Category Archives: 3394

More SQL Conferences coming up, including SQL Bits and SQL Down Under

I know I won’t be there, as I’m a million miles away in Australia, but being from the UK myself, I always have an interest in the UK SQL community and in particular, events like SQL Bits.

This is the fifth SQL Bits conference, and they keep getting larger and larger. I’ve heard it’s now the largest SQL-focussed event in Europe. It’s going to be in South Wales (that’s OLD South Wales, not New South Wales), in November. I’m sure the area is lovely, good beaches ‘n all that… but considering it’s late November in Wales, I think you’ll be going for the SQL content, not the scenery.

Of course, if you are in New South Wales, then you ought to be thinking slightly earlier, in particular, the second weekend in October. The third SQL Code Camp is being held in Wagga, with many regular speakers (like myself) and quite a few new ones too.

These two events are clearly the significant SQL events in the last quarter of the year. I’m sure no-one cares about SQL PASS, after all. (I do wish I was going to this one, but I won’t be. I plan to go one year, but I was in the US that week last year, and I don’t plan to be away from home for two birthdays in a row. Maybe next year. It is the biggest SQL event in the world, with great speakers from everywhere, including many good friends of mine.)

No matter where you are in the world, there are SQL events that you should be going to. Professional development is really important for your career, and you shouldn’t neglect it. That being said, make sure you find me at TechEd Australia.

Seriously cheap exams in Australia

If you’re an MCP in Australia and you haven’t passed any exams over the past couple of years (since July 1, 2007), then Microsoft has an offer at the moment to let you do an exam for only US$25 (until June 30, 2009). Ok, so that means the price really depends on the value of the Aussie dollar, but either way, it’s not a bad opportunity.

The offer is only on for a very short time, but why not check out http://www.learnandcertify.com/mcpupgrade/ and see what you can do? I’m thinking it’s a nice opportunity to knock over one of those Upgrade exams to get yourself from MCITP:SQL2005 to MCITP:SQL2008. You don’t get a second shot with this one, and you can only get one voucher – but it’s so cheap you may as well try it.

Things You Know Now

This blog meme is doing the rounds… I’ve been tagged at least twice now (Jason Strate and Greg Linwood), so I suppose subconsciously I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a few weeks already.

Since I do a lot of training, I tend to explain these things to my students anyway. I have a lot of opportunity to stand up in front of people and tell them important stuff – so this kind of thing definitely comes up now and then.

Things I wish I had known years ago (career-wise that I would teach new people in the SQL field)

The Importance of technical communities

I remember when Craig Bailey wrote about his ideal role. It wasn’t new stuff – I had heard it all before, but it certainly got me thinking about how people can influence where they are in that Venn diagram. For Craig, he wanted his ideal role to be a job that he was good at and that he enjoyed. Obviously to be a job, someone has to be prepared to pay him sufficiently too.

Being good at something you enjoy isn’t hard, and you can invest your own time (outside of the job that you don’t enjoy) developing your skills. For people in IT, I suggest they pick a particular area they find interesting, and start getting their skills up. If they can become expert-level in that area, then great.

The next problem though, is moving that skill into something that lets you can earn money. Community can help that. Community can help you develop your skills, because you’re spending time with other people in your field. But as you become an expert, presenting at community events, developing a profile, you find yourself being differentiated from the rest. If nothing else, people know you have presentation skills. Every presentation can become like a job interview – showing your skills and ability to communicate information to clients, colleagues, whoever.

Presenting isn’t easy, but there are plenty of other communities that can help develop those skills. You can get along to a ToastMasters group, or offer to do presentations in a group to which you already belong.

You might be the best in the world at what you do – but you need to get out there. I enjoy the technical communities, and run the Adelaide SQL Server User Group because I enjoy it. But I can’t deny that it’s been useful for my career. Now, I’m wishing that I had got involved many years ago.

Enjoy public speaking

According to the old saying, more people are afraid of public speaking than death (so at a funeral, they’d rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy). But it’s a useful skill to have, so learn to enjoy it.

Keep in touch with old friends

This isn’t quite so career-related, but is actually very important for your career nonetheless.

There are people that I haven’t seen in years, who I have no idea how to contact. Facebook (and the internet in general) has proved very useful for that, but still there are many people that I wish I could find. Most of them are just people I would like to spend time with now and then, but some are people that I’d happily offer to do some work for. And perhaps some of them would contact me to do some consulting if they knew how to reach me (clue, there’s contact information to the side of my blog site!).

Far too many people fall out our lives, and it’s sad. I’m still not great at it, but I do think I should take the time to write people letters now and then (emails, Facebook comments, Instant Messages are all fine too – I’m just talking about touching base to keep the contact there).

Certifications aren’t worth studying for (but they are worth taking)

I used to study for exams. I first became a Microsoft Certified Professional back in 1998, passing an exam called “Architecture I”. Since then I’ve passed over 30 exams, and earned plenty of certifications. But a few years ago I worked out at that it’s just not worth studying for these things.

A MCP exam is not like high school or university. If you fail, you can just try again. Fails don’t appear on your transcript, only the passes do. It’s like your driving test – if you fail, you just try again. Once you pass, you get access to the roads like everyone else.

If you spend weeks studying for a MCP exam, you probably won’t even improve your chances of passing – you’ll just be spending precious family time trying to learn those things to get you past the line. You might even start losing sleep over it.

Nowadays, I tell my students (and myself) to care less. Plenty of people say “No, you don’t understand – I can’t fail at anything.”, and I understand that. I’m not particularly good with failure either. But I’ve learned to not care so much. I don’t want to waste time sitting an exam only find that I fail (or spend $180 on the privilege), but I also don’t want to waste time studying for an exam that I could probably pass anyway. With the Second Shot offer that is often around you’ve paid for two attempts, so go into the first one blind.

The amount of time you invest in getting a certification is largely the study time. So if you can reduce that, the certification becomes a lot cheaper – in which case, it’s probably worth taking the few hours to give it a try. If you do fail, you know you have a weak area, so you can improve that with study – just don’t bother studying before the first try.

[Edited: I should make it very clear that I definitely approve of learning new skills, and preparation for an exam is a great prompt for this learning. Better still is learning for the sake of getting those new skills, with the focus being an upcoming project or new role. My advice above is focussed on people who have the skills necessary to pass an exam.]

Reading execution plans, and understanding indexes

I’ve always been good at solving problems with T-SQL (or PL/SQL for that matter) – I just took to it naturally when I got into databases. But it took me several years to actual venture into understanding what the query is actually doing when it runs. Now, I look at the execution plan for every query I write, as default behaviour, and I consider the indexes that I want up front.

Perhaps it’s because I was a programmer first, but I had always trusted the compiler to do things the right way. I had looked a bit past my code when studying Prolog at university, but it took me a long time to make that my default behaviour.

So when I find people who are just getting into T-SQL, I encourage them to look at the execution plans, and start getting a feel for what’s going on behind the scenes. You can often improve a query without looking at the execution plan, but if you want to write really good T-SQL and have well-performing queries, you need to make the execution plan part of the process.

The significance of BI to businesses

I was involved in data warehouses in some of my first projects when I left university, I just didn’t realise at the time. I first got involved in SQL Server in version 6.0, and quite early on I migrated a system to 6.5, and created a data warehouse to allow for various reports. In hindsight, I was making a data warehouse. I had an ETL process, calculated aggregates, considered the dimensions and granularity, all that. But it wasn’t called a data warehouse, and I only realised a few years later that it really was one.

If I had’ve realised, then I’m sure I would’ve jumped into the BI space much earlier. Companies love BI – it’s one of the most empowering areas of database technology for any business.

 

I’ve picked a few things here – and I hope people somehow get some benefit from reading it. I have put it in my ‘must read’ list to find other people’s responses, because I’m sure there are things that I’m still to learn.

Tagging some other people: Simon Sabin, Jamie Thomson, Deepak Kapoor, Grant Paisley

Reasons to consider certification

I saw a link to a report by TechRepublic giving reasons to value certification in 2009. The idea behind the piece is that we are in a time of economic crisis, cutbacks and the like, and asking the question about whether or not people should be looking for certification or not.

Most of the points made come down to differentiating yourself from the masses. For individuals I would have to agree. If you are trying to get a job, and are looking for every possible argument to get yourself in the door, certification can’t hurt (don’t expect to beat someone with experience though). But from a company’s perspective, should a company be looking to train employees (and encourage certification)?

As a trainer, I’m going to flippantly say “Yes, you should send all your staff on training…”

…but don’t worry – I’m going to try to back it up as well.

At the moment, almost every company in the world is trying to cut costs. Whole departments are being sacked if they’re not being effective. And one thing that might differentiate your department from the next one could well be the skill level. You need to lift your game to be able to compete at the moment, so why not get your whole department trained up in an area that concerns you. If your team writes software, make sure they’re writing software as well as possible. If your team is in sales, you had better make sure that your salespeople are as good at making that deal as possible. Training can help with this.

And actually, certification can help too. If there is a certification available in a relevant area, and someone has the time to go and sit the exam, then get them to do it. It rarely costs much, and it will probably help your department if you can say “Our people are getting stronger”, or “Our people are active in professional development”. Not to mention the confidence boost associated with passing an exam, or the added knowledge gained by studying (if required).

If you’re reading this and thinking “Well my boss doesn’t see it that way…”, why not ask if getting certification might help the department’s viability? If the answer is no, then you’re probably no better off. But if the answer is yes, well… you might get some training and some new skills.

Free SQL training at events in the UK and Australia

…and I’m not even referring to the User Groups which run regularly. The ones I’m referring to are SQLBits and the SQL Down Under Code Camp.

SQLBits was in the UK last weekend, and was a massive success. I would’ve loved to have been able to attend, but it’s a bit far to travel (I guess about 12000 miles). They had over three hundred attend, which is fantastic! Adelaide User Group regular Martin Cairney was there, and presented the talk he gave in Adelaide earlier this year. It seems to have been received well.

And this coming weekend is the SQL Down Under Code Camp in Wagga Wagga. It should be a great event, with well over a hundred people there. If you’re able to get to Wagga, I thoroughly recommend it.

Only 71 people have MCITP:BI

Mitch Wheat sent me this. According to http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/certified.mspx, there are only 71 people in the world (well, at the end of June) who have achieved MCITP:BI. This means passing the two exams 70-445 and 70-446. You could be one if you use SSIS, SSAS, SSRS and do a bit of Data Mining. Doing some of the courses like the ones offered by Solid Quality Learning might help too, of course.

Pearson Vue no longer offering Microsoft exams

You can only book to do Microsoft certification exams through Pearson Vue until the end of August. From then on, you have to choose Prometric. More information can be read at Vue’s website: http://vue.com/ms/testtakerfaq.pdf

Personally, I find this a real shame. It’s good for us candidates to have a choice. I’ve preferred Vue over Prometric in recent years, and it was Vue who provided exams at TechEd Australia. I don’t know the reasons why Microsoft have taken this approach, but will post again once I have found out something (assuming the information I find out is public).

70-431 exam tips, and congrats to Jos Verbaken – MCTS

Jos Verbaken was a student of mine a few weeks ago. He lives in Ballarat, and is known around the Melbourne SQL Server User Group circles. He did the 5-day course 2780 – Maintaining a Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Database. During the course, I encouraged the students to sit the exam 70-431, which the exam I wrote simulation questions for, and the exam which is half covered by the content in Course 2780 (the other half being from the ‘Implementing’ course 2779).

I did my standard trick of telling the students to take a chance on the exam without studying – just to find out what to expect from the exam, and to see which areas you feel you need to learn. Without the stress of feeling you have to pass, people are often more likely to get through it. Also, as the exams are designed to test your ability in the area, not just your ability to learn to pass the exam, you shouldn’t have to study much. Most of all, the Microsoft certification exams are not like exams at university or high-school – you can try multiple times.

With 70-431, there are many simulation questions. The only real way you can learn about these is to use them. It’s the best argument for doing a course as part of your study, because you get to use labs which cover lots of the GUI ways of doing things. I suppose maybe it helps being taught by someone who wrote the content, although I’m not about to give any hints about what you might need to know about to pass the exam. My biggest hint really is to just try it. Worst case you spend A$180 / US$125 and come out with a bunch of ideas about what you should spend time learning.

Of course, Jos didn’t need to worry at all. He tried the exam recently and passed. That makes him a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist in the area of SQL Server 2005. Well done, mate!

My good friend Mitch Wheat (in Perth) passed some exams recently too, and is now an MCPD at least twice over. Thoroughly deserved, Mitch!

Topics for coffee meetings

Nick Randolph made an interesting point.

But first let me say that it’s great that the Perth .Net group are doing this at all. It’s a great move to develop a stronger community, and one that I would love to see happen in Adelaide some time. My problem with organising something like this is that I’m not in the city often enough, but I will try to encourage other people in the Adelaide user-groups to set up something like this.

Back to Nick’s point though… In case you’ve just read through his post and are wondering what I’m talking about, he’s put low numbers down to a “lack of a prepared theme”. But I think this is exactly the point of these meetings. If you want a prepared theme, you go to a user-group meeting. Cafe meetings are for people to gather without talking about a specific topic. I suppose it could be argued that the main difference between a cafe meeting and a UG meeting is the opportunity to discuss, rather than be lectured to, but I think the informality and social aspect is the key – you’re meeting for the sake of meeting. Sure, the conversations (please realise that’s in the plural) will come around to technical points, and people will probably interrupt their own conversations to join other ones that are about topics they’re interested in – but this is just a natural progression from having a gathering of technophiles (just like how the conversations at the Christian group at uni would often be about Christian stuff). There shouldn’t be topics. People should meet because they like each other. I wonder if Mauricio has topics.

4 questions to evaluate people’s passion

I’m going to find this topic very interesting when I’m training people more and more. Kathy Sierra gives us four questions to judge someone’s passion for their work:

  • When was the last time you read a trade/professional journal or book related to your work? (can substitute “attended an industry conference or took a course”)
  • Name at least two of the key people in your field.
  • If you had to, would you spend your own money to buy tools or other materials that would improve the quality of your work?
  • If you did not do this for work, would you still do it (or something related to it) as a hobby?

Some of this comes down to Mitch Denny‘s concept of a night-programmer, but Kathy has expanded it to cover any field. I guess if I’m asking these questions of people in courses I’m running, then the answer to the first question is “I’m in one”, but I think it’s very different to if I were to ask the people who attend my user-group.

Some people who attend courses are there because they want to be, but others might just be there because their employer has sent them. User-group attendees are generally taking their own time to be there, which generally makes them more passionate. I hope that even if the attendees of my courses came simply because they were made to, they will catch some passion and leave being able to answer those questions better. Perhaps they’ll even do another course soon because they will have caught the bug of Professional Development.

These questions also rank right up there in ways to evaluate whether a potential employee is a good match or not. If you hire someone who is passionate about their work, then you might get challenged as an employer occasionally, but you’ll probably also get a better worker, someone who comes to work wanting to do a good job, rather than someone who just sees each day as waiting for the weekend. I’m all for ‘working to live rather than living to work’, but if you’re passionate about your work, then you probably enjoy your work more and probably have a better work ethic to boot.