason that I have taken relatively few classes in my career. Taking a week out and being immersed in something like VB or SQL hasn’t helped me nearly as much as having hours a day across months to actually write code and try to solve a problem. This blog, at least the T-SQL parts, have tended to be focused on rebuilding those skills for me. Practicing things that are new, or that I haven’t spent much time on.
I prefer working with books to classes, but it’s the same thing for me. I retain some snippets from books, but if I don’t practice the skills, actually get hands on time, I haven’t learned much.

How You Learn

I don’t know. I think you have to try some different things and then evaluate if they work. If you attend a class, see if you use those skills across the next couple months. Did you really learn something? Try something you learned a couple weeks afterwards. Did it stick? If not, try something else. Read about it and do the same test. Work through examples from a blog post/article/book/class, and see if that helps.
Learn how you learn. It’s one of the most valuable things you’ll ever do.

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


Posted by Jason Brimhall on 13 July 2010

Personally, I find the same to be true for me about attending training classes on specific topics.  Immersion is better.

Posted by Dave Schutz on 19 July 2010

There are different levels of learning. Reading a book, listening to a lecture, etc. only help you learn at the  knowledge level. To learn at the application (being able to apply the knowledge)level requires hands-on learning for most people.

Some times I also have to learn at the banging my head on the wall level.

Posted by mjswart on 19 July 2010

All kidding aside, banging your head on the wall is actually a great way for lessons to stick.

I remember years ago spending hours tracking down bad performance for a particular query. I'll tell you one thing, I'll never forget that lesson! (For the curious, It turned out to be mismatched parameter types passed from ADO.net which made the query non-sarg-able.)

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