January 12, 2010

How am *I* Learning SQL Server?

Posted in SQL Server at 10:00 am by David Taylor

Some weeks ago, I started a meme on my old blog, asking several SQL Pros, How do *you* use SQL Server, blatantly stealing the title style from Mike Walsh‘s blog series, How do *you* install SQL Server. I wanted to know what folks were actually doing in their day-to-day jobs working with the product. I really was interested in the responses that came in. People are really diversified in what they do every day with this ubiquitous product!

 Part of my reasoning in asking folks what they did was to maybe find some guidance in a direction to learn the product. The answers were so diverse, though, that no clear path revealed itself. The purpose of this blog is to journalize my SQL Learning (hence the title) and also to find clarity of thought in my goals and aspirations, which, at this time mostly include learning SQL Server 🙂

I read a blog post the other day written by Stephen Horne on his blog Random Thoughts About SQL Server and My Dog Blue (on Twitter, Stephen is @bluedog67) entitled SQL Server Books Online As PDF Files, in which Stephen puts forth the idea of having SQL Server Books on Line (BOL) released as pdf files, so that they could be read on the Kindle. He states at one point that “SQL BOL has been an excellent learning and reference tool for many years.” This line, and the post as a whole, gave me pause to think, about using BOL as a learning tool, and learning SQL in general.

There is, within the realm that is SQL Server, a *LOT* to learn, to put it mildly, and reading this post and thinking about reading BOL as an eBook got me to thinking how one is supposed to go about learning SQL Server. I am all about trying to learn this thing, and I think thus far my self learning has been somewhat haphazard, so I thought I should take this time to put my thoughts in order, try to make sense of what I’ve done so far, and see what direction I should go.

To begin, I asked the question both in the comments to Stephen’s blog, and on Twitter in general as a #sqlhelp item, “How does one go about reading BOL?” Should one start with the Table of Contents and go forward through it to the end? Look up only what you need at the time? Everybody from @Buckwoody on down says to look it up in BOL, so it must be the bee’s knees, right?

I got quite a few responses from some very helpful folks on Twitter, as I fully expected. The general gist of the answers was to use BOL as a reference, to look stuff up as you need to know it. I then countered with, finally, well, what’s the best way to learn, then, if not by following everybody’s take that BOL is the best learning reference? The replies were, read books, read blogs, set up problems in SQL Server, and try to solve them in ways you hadn’t thought of before.

What I have done so far is to read what I thought at the start was a tremendous amount, but now that I know what’s out there, not so much. I actually started with the Microsoft Access Developer’s Guide to SQL Server, because I had a decent understanding of Access, and hoped to make the transition easier when we first got SQL Server at work. I followed that with Mastering SQL Server 2005, which is actually a good book, covered a lot of ground, but only skimmed the surface of each topic.

Since, I have worked my way through Hands on Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Integration Services, Delivering Business Intelligence with Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services, and they all taught their particular subjects more in depth, but one thing common to them all was just that, they taught their particular subject. As I said, there is *SO* much to learn!

So, next, I decided that Microsoft Certification is the way to go. I currently hold an ASQ CQT (American Society for Quality Certified Quality Technician) and I know that being certified basically shows that you are familiar with the Body of Knowledge that encompasses a given field, at least that’s how ASQ certs are seen. What about Microsoft’s? I got myself a copy of MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-431): Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Implementation and Maintenance (Pro-Certification) to find out, and started to really see how much there is to learn. This one goes deep into its subject matter, not so much in the text, but in the exercises and practice tests (for which my first try I got a 49% – geez!), and this is just the first one in a large series of certifications available for SQL Server!

Now we come to the concept of specialization. Does one really need to specialize within the realm of SQL Server? Maybe not, but to really know part of it, I am finding out, takes great amounts of time and energy, and learning it all seems like a lifetime endeavor. I like writing code, so my current reading material is Itzik Ben-Gan’s T-SQL Querying, which is a real eye-opener, even more than the MCTS book! I will follow this with T-SQL Programming, because they are a set, and seem to go where I want to go. I think my specialization is in developing for SQL, and so this is the track I am on.

So, now how am I learning? I am taking the MCTS exam within a month (at hopefully a better grade level than I currently am!), I am speaking at SQL Saturday #32 in two weeks in Tampa, and I am, obviously, blogging about my learning journey and reading others’ blogs. I was also honored to be chosen as one of the co-leaders for PASS’ Application Development Virtual Chapter, which dovetails nicely with where I want to be. Along the lines of learning SQL development, Thomas Larock (@SQLRockstar on Twitter, with his blog at SQLRockstar), very generously offered to the Twitterverse the next two books in the development track of Microsoft certification, MCITP Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-441): Designing Database Solutions by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and MCITP Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-442): Designing and Optimizing Data Access by Using Microsoft SQL Server 2005, and I was lucky enough to be the one to receive them. In return, I will donate them to someone coming up the same track behind me.

At some point in your career, life endeavor, whatever you’re doing, you come to a point at which you start to glean just how much you don’t know, how much there is to learn. I am, after two years of learning, at that point. I started out trying to learn this simply to do ancillary work in my job as a Quality Technician, making things go in SQL Server so I could glean yield information and such from our processes, because that’s a lot of what a Quality Technician does. I am finding I am enjoying it enough that I want to do it full time, as a career goal. I’m not at that point yet, I don’t think I am qualified for even a Junior DBA or Developer position, but, after going through the material listed in the last two paragraphs, getting my MCITP Database Developer certifications, practicing all the way the things I am learning, and continuing to follow the brightest minds in SQL on Twitter and their blogs, I think I might have a chance!



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jorge Segarra, Ted Krueger, David Taylor, Tampa Bay SSUG, Stephen Horne and others. Stephen Horne said: RT @dyfhid: How am *I* Learning SQL Server?: http://wp.me/pL8sS-p <== Great blog post! Thanks for kind mention David. Left comment. […]

  2. David:

    Great post! I am in the same boat trying to read/study/learn as much as I can about SQL Server. Thanks for linking my post and for mentioning me here. It is sometimes surprising that anyone takes anything I say seriously much less place any value in it. Thanks! The SQL Server Blogging/Twittering community is filled with some very sharp people that are smarter than I, know far more about SQL Server, and are better writers. Heck I lost my job a few months ago (I hope to get lucky enough to find a SQL Server developer job soon) – Why the hell would anyone listen to anything I have to say? I oftentimes wonder if I just need to shut the hell up and go back to reading/studying/learning SQL Server and leave the heavy lifting to the Buck Woodys, Adam Machanics, Brent Ozars and Andy Leonards!

    Enough wallowing in self pity!

    I have made the decision that blogging and twittering is a core part of my SQL Server learning. I am slowly but surely gaining more confidence in both my SQL Server knowledge and writing. The writing forces me to dig deeper and to clarify/crystallize my thinking. I still have a long ways to go! I have made connections with some really good people in the SQL community. Instead of just taking from the community I am starting to give back. Hopefully this time and effort will translate into that job. Hopefully in 5, 10, 20 years I am still actively involved in the online SQL Server community. And hopefully the contacts that I am making have become friends.

    What do you think about blogging/twittering as part of your SQL Server learning experience? Effective?

    A couple of recent posts by Andy Leonard continue to inspire me. Thanks Andy!

    Thanks again! Keep blogging and twittering.
    Stephen Horne (bluedog67)

  3. David Taylor said,


    Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Vic said,

    very nice post, learning is a life long process, keep up the good work…

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