Learning Priorities

  • Comments posted to this topic are about the item Learning Priorities

  • "No matter where you choose to improve your skills, the important thing is to keep improving those skills. As long as you are a technology professional, you need to constantly be learning about the new types of software and platforms that we use."

    I recently sat on a plane discussing a spinoff of this topic with another industry professional. We were both joking and commiserating about the growing complexity in what used to be somewhat simple and effective systems. If you look at what has been done to SQL Server and Visual Studio - these were once products that one good techie could grasp, understand and use. Now they are both loaded down with so many "improvements" that I am not sure managers can gauge what parts of them are most useful to their business, and techies have no way to guess what any given job or business will want from them.

    Cases in point: We used to manage our source code with Source Safe which was admittedly clunky at times, but it was pretty basic, straightforward and usable. Now we use Team Foundation Server and have already realized its buggy, overly complex, and getting it to do the simplest of tasks sometimes takes weeks to figure out. Or consider the mess I went through last year when I asked a very simple question: We need a reporting tool; which is better to use SSRS or Crystal Reports? I got a different answer from each "eckspurt" I talked to. Some would say they are completely different tools. Others would say SSRS is "better", while still others would say we could do more with Crystal. No one seemed to know any straight answer. (We eventually went with Crystal).

    I don't see how any young technologist can do what Steve's editorial suggests with any real world business application - Improve your skills - what skills? Where will those skills be needed? Do you study SSAS like crazy only to find the next SQL job you get, they don't use SSAS? Do you learn to write better SPs and UDFs only to find the next SQL job you get just wants an administrator good with backups and restores? Do you dive headfirst into SQL 2008 only to find most companies in your area who are hiring are staying on 2005 for now?

    I'm not sure the "improvements" and "added features" in products like SQL and VS are doing much more than giving MS a way to keep selling us "stuff" that in the end, we don't really need to run our businesses. Worse, even the best techie who studies hard and tries to learn it all has no clue what the next job will really require of his or her skillset.

    But what scares me most of all is that in the coming years, am I going to have to hire multiple people to manage what used to be one product - SQL Server. Will I need an SSMS expert, the another SSRS expert, then another SSAS expert...

    Whatever happened to the KISS principle? (Answer: it got lost in the drive to keep the revenue stream at MS flowing...)

    There's no such thing as dumb questions, only poorly thought-out answers...
  • I could not agree more with the previous comment. I am a SQL Server Developer based in the Uk, and have invested in training, including SSAS. Having invested in this training I have not been able to find a contract where I can utilise these skills. Also, should I invest more more money in training, perhaps SharePoint, only to find that I am not using these newly aquired skills.

  • In an effort to keep up to date, i spend a fair amount of time cruising around the web, reading technology news articles and the like (Database Weekly is pretty great for that) so i can get general information on new technologies and the like. I have to prioritize which particlular things i dive into for greater detail; i am still working after all. So, with a focus primarily on what's applicable to my current work environment/project i try to work with something enough to get a basic understanding. From that point, i can figure out more complicated implementations relatively simply and quickly (should the need arise). the best example of this was SSIS. I knew SSIS had serious potential for streamlining the system i was working on, so i poked around a bit. Although none of th work i've personally done has involved coding in SSIS, i did end up teaching the new DBA at our (the company i work for's) client how to use it. He now sets up various simple packages for the export of Excel reports.

    I am by no means an SSIS expert, but having taken this approach, i'm confident that i could rapidly train up to perform any tasks for which i might be called upon.

  • I was just thinking about this the other day, when I had to tell myself I just don't have enough time or brain cells to learn (and remember) all aspects of SQL and/or all the other things I want to be an expert in!

    That said, one of the things I really like about SQLServerCentral is that we get exposed to a wide variety of topics about SQL. At least I know it's out there, and a few months down the road, when I have a problem, I know there is a way to solve it, and where to look.

    I really liked Jeffery Yao's advice on learning skills that can make your work more visible and more appreciated. Good advice!

  • You can't get overwhelmed with all the new features. You have to pick the things that matter to you to learn. Is it worth investing in SSxS? I have no idea. If it appeals to you, if it can help you in your job, or get another job than it probably is. However we all invest in things and it might not help us. That means we picked the wrong thing, not that we shouldn't have tried to improve ourselves.

    Learning core skills, T-SQL, admin, backup, those solid fundamentals and getting better at them has never hurt me or anyone I know in their career. It's not as cool or sexy as some of the other features, but it's important. Learning something new will help you if in no other way than it creates the habit of learning.

  • Steve Jones - Editor (12/16/2008)


    You can't get overwhelmed with all the new features. You have to pick the things that matter to you to learn. Is it worth investing in SSxS? I have no idea. If it appeals to you, if it can help you in your job, or get another job than it probably is. However we all invest in things and it might not help us. That means we picked the wrong thing, not that we shouldn't have tried to improve ourselves.

    Learning core skills, T-SQL, admin, backup, those solid fundamentals and getting better at them has never hurt me or anyone I know in their career. It's not as cool or sexy as some of the other features, but it's important. Learning something new will help you if in no other way than it creates the habit of learning.

    Agreed, and everyone should keep in mind that continually learning shows a drive to become better, which looks good to both current and future employers. Plus, it may offer up a solution to a future problem that you would not have been able to see, not having known what SSxS/Crystal/SQL Server 2008 was capable of prior to learning this new trick.

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    "stewsterl 80804 (10/16/2009)I guess when you stop and try to understand the solution provided you not only learn, but save yourself some headaches when you need to make any slight changes."

  • I've had the challenge of keeping up my SQL Server skills while working a job primarily outside of the SQL Server realm. My current position deals with Active Directory, server and perimeter security, and infrastructure architecture. Therefore, I've had to pick and choose on the SQL Server side what I really focused on, because it was always during my "personal hours" that I could spend on anything related to SQL Server. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that changes Jan. 1. It's supposed to, but if doesn't, I'll keep doing what I'm doing. Here's what I've done.

    As Steve indicated, you're best served learning the basics for SQL Server and then focusing on what you're most passionate about. If you're a SQL Server DBA, you should understand logins and users, roles, the basics of securables and permissions, and you should be able to do backups and restores and understand the different models. Those are the basics. And everything else typically comes back to these things.

    Once you've got the basics, figure out what you really like. This may take some "playing." For me, I have a strong background in security. So focusing on SQL Server security and in the database engine in general is where I've spent most of my available time. I've also spent some time looking at SSRS and building basic reports. Nothing fancy. I've taken a course on SSAS but I've not put those skills into any sort of practice. And I looked at the basics of SSIS but again, nothing in depth.

    I'm happy with where I've been and the SQL Server security knowledge has gotten me a couple of writing opportunities, a chance to do some videos on JumpStartTV, and some speaking opportunities at user groups and SQL Saturdays. As I move back into a SQL Server centric role, I know I will work a lot more on the SSIS side, and potentially SSAS as well. But I love the intricacies of SQL Server security and the options we have available so I'll always put time there. I know folks who have done the same with SSAS, SSRS, and SSIS and have found good career options, great community opportunities, and fulfillment as far as intellectual challenge is concerned. The key point every one of them focused on was passion. They found their passion and drilled in. That's the best advice I've heard and it's what I follow.

    K. Brian Kelley
    @kbriankelley

  • Having a strong foundation is paramount. There are plenty of areas to specialize in the SQL Server realm, but the job(s) you have had usually dictate what you continue to learn and become better versed in. I also try to keep up with the general ideas of as much as I can, so if an opportunity arises to employ one of these "new" (new to me) ideas, I have a good starting point. I have landed some jobs on my ability to learn new things quickly and impliment them, kind of jack of all trades and master of none, and I have also landed jobs on the expertise I have aquired on the job in a particular area.

    Bottom line, it is all in how you market yourself, whether to a potential employer or to your current employer.

  • In my experience, database adminstrators view change as "bad". This is not a complaint or value judgment - it is merely an observation. I think DBAs have valid reasons for viewing change as bad and I, for one, hope they continue. It makes them vigilant in their search for the root causes of downtime and error. It makes them good at what they do.

    I also observe that developers view stasis as "bad". This also is not a complaint or value judgment, also merely an observation. I think Developers also have valid reasons for viewing stasis as bad and I hope they continue. It makes them vigilant in their search for process improvement.

    This impacts us where development meets administration.

    There has to be a decision, a reckoning, and corresponding philosophy-translated-into-action. The choices are mutually exclusive, so at least one side is going to be uncomfortable about the result.

    There are some exceptions, but in general one has to spend time learning to remain current with technology. If constantly learning new technology is not something you enjoy, there are occupations where you can remain connected (albeit loosely coupled) to technology without constant learning.

    Again, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with you if you don't thrive on constant learning. I am saying you may be in the wrong field - or at least the wrong position in the field - for you.

    :{> Andy

    Andy Leonard, Chief Data Engineer, Enterprise Data & Analytics

  • Andy Leonard (12/16/2008)


    In my experience, database adminstrators view change as "bad". This is not a complaint or value judgment - it is merely an observation. I think DBAs have valid reasons for viewing change as bad and I, for one, hope they continue. It makes them vigilant in their search for the root causes of downtime and error. It makes them good at what they do.

    I also observe that developers view stasis as "bad". This also is not a complaint or value judgment, also merely an observation. I think Developers also have valid reasons for viewing stasis as bad and I hope they continue. It makes them vigilant in their search for process improvement.

    So if I'm a DBA who views change as not just good, but outstanding, does that mean I have been miscast? 😉

    K. Brian Kelley
    @kbriankelley

  • I think DBAs by nature should be conservative, and not deploy things that are not solid and stable. Mistakes by us in moving too fast, can be very, very big ones.

    That being said, we should be learning and moving forward. We should be testing and evaluating, and using those things that work well. Holding back and not using CTEs, CROSS APPLY, etc. because you are more comfortable with older coding methods is a mistake. It means you're not taking advantage of newer technologies that work well. You should be sure they work, but then you need to use them.

    It would be like refusing to import things with DTS/SSIS because you like BCP. There's nothing wrong with bcp, but it doesn't fit all situations and there are better tools available.

    Is TFS better the VSS? Depends, but you should have valid reasons for choosing one over the other and not make a fear based decision, as Andy often says. Have reasons for what you do, which is what a good DBA, IMHO should have.

  • I started out life as a developer, and became a DBA. When i was new, i was so excited to learn everything about it, and prove myself. However, as time and my skills have progressed, i have come to the realization that i am not as smart as i think i am, and am simply unable to learn it all. So, i have scaled back my thrust to get it all under my belt, and simply get more core knowledge gained, and specialize in pieces i can. While I know little of DMV's, I understand Profiler and trace very well and have used them extensively. I have yet to get into SSAS deeply, but know enough to present to a group of 60+ at a Microsoft office about it, when the former presenter was unable to present.

    I have also learned that, though i consider myself very creative, I am not the best qualified to design webpages or applications anymore. I have been too immersed in the database to be anything but an assistant in that area.

    I think that the point of this editorial was to spur us on to learn more about SQL Server, and maybe go back to the basics we haven't quite grasped yet. But not to be overwhelmed with the whole of it. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

  • tjaybelt (12/16/2008)


    I started out life as a developer, and became a DBA. When i was new, i was so excited to learn everything about it, and prove myself. However, as time and my skills have progressed, i have come to the realization that i am not as smart as i think i am, and am simply unable to learn it all. So, i have scaled back my thrust to get it all under my belt, and simply get more core knowledge gained, and specialize in pieces i can. While I know little of DMV's, I understand Profiler and trace very well and have used them extensively. I have yet to get into SSAS deeply, but know enough to present to a group of 60+ at a Microsoft office about it, when the former presenter was unable to present.

    I have also learned that, though i consider myself very creative, I am not the best qualified to design webpages or applications anymore. I have been too immersed in the database to be anything but an assistant in that area.

    I think that the point of this editorial was to spur us on to learn more about SQL Server, and maybe go back to the basics we haven't quite grasped yet. But not to be overwhelmed with the whole of it. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

    We *CAN* learn it all! There's 72 hours in a day, right? You only need to sleep 2 hours a day. So that leaves 72 - 8 - 2 = 62 hours. Wait. There's only 24 hours? And we need at least 6 and preferably 8 hours of sleep? And then there's that whole spending time with family? Okay, maybe we can't learn it all.

    That was kind of where I was a few years ago. I was burning the candle at both ends and suffering for it. Technology skills are like everything in life. You've got to prioritize. And when it comes to what to prioritize on, you'll be better and learn faster on stuff you like rather than stuff you feel like is being shoved down your throat. And if you know it well, there will be opportunities to put that knowledge into use.

    K. Brian Kelley
    @kbriankelley

  • It's definitely tough, picking and choosing from such a rich smorgasbord of features, to decide what you want to specialize in. I need to spend more time with SSIS, but right now I have two books on AS/400 that I need to spend time on. Then there's that paper on securing Access databases that I need to get in to lest we have a HIPAA problem. And after that, it'll be encrypting databases and backups. There's also that side project I'd like to work on where I can tell if my wife is at home or at the observatory, so I'd know whether to call her cell or her work (her cell doesn't work at the observatory). And can't forget about the performance problems we're having with our ERP app server and a never sufficiently cursed certain single-threaded development environment. Gotta decode those ERP security tables that use negative logic where a checkmark in a boolean field indicates they DON'T have access to a menu. Oh, and Maria needed me to tweak a data exception report that runs and emails itself every work day at noon. And I need to install IBM's 5250 package because the freeware that I loaded crashes but I can't because it wants to update DLLs used by Outlook, Enterprise Manager, Query Analyzer, SSMS, PuTTY; even though it's 8 year old software and I'm running XP Pro.

    What was I working on again? Where am I? What am I doing here on my birthday?

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    [font="Arial"]Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find information upon it. --Samuel Johnson[/font]

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