Back in the late 90s, I had one large book on my desk with everything I needed – or thought I needed -- to know about SQL Server. It covered T-SQL, installation, backups, security, and more. Over the years, Microsoft has added components like SQL Server Integration Services and features like windowing functions and improved functionality and behavior. Instead of one book, you now need dozens, and it’s likely impossible to become skilled in everything SQL Server has to offer.
There are many database engine features, for example, that I’ve never used in a production environment, such as graph database, hierarchy ID, and in-memory OLTP. They are helpful for the right projects and scenarios, but I just haven’t had the opportunity to work on any of them. Even though I haven’t used them in an actual project, I have “played” with many features by following an article or tutorial and watching webinars. If I ever get the opportunity, I’ll know where to start and have some idea of the capabilities.
Knowing everything about the platform is not possible, so focusing on specific areas of SQL Server is not a bad idea. Some database professionals have built lucrative careers by specializing in a subset of SQL Server functionality, especially in the analytics space. Many folks specialize in ETL or performance tuning, for example. A few Microsoft data platform community members started with database administration, eventually became business intelligence developers, and ultimately moved to data science. I wonder what’s next!
Keeping up with the enhancements and new features in SQL Server is a big challenge, especially as upgrading to new versions is slow for many shops. Throw in Azure SQL, and there’s even more to learn. I like to keep up in my interest areas by writing articles and books or giving presentations. Not everyone wants to do those activities, but maybe organizing a weekly team lunch-and-learn to cover the latest features is doable.