That's no moon . . . It's a SQL Server!

DBA Preschool: Where to find training

Another one of those questions I’m often asked is how someone can start learning about SQL Server.  There are many options, and I’m going to share some of my favorites with you. Some colleges teach SQL Server courses, so you could always take or audit a course.  In my experience, these courses always moved too slow and focused on elements of technology that were outdated or just plain not useful to me in my day-to-day job.  I am completely self-taught in SQL Server (ok, that’s not actually fair, since much of the training material I read/watch/attend is the result of hard working SQL Server professionals).  I study SQL Server for at least an hour a day, every single day.  In 2011, I attended 663 hours of training.  I highly recommend this goal of 1 hour study per day for everyone.  Finding quality training material is much easier than it sounds.  So assuming that you want to study on your own, I have some wonderful resources to help you do it:

  • Blogs – Given the speed with which technology is changing, most of the really fresh content is not found in books.  I spend time each day monitoring the blogs of my peers, and while the topics vary, the content I find is invaluable.  I strongly recommend that you set up an RSS reader (like Google Reader, which can be used at Cigna) to keep track of all the blogs you are interested in.  Here are a few to start with:
    • www.brentozar.com – Brent Ozar is perhaps the most famous SQL Server personality. He now blogs with Jeremiah Peschka, Kendra Little, and Tim Ford on this site, and the content they deliver is fantastic.
    • http://www.sqlskills.com/BLOGS/PAUL/ and http://sqlskills.com/BLOGS/KIMBERLY – These are the blogs of Paul Randal and Kimberly Tripp, a husband-and-wife team that lives SQL Server.  The content on their site is very advanced, but I recommend that you start reading – even if you don’t completely understand – and as time goes on you’ll get it.  Paul and Kimberly are some of the best trainers I’ve ever seen.
    • http://thomaslarock.com/ – Thomas LaRock, better known as @SQLRockstar, was perhaps the first blog I started reading.   Tom provides top-notch content, and he leads a lot of initiatives in the SQL Server world.  He also compiles a list of SQL Server Blogger Rankings, and that is a wonderful place to get introduced to other blogs.  His rankings are usually spot-on.
    • Others to follow: Robert Davis, Andy Leonard, Adam Machanic, Jen McCown and Sean McCown – another husband-and-wife SQL Server team, Denny Cherry, and Nicholas Cain.  I could go on and on, but eventually you’ll find the list that works for you, and you’ll be glad you did.


  • Twitter – For me, two years ago the thought of a social networking site being a training resource was ridiculous.  Then one day I was introduced to Twitter by Thomas LaRock (b | t).  I use Twitter to connect with other SQL Server professionals and to get help when I need a question answered.  We’ve developed a hashtag on Twitter called #sqlhelp, and anyone can tweet a question using that hashtag.  Within seconds you’ll start getting replies from the best in the SQL Server community.  The real benefit of the #sqlhelp hashtag comes from when you watch the #sqlhelp column throughout the day.  You can learn from other’s questions, and let me tell you, this really does work. Who knew that tweets of 140 characters or less could teach you so much?  To get started on Twitter, check out Brent Ozar’s free e-book on Twitter at: http://www.brentozar.com/twitter/book/.  I’m on Twitter as @HanSQL.


  • Books – Technical books are expensive, no question about it.  If book-based learning works well for you, I still encourage you to locate technical books on the topics you are interested in.  Before you run off and spend $60 on that new book, I recommend checking with your employer to see if they have subscriptions to any technical book libraries.  My company provides a subscription to Books 24×7, which offers thousands of high quality books on any technical topic you can name.  Search Books 24×7 for the term “SQL” and you’ll get over 2,000 titles.  Subscriptions are pricey – about $500 for the ITPro collection, which includes all of the titles on SQL Server.  That’s about the cost of 8 or 9 IT books, so you can see why you should encourage your boss to purchase a subscription rather than paying it out of your own pocket.  There are many other subscription services out there, so be sure to check if you’re able to use any of them!
  • PASS – PASS, which stands for the Professional Association for SQL Server, is the largest and best organization dedicated to training on SQL Server.  I’m a member of PASS, and I support its initiatives whenever I can.  PASS offers a host of free training resources including:
    • Local Chapters – These are local user groups scattered throughout major cities.  User groups typically meet once a month (on a night during the work-week).  Guest speakers typically train on a wide variety of SQL Server topics.  Find your local chapter at: http://www.sqlpass.org/MyChapters.aspx (free registration and login required)
    • Virtual Chapters – These are online user groups devoted to offering free training.  Some groups meet once monthly, some meet more often.  You can sign up for as many as you’d like.  I’m the new host for Live Meetings for the Performance Virtual Chapter, and we have some amazing sessions lined up for 2012.  Virtual chapters are sometimes sponsored by vendors, so be sure to thank these sponsors when you see them at shows.  Check out all the VC’s at: http://www.sqlpass.org/Community/VirtualChapters.aspx
    • SQL Saturday – Imagine 30 to 40 sessions of top-notch training for free packed into one day.  SQL Saturday offers that, and it is a beautiful thing.  SQL Saturday gives you the choice of several sessions to attend (and choosing can sometimes be very hard!) and the opportunity to network with other SQL Server professionals.  SQL Saturday events occur all over the country, and are an excellent way to spend a Saturday.  Many SQL professionals visit multiple SQL Saturday events each year.  Visit http://www.sqlsaturday.com/ to find an event near you.  My favorite thing about SQL Saturday is meeting as many of my peers as I can, so I encourage you to be bold and talk to people you don’t know. 
    • 24 Hours of PASS – Imagine 24 one-hour sessions devoted to all things SQL Server, and you’ll have 24 Hours of PASS (also known as “24HOP”).  This event was started a few years back and was really my first introduction to PASS as an organization and web-based training for SQL Server.  I -love- 24HOP because it offers amazing training for free.  For the last four 24HOP sessions I’ve attended all 24 sessions, and loved every minute of it.  It used to be done as 24 sessions back-to-back (which was rough!), but these days sessions are divided over 2 days (with bonus sessions sometimes thrown in).  If you’re not a completionist (or if you have, you know, a life) you can pick a few sessions and still get an amazing benefit.  The next 24 Hours of PASS event starts March 21, 2012.  Once registration opens up (in February) be sure to check out the sessions.  More info on 24HOP can be found at http://www.sqlpass.org/24hours/spring2012/Home.aspx.
    • The PASS Summit and SQL Rally – The PASS Summit is the premiere training event for SQL Server.  This is a week-long conference dedicated to offering the best technical training available anywhere.  The Summit is attended by Microsoft employees and resources abound to network, troubleshoot problems, gain new direction, and learn everything there is to know about SQL Server.  Sessions range from entry-level (100 series sessions) to very, very advanced sessions (500 level sessions).  SQL Rally is another training event that is gaining momentum, and offers 3 days of top-notch training.  The Summit and SQL Rally are paid events, but very much worth the price tag.  Since it isn’t possible to attend all 170+ sessions during the event, PASS offers attendees the option to purchase DVDs.  I highly recommend the DVDs, including the pre-conferences (all day sessions devoted to one topic).  The DVDs are costly, but worth every penny.  Remember that 663 hours of training I mentioned earlier?  The vast majority of that material came from my PASS Summit DVDs.
  • Webcasts – Some of the most effective training sessions come in the form of webcasts – online presentations where you watch a presenter’s screen while they lecture on a topic.  Webcasts are plentiful, so finding material that interests you is not difficult.  In addition to the previously mentioned webcasts (PASS Virtual Chapter Meetings, 24 Hours of PASS) there are several other organizations that offer high-quality webcasts.  Many of these presentations are sponsored by vendors who sell third-party SQL Server software.  Some of those vendors will perform a short demonstration of their product after the presentation ends.  Some may detest this marketing, but I support watching this material.  Sponsors are the reason you saw the rest of the webcast, so it is only fair for you to watch a few short minutes of demonstrations.  Who knows – you may find a product that automates tedious tasks.  I usually find out about these webcasts from emails or Twitter (why aren’t you on Twitter yet?!).  Here’s a list of a few of my favorite webcast series:
    • Brent Ozar PLF Tech Triage Tuesday Training – (Just about) every Tuesday, Brent Ozar and his team of misfits compatriots offer a free half-hour training session. These sessions are quick and simple, focusing on a granular topic in SQL Server (usually in database administration or development).  Check the upcoming sessions out at www.brentozar.com/community/upcoming-events/ .  Brent’s team also offers longer paid training events that are worth every penny, so take a look and convince your boss to send you.
    • Idera – Idera is a software vendor with tools to make SQL Server easier to manage.  And trust me; Idera tools can definitely make your DBA’s life easier.  Idera has a series of webcasts called Secrets of SQL Server averaging about 1 webcast a month. Better yet, you can find an archive of past events on the same page.
    • MS SQL Tips – MS SQL Tips also offers frequent training, and though they aren’t a vendor much of the training they offer is vendor-sponsored as well.  Signing up for MS SQL Tips’ email list will net you an invite to upcoming webcasts, and past webcasts can be found at http://www.mssqltips.com/webcastlist.asp.   You may also see some of these webcasts at the site of the vendor who sponsored that presentation.
    • Pragmatic Works – If Business Intelligence is your thing, Pragmatic Works offers a wealth of training (both paid and free).  The shear volume of webcasts they offer is impressive.  Sign up for upcoming sessions or view previous webcasts at http://pragmaticworks.com/Resources/webinars/Default.aspx

With all these training resources, what are you waiting for?  Get out there, start studying, and start distinguishing yourself.  Share what you learn with the world.  Remember, we’re not in a sketchy boot camp here; we’re in this for the long haul.  Try studying for an hour a day, every day, for a week.  If you have a hard time with it, you’re doing the wrong kind of study, so switch it up for another method that works better for you.  You’ll know you’re doing it right when you don’t want to put that book/blog/video down at the end of your hour.

Have a favorite study method?  Know of any other resources? Tell us about it in the comments!

P.S. – Denny Cherry, one of my favorite speakers, is presently running a contest offering a free ticket to a 4-day training he’s giving in Los Angeles, CA.  The course focuses entirely on SQL Server 2012.  To enter his contest, just write a blog post about how you plan to use SQL Server 2012 and how his course could make deploying SQL Server 2012 easier for you.


5 Responses to “DBA Preschool: Where to find training”

  1. How focused is your hour of learning? Do you pick a chapter in a book? Is it always academic learning for its own sake, or do you ever spend an hour doing a task you don’t know how to do?

    • Good questions! I typically focus on one topic for that hour. I often pick book chapters, or parts of chapters depending on how large they are. I always am evaluating my study plan to see how it applies to my work, so it is rarely just academic. I pick the books/blogs/webcasts I use based on what’s going on at work, and based on my MCM study plan.
      Some days I’ll find that I’m just not feeling the topic I’d planned, so I’ll jump to another and will spend another hour on that. I count webcasts as training, too, but that’s the only training I’ll count when done on company time. Since I’m now writing presentations for others, I count research and demo development time that I put into the presentation in my training hours.
      Some might think it would be hard to come up with material for an hour every day, but I never have that problem. More often than not, I find myself going over my training hour, hence how I averaged 1.8 hours a day instead of the 1 I’ve committed to.

  2. Excellent blog posts and timeless – always suppose to be kept handy and bookmark for every SQL Server Enthusiast!

    Everybody wants to start somewhere… this is great start.

  3. Great coverage Wil. I like your 1 hour a day study time. I wish I could do that. For me I try to set aside time (1hr) on my Friday’s to get away from my desk (Phone/email) and isolate myself in one of our conference rooms to some research/learning.

    One piece of advice. If you don’t schedule it you won’t do it.

    I try and make sure that I schedule my learning time in outlook calendar, if someone tries to grab me, I just let them know that I have a meeting that I need to be at. Also being away from my phone and the distraction of email won’t get in the way.

    I am currently taking over SharePoint admin responsibilities so my learning time has been dedicated to SP.

    • I completely agree – when you are at work, unless you schedule training, you more than likely won’t get to it. That is terrific advice.
      When it comes to my 1 hour study minimum per day, I do that on my own time. Any training I get on company time (during the day, such as webcasts) is a bonus on top of my personal study. At first, I thought it would be difficult to find the time, but it hasn’t been difficult at all. Evenings at home are filled with more free time than most of us want to admit; just raid for 1 less hour on World Of Warcraft, or watch one less hour of TV. Or study in short bursts – 15 minutes here and there really add up.
      Weekends can be more challenging, especially if when I have plans with friends. In that scenario I still find the time, usually with the help of my smartphone or iPad. Bedtime is the moment of truth for me – if I haven’t finished my hour of study, I’ll read on my iPad just before bedtime.
      I recognize that an hour of study per day isn’t for everyone, but I know doing it has benefited me more than I would have ever expected.

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