You're not really that good at SQL Server

  • Painfully aware, and occasionally trying to remedy it but volume of work does not allow much time for self improvement and by the time I reach weekend I cant look at the screen.

  • petitpere wrote:

    If now I speak to my boss and tell him. "The program that is written takes about 2 hours to run. I can quickly write a SQL query that takes 15s. It's an important query for the business. Do you want me to improve it?". "No, thanks". "Why?". "You'll be the only that can help us if something goes wrong.". "Then hire somebody who knows SQL ...". "But they know SQL!" Where are the standards? ;o)

    Wow, that's a crazy attitude to me, but I don't know the situation.There are valid reasons sometimes why not to change a process.

    Certainly building something very complex that few people can maintain is somethign to be wary of. Building something that can be easily documented is another. Being afraid of change is a poor decision from management, to me.

  • "..The longer I’m in this business, the more I think that many people with 5 years working with SQL Server usually don’t have 1 year of experience 5 times. I’m really starting to think that many people have 1 month of experience repeated 60 times.."

    I like this article, because it's true.  It's one of those obvious observable truths that everyone knows deep inside is true, even if they disagree with how or why it was expressed, and it's the type of truth many would either prefer not to think about or would rather dismiss as "not useful".

    But the thing is, it's truths like this that make people think and stimulate growth and change. Really, regardless of whether we're a first year DBA or a MVP, we should all look in the mirror each morning and say to ourself: "What can I learn today to be a more exceptional DBA?"

    "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Instead, seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho

  • Cheer up. It's not that bad.

  • You're right, Steve, but sometimes there are good reasons for it. I worked at a $2B financial services company where I fulfilled most DBA-type duties, but there wasn't enough to really employ a full-time DBA. As we got larger another employee stepped in to help, but she wasn't even as skilled as me. That's OK, because our primary job was something else entirely. I was primarily a developer - she was an application analyst; both of us were very good at what we do. The main difference between our situation and what you describe, however, is that we knew what we didn't know, and when the situation called for it, we brought in consultants to work projects. That company was recently acquired, so I'm now in the job market; I'm very clear on my resume and in person that while I know probably 85% of what's needed to be a DBA, I'm not a DBA.

  • Cuppadan wrote:

    Steve, as you know there are a million different types of shops that use SQL server and they all require different approaches. Yes people need to improve their skills to the level they want to be or are required to be. However not everyone needs to be an SQL Jedi. I think that telling people they will be made fun of at the Twitter water cooler is not a good way to motivate people. I know it has no affect on me. Be careful that you don't become the Dilbert guy standing around mocking people.


  • As with the majority of your respondents, I agree! I actually became fascinated by computers, last century, because I knew I'd never have to be bored, the learning would be ongoing and demanding. Sometimes, I laugh ruefully about that choice, but constant learning is what this kind of work demands! As a database developer, I'm appalled when I see cursors being used or learn that the DBA doesn't use the latest technology (I just recently asked about containers and received no reply). I struggle to keep up and have to pick my battles wisely as I am unable to know it all. I count on the other professionals around me, to do their part and help stretch my brain. And I'm happy to be able to discuss the finer points of table variables and temporary tables and CTEs. Yes, I want to be someone who is learning and teaching.

    Thanks for calling it like it is!

  • This is a pretty good article, as I know I fall short in areas of SQL Server that I should be better with. And there are lots of positions out there that require some SQL knowledge, but the person may not need to be a full DBA. In my case, it is management that really hinders the advancement of the skills needed to truly be an expert at any one position in our department. I believe that today's managers are more worried about their own back ends, rather than the expertise of their employees, as long as the work is getting done, and they look good. I see this in many areas of business lately, where managers don't want to take responsibility where they need to. And this type of attitude tends to filter down to the employees, with that "If the boss don't care about it, then why should I?" mentality. So those of us who do take responsibility, and admit when we make a mistake, end up losing out on keeping up on our skillsets, while we are cleaning up mess after mess.

  • I so agree with Steve. I have not been heavily involved with day to day SQL Server for while now, however, I still educate myself on new functionality, technologies, etc. in order to stay current. I have worked with so many customer DBAs that have over 5 years experience but don't really have what I would consider 5 years of experience. Its often obvious that they have stayed in their narrow box and comfort zone. You have to get out of your comfort zone in order to learn and advance in your career.

  • philipvangass wrote:

    Yes I agree with what you say entirely Steve, but with SQL Server there is so much to learn and practice that it is never ending. You also have to guard against 'getting rusty' and that means going over the stuff that you learned a month ago !

    I think part of it is the ability to separate the marketing fluff type items that get put into the bundle that we call SQL Server versus the actual useful items that help people get things done. Unfortunately since so many things have been put into SQL Server over the years it becomes more and more difficult to find those actual useful items. I know I've only been able to survive in IT for 25 years by being able to tell the difference.

  • I totally agree. I would add that sometimes it's the frame of reference that is important. Many people do not have the humility to properly judge their own skill level. I work regularly with SQL Server but do not consider myself an expert. I tend to take people at their word, so often when I attend conferences or tech meetups, I will at first believe someone who brags about their SQL Server expertise, but after asking a few questions, realize they have a rudimentary understanding at best. It's amazing to me that people will attempt to pass themselves off as experts in an area especially when my mid-level knowledge far exceeds their basic-level knowledge.

    There's no shame in saying, "I'm a beginner, but I'm always learning more." One day you will be at the expertise level and can proudly claim that when the time comes.

  • Anyone else feel like the student in the classroom getting told off by the teacher because the others are late?

    I really enjoy SQL, I love finding the solution to a problem that I previously didn't know how to solve. I like telling people about it, if I think it might help them, or if I'm so excited I can't button my lips. I am sorely aware that I don't know much about SQL and I don't have free time in my workday to learn. Everything I know about SQL I learnt through frustration &/ problem solving.

    Maybe they were taken on board for the exact thing you dislike, they do enough and no more. This is an easy person to manage.

    If the aspiration of the worker is to learn, they will find time. If the aspiration is to earn, they will get by. I don't mind what they choose, SQL will survive. It's work to live, not live to work.

    Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean. ~ Christopher Reeve

  • These types of people were the first ones we would weed out...When I would interview people and they didn't know the answer I would always follow up with "I don't care that you don't know the answer, but how would you find the answer". Someone that doesn't know the answer but can find the answer is just as valuable. If the answer to my questions was "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" then we were done. A mentor of mine always said when you are in management always hire people that are smarter than you (rhetorically). That frees you up to not have to micro manage.

  • Some real damning words here Steve. Some of it is justified others maybe not.


    In terms of the point you made about questions, I think that this can be pretty valid, but it depends on the person asking. I think one of the biggest problems is the attitude of those in their roles, be they new or old. Some questions you see are clearly from those with little to no experience with SQL, but some ask very good questions; others don't ask they request (or even demand) that the users here, or on other support sites, give them the solution.


    Those that are new and showing effort need to be praised. No matter how low their understanding, if they show they've tried and why it's not working then you can see straight away they are someone who wants to learn. Maybe the documentation is too hard for them to understand (some isn't easy for newbies to get), or maybe they've misunderstood how something works; we all do it. I welcome these people to the industry and look forward to them bringing their insist in the future once they know the product.


    On the other hand, we have those that don't want to learn and this article definitely points the figure at them. They know what they "know" but have no interest in changing that, for better or worse. When they have a question they aren't interested in how the solution works, or that actually the problem they have wouldn't exist if they changed their approach. If they get a solution, and then they need more then they ask those that "helped" then before for help (support, aka free consultation). These are people who's attitude need to change. They certainly don't know the product, and will fall far behind as it moves on.


    I know my areas of knowledge is limited. Indexing is a huge gap in my knowledge pool because I don't get to use them in the production environment the way I would (due to our application). I know enough to get by, and can see the obvious but I look forward to using them more intimately when I move on. Replication would be an interesting thing to learn too, but I suspect I'll end up going down a SQL developer route, rather than DBA and will likely therefore not get the chance to try it out in anything other than a sandbox environment.


    Excuse my typos and sometimes awful grammar. My fingers work faster than my brain does.

  • Your editorial is sad, but true. I guess somebody had to say it. I don't think this issue is unique to SQL Server, but the older I get, the more I'd rather get the bad news first, and without sugarcoating. Thanks for the honesty.

    I believe Malcolm Gladwell is right - 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is what it takes for sports, music, and math, and that's also what it will take for SQL Server or any tech job. A few folks here at SSC seem to have it, including Steve, Jeff Moden, Gail Shaw, and the several others at the top of the QOTD/Forum leaderboards.

    The challenge for us as DBAs is how to develop real, effective deliberate practice training programs. I think it would need to involve lots and lots of specific training to remedy gaps in skill, such as spending a couple of hours per day practicing the T-SQL for backup and restore. Over and over. And the same for string functions, encryption, SSIS, failover clustering and AG, and so on.

    - webrunner

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by  webrunner.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by  webrunner.

    A SQL query walks into a bar and sees two tables. He walks up to them and asks, "Can I join you?"

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