Home > Articles > Data > SQL Server

SQL Server Reference Guide

Hosted by

SQL Server Professional Development Plan, Part 1

Last updated Mar 28, 2003.

I’ve been working in a technical career for a very long time. While I’ve never “struck it rich” to the point where I could retire at 25, I’ve done quite well, and have enjoyed my work. I love working with database technology because it allows me to work in so many industries at once, satisfies my “inner geek”, and provides a pretty good living.

I get asked from time to time, especially in the college course I teach, how I progressed in my career and for any tips to help others progress in theirs. I’ve been asked to mentor others, and even taught career classes at the junior level. So in this tutorial series, I’ll explain a series of ideas that you can think about for your own career, if you decide that database technology is interesting enough to pursue. Although I’ll show you lots of strategies and tactics to follow, and resources you can use to do that, in the end there’s one simple thing you should remember:

    Your career is up to you.

That may sound rather obvious – but if there’s anything I run into over and over it’s someone who tells me that they are waiting for a boss, company or someone else to do something for them that will help them progress. They want the company to pay for training, buy them a book, or grant them some other perceived work favor. They want the economy to get better, a spouse to finish their training or schooling, someone to give them something or take them somewhere. They believe it’s their right to be trained by the company with no guarantee that it will help the company move forward. In fact, most of these folks, when questioned, have no idea what the overall company goals are, much less how their department or group fits into that role.

And if you put yourself into the place of the company, you can see that there’s no incentive whatsoever to help an employee like this in any way. You might pay that person to do a job, but you’re sure not expecting a lot out of them.

So do I suggest becoming a “fan” of the company? Do I think that you should “drink the cool-aide” and become a corporate shill? Do I believe that companies are benevolent forces that really have your best interest at hear? Not at all!

What I suggest is that you become a fan of yourself, and realize that the only person who really cares if you succeed is — you! It’s important that you learn to set your own course. In fact, I invite you to start with this mindset: wherever you are, you’re a consultant. You are being hired to do a job as best you can, not to work at a company. And to do that you need to know a few things first.

In this installment I’ll explain how to get ready and position your mind and your energy towards owning your career plan, and in the next I’ll explain some practical ways to develop and follow that plan.

Know Thyself

There’s an old Greek aphorism that says “know thyself.” And while most of us think we know everything there is to know about ourselves, that isn’t always true. There’s a concept of “self-image” that we all hold that we know certain things, act certain ways, and appear to others. But if you’re brave enough to ask people who will be VERY honest with you, you may find that you are perceived differently than you think others perceive you. You may find that sometimes you are even deceiving yourself. You probably know people who believe their rudeness is interpreted as being “straightforward with people” and so on. They think of themselves one way, you think of them another. That’s happening to you, too.

There are lots of ways to find this information out. If you search on “Self assessment” on the web and for the career books here on InformIT, you’ll find lots of ways to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as your personality and professional traits. Never trust a single source with this information — take a few tests and see what pops out in common. Find someone who knows you that will be honest with you and give them “absolution” for whatever they tell you.

Why is this important for a development plan for SQL Server? Well, for one thing, you’ll find out if working in technology and with databases is something you really want to do. You’ll find out if you are in fact willing to work hard for things you care about. I’ve actually done these exercises myself, and while they can be painful, they are immensely valuable.

There are two tangible benefits for this information that you will find within these tests and exercises. One is that you’ll find the work environment you like best, and the other is that you’ll find out about the way that you learn. All of us have “favored” ways of learning, such as listening, watching, reading or experimenting. Sometimes you have a style of learning that you use in one situation and a different one for another. Having that information will help you create and follow your career plan.

The Importance of Classical or Classroom Education

Many of us have “second level ignorance” on various topics. What that means is that not only do we not know something, we don’t know that we don’t know it. Let me give you an example. I knew that my engine no longer has a carburetor in it to deliver gas to the cylinders like the earlier cars I drove and worked on. Modern engines now use something called fuel-injection that sprays the gas and air into the cylinders of the car to be ignited by the sparkplugs, which causes an explosion that pushes the pistons down, which turns a shaft (called the crankshaft) that eventually drives the wheels. That’s how the car moves forward. I was not ignorant of the existence of the fuel injection system.

But I don’t know a lot about the fuel injection system. I have “first level ignorance” about it — I know it’s there, but I don’t know precisely how all the pieces work.

When I first tried to work on a fuel injection system, I found out that one of the most important parts of the system is all of the sensors that tell the jets how much air and gas to spray, how hard, and when. I had no idea there were so many sensors involved in the process, or how important they were — I was ignorant of their very existence. This is called second level ignorance, because I didn’t even know that I didn’t know about these sensors. And because of that, I might have spent a really long time working on another part of the system, never getting close to fixing it.

We all have this level of ignorance about one thing or another, even about SQL Server, until we learn it. And we come into that learning either by chance, or by “classical” or classroom education. This is the process of someone who knows the area very well, and knows education very well, and knows a little about your situation. They can get you from not evening knowing something exists to knowing that you need to be concerned about it quickly and efficiently.

So we all need some level of classical education, from learning to read and understand basic computer science, to understanding what we don’t know in the first place. You might choose to focus on one area, such as database administration, programming or business intelligence, but even so you should be aware that the other areas exist.

This knowledge isn’t just obtained in a classroom. Working with another person is probably optimal for overcoming second level ignorance, but you can learn to spot opportunities to get rid of it through self-study. I’ll explain some of those in a moment.

Foundation Learning

The first step in any plan is learning as much as you can. Once you have the knowledge of the situation and the opportunities (where you are and where you could be) you can begin to create a step-by-step plan for getting to the desired outcome. So you need a “foundation” to start on for your plan.

First you need to educate yourself about the career itself, and the opportunities it holds. Then you need to understand what skills and knowledge you need to progress from one step to another. For instance, assume that you’ve decided that you want to be a database administrator. You can search the public library, job sites, and employment centers and so on to see where these jobs lie. You’ll find that a database administrator job is available in almost every industry on the planet, in almost every kind of environment there is.

Next you need to know what levels there are for a database administrator. What makes a “junior” DBA different than a “senior” one? Sometimes that’s expressed in years of experience, but of course just doing the same thing year after year isn’t exactly what a company will be looking for. They are looking for the experiences those years bring — disasters that happen and are subsequently prevented and so on. Perhaps being exposed to multiple kinds of databases, hardware, performance levels and so on is required. This information all goes at the top of your plan.

Now you need to find out what skills and knowledge you need to make the transition from one level to another. You literally make a checklist of those things, like “Knowing how to back up and restore a database” and check them off.

Those are skills — being able to do a task. To have a skill, there is both mechanical and mental knowledge you should have, such as “typing” and “Transact-SQL Syntax.” Those also go in your plan, and get checked off as you learn them and actually perform the tasks. In fact, in my plan I have a place for the skill, the way I learned it, and how I put it into place.

Continuing Education

As time goes on, you’ll begin to fill up your plan. You now know how to back up and restore a database, and when to do that. You may even no longer need someone to show you how to do these things.

This is where the “self-education” comes into play, and where most people stop progressing in their career. They’ve learned the basics of their job, and the steps they need to follow to make it through the day. After they no longer struggle, they expect to be rewarded for their efficiency. But they no longer learn new things. I see this level of employee every day — “I don’t need to learn PowerShell,” they tell me, “I already know how to work with T-SQL and graphical tools. I just don’t see the need in it.”

But life isn’t stagnant, and technology changes all the time. It’s up to you to investigate every new area you can in your career field, from new ways to do things to whole new architectures, like “the cloud” or whatever new buzzword is out. It’s OK if you decide not to pursue them — but it’s no OK not to know about them. That’s second level ignorance again, and not something a professional can tolerate.

It’s at this point you need to develop the next most important skill after foundational knowledge — learning to learn.

We’re all born with the ability to learn, but just enough to sustain ourselves. It takes a concentrated effort to decide to learn more about the learning process itself, and here’s where that self-assessment you did earlier comes into play. Are you someone who needs to be shown things? Would you rather hear it than see it? Do you have to try it yourself? Or a mixture of all these?

Learning is a skill, and as such it needs to be learned (ironically) and practiced. There are several techniques for learning, and many of these are taught in higher education or in classroom courses. I highly advise that you take one of these, even if you have to pay for it out of your own pocket — it benefits you tremendously in the long run. I’ll point out a few of these resources at the end of this tutorial, and you should investigate those before you continue on.

In the next installment I’ll explain how you can take the basics of what you’ve learned and move forward with your career plan, resources for self-education for SQL Server, and what a career plan looks like.

InformIT Articles and Sample Chapters

Warren Wyrostek has a great series on careers here on InformIT. Here’s one of his articles on a checklist he uses for energizing your career, A Career Changer's Checklist - 12 Common Sense Questions to Find Your Career: What Are You Waiting For? What Is Stopping You? (Lift Off and Enjoy the Ride!).

Books and eBooks

Warren Wyrostek has turned his entire article series into an excellent digital download: Career-Changer's Checklist: Twelve Common-Sense Questions to Find Your Career.

You’ll find Four Secrets to Liking Your Work: You May Not Need to Quit to Get the Job You Want an excellent resource for learning more about yourself.

Online Resources

Careerbuilder has a wonderful set of resources for building your career. Check them out here.