6 Ways to Advance Your IT Career

The “Great Resignation” is upon us, or so the internet tells us. People want better working conditions, better wages, just… better. Large swaths of people are trying to advance their careers. Here are 6 ways to advance your IT career.

  1. Accept that long term loyalty to a small to mid-sized company is likely keeping your salary low and limiting opportunities.
  2. Use the wizards at salary.com to plug in the job titles you want and discover what you should be making.
  3. Focus on building technical skills, especially early in your career
  4. Work on your interviewing skills
  5. Start blogging
  6. Start presenting

How to Advance Your IT Career: Here is How I did It

  1. I realized that long term loyalty to my small to mid-sized company was keeping my salary low.

Career growth opportunities were limited. The company I was in when I launched my IT career probably had 200-300 people in their corporate office and there were 8-12 local offices that had maybe 5-10 people working out of each of them. So, less than 500 employees. We weren’t big.

There were some opportunities for growing your career there, but those opportunities to be promoted to a new or different role came around once every 3-5 years, and sometimes less frequently than that. There was maybe one more title change in sight so upward mobility was now limited.
I had been in relatively the same role for 4 years. Annual increases were  my primary means  of increasing my salary.

Also, in my scenario, it didn’t seem like we were exactly swimming in money. These two things combined to keep my career opportunities limited and my wages below average.

“I needed to change jobs if I was going to advance.”

 

I had been at this company about 9 years already before I started looking for other work. Loyalty wasn’t going to help my career. I needed to change jobs if I was going to advance.

  1. I used the wizards at salary.com to plug in the job titles I wanted and discover what I should be making.

 

Salary.com What am I Worth
Salary.com What am I Worth

You can use the site to compare different job titles to one another in terms of experience generally required, job descriptions, and other details.Below is some data for Austin, TX for Database Administrator

Sample DBA Salary Information - Austin TX

TitleAVG Years ExperienceLow End Salary YearlyHigh End Salary YearlyMedian Salary Yearly
DBA I0-2520008700067000
DBA II2-47100011800094000
DBA III4-695000140000118000
DBA IV7+109000152000131000

Once I had revelation #1 above and saw how much I was below the average salary, I was fairly motivated to make an employment change. That first job change resulted in a 10% increase in my salary!

  1. I spent the better part of 2 years building technical skills.

Classes at a university training center

There were two parts to this approach. First, I took IT classes at a local education and training center. To be clear, these were NOT boot camps. In my case I was focused on database technology, but there were and still are, certificates for programming and web development. These were generally 1 -2 day classes offered through my state university. They cost anywhere from $300-$600. My employer was reimbursing me the cost of the classes.

They involved lectures on IT topics paired with in-class labs where we would “do the stuff” that was just discussed. By doing this, I took enough courses to earn a Database Technology certificate. I could be trained and gain experience on database technology rapidly in a single 1 or 2 day course.

Regular self study

Second, I would also typically spend 1.5-2 hours of self-study every night after work Mon-Thur. On Sat/Sun I would study usually 3-4 hours each day.

I did both of these approaches for the better part of two years. This all culminated in my first Microsoft Certification in May 2013. To be clear, the goal in all of this was to learn new skills. Later, I focused on the certification as a means of learning specific new skills and knowledge that would help me earn the certification. My thought was that, alongside my resume, the certification would help demonstrate knowledge and possibly help open a few doors early on in my career.

Because of the classes and the extra work after hours, I was able to handle more and more complicated scenarios at my job. That was, after all, the real goal.

  1. I worked on my interviewing skills.
Confident Interviewing
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Reading blog posts and watching videos about interviewing became a regular habit. I created a Word doc of questions I wanted to ask potential employers during an interview. The interview was as much for me as it was for the employer. Interviewing the potential employer to find out what their IT environment is like, what the IT team is like and what the company mindset is about certain things, are critical parts of you assessing the employer.

Now that I’ve been in IT officially since 2010 and officially a DBA since 2014,  here are the next steps I’m taking to advance my career right now.

5. I started blogging.

One you have even a year or two of experience, blogging can be a great way to grow your career. Providing good technical information on how to solve a problem not only helps you remember and create a reference for you later, but forces you to learn more about the topic so that you can explain it to others. Thus, blogging is a great learning tool for you as well as an opportunity to get your name out into your technical community.

As you consistently post material, you can become known as the “go to” person for technology “x”. Then, when people want to know about technology “x” they find and read your blog posts and refer other people to your blog. This sort of activity can open doors for you professionally.

For example, Anthony Nocentino is well known for talking about Kubernetes. Brent Ozar and Erik Darling are synonymous with performance tuning. Hugo Kornelius is known for his instruction on SQL Server execution plans. Erin Stellato is known for many things, but most recently she has focused on the use of Query Store in SQL Server. SQL Server Statistics is strongly associated with Kimberley Tripp.

You can get started blogging for free using WordPress, orWeebly. There are probably other free options as well.

6. I started presenting.

public speaking advances your career
Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Back in July of 2020 I gave my first technical presentation outside the walls of my company. I am a co-organizer for a SQL Server Meetup. A speaker for one of our up-coming sessions had a conflict and had to cancel. There was about a week to find a speaker and so I decided that speaker would be me.

I put together a presentation called “Modern SQL Server Features That Make Life Better.” I presented it to my own user group and one other user group. Then I was accepted as a speaker to New Stars of Data. That event has opened up two more opportunities for me and I’m pursuing other opportunities through the features at Sessionize. They have a feature called “Discover Events” that allows you to see upcoming speaking opportunities.

Much like blogging, when presenting you have to learn something fairly well so that you can confidently present the information. Asa result, you build your reputation as an authority on your topic. Also, presenting gets your face and name in front of people in a way that even blogging doesn’t. When presenting, people can ask you questions in real time about your topic and get to know you a bit as they listen to you or watch you present. They get a real life sense of who you are. they also get a feel for your level of expertise and you can build a good reputation for yourself, all the while helping other people learn.

Next Steps To Take

  1. Figure out which of the 6 steps you need to take to move your career forward and do it.
  2. Leave me a comment on this post to share which step you’re going to take or message me on Twitter with your plan. Sharing your next step with others reinforces your commitment.

6 Steps to Build a Training Plan

 

As an athlete there is a certain amount of preparation that goes into being selected to be on a team, competing for a starting role and then being competitive with the opponent. For tennis players to be competitive and go to the finals in Wimbledon, it takes hours and hours of training, practice, and discipline to eat well before ever stepping on the court in a tournament. To make a basketball team, takes hours of practice by yourself on a basketball court and competing with others and your team mates. To make the starting line up takes hard work, outside of game day. A certain hunger and desire to grow and be more than you currently are is important as an athlete.


Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

In his retirement speech in 1993, Michael Jordan had this to say, “When I lose the sense of motivation and the sense to prove something as a basketball player, it’s time for me to move away from the game of basketball…. I went through all the stages of getting myself prepared for the next year, and the desire wasn’t there.”

Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback of all time. He has accomplished more than basically every other quarterback, but he’s still hungry for more accomplishments and he still wants to do the necessary work that makes it possible to compete at his best.

If a successful athlete stops training outside of game day, their game eventually begins to slip. You can’t perform at a high level on the tennis court, basketball court, football field, ice rink, etc. , if you aren’t putting in the preparation time outside of game day.

So, what does this has to do with you as an IT worker? You can no more perform well on “game day” at your job without adequate and continuous preparation, than great athletes can play well if they stop doing the hard work of game prep.

Take a Personal Assessment

Let me ask you some  questions.

  1. Are you still hungry to learn technology?
  2. Are you putting in the work necessary in order to be the best technologist you can be ?
  3. When was the last time you spent time during the week to learn something new?
  4. Are you regularly talking about how you’re not good at certain things, but then also not putting in effort to improve?
  5. Do tasks regularly take you extra time at work compared to others in your same role?

If your answers to the above questions indicate that you might not be putting in the work necessary to stay current in your area of technology, then maybe you need to ask yourself why. Maybe, you’re coasting and you have been for awhile. Why? Maybe you’ve had a very rough time since the beginning of 2020 because of the pandemic. Ok. I completely get it. What are some things getting in the way of building a training plan that you can execute?

Burn Out will stop “Game Day Prep”

Burnout Prevents You From Building a Training Plan
Burnout – pexels-pixabay-42230

Maybe you’re burned out and need to recharge. That is very common. The last 18 months or so have been especially hard on most people. I usually see at least 5-7 tweets a week about this topic. I have a post about this as related to myself. Burnout is real and it’s hard to go through and hard to recover from. It takes time to deal with burnout and may likely involve finding others who will support you. Also, realize that no one should expect you to be 100% on your game every day, all the time. That’s just not reality.

Athletes have a lot of people around them to help make them successful. They have coaches, trainers, medical personnel , executives, family members and teammates to help keep them going. There is no reason to think that you also don’t need a support network. Possibly find yourself a therapist to talk to and find people to encourage you and help you.  Try switching up your routine so you can take care of yourself better physically and mentally. Right the ship, so to speak. Then, get back to prepping for “game day.”

 

Long Term Coasting Will Stop “Game Day Prep”

Perhaps you’ve recently been in a period of extra after hours learning because an important project required new skills. Maybe you were gearing up to pass a certification. Good for you. After that you took a break. Ok. That’s reasonable. Be cautious though about your “little break” from game day prep turning into long term coasting where you don’t put in additional effort to learn and grow. If 3, 6, 9 months or more goes by and you’re still coasting, ask your self why and what, you might want to do about that.

 

Other Priorities Will Stop “Game Day Prep”

Everyone has priorities, whether we are aware of them or not. We all make choices and those choices prioritize our time. If you’re spending endless hours in front of the TV, the XBox or the PS3, then you’re prioritizing that activity over others. Perhaps you like to host social events with friends and family over good barbecue and a game of Frisbee in the back yard. Possibly you’re taking care of a sick family member. Certainly no one will fault you for a little down time via entertaining yourself with games or a movie. I certainly hope you are making time for friends and honoring your commitment to your family. I would just encourage you to take stock of whether other, unfruitful priorities are keeping you from being the technologist you could be.

 

6 Steps to Build a Training Plan and Execute On It

  1. Open up your favorite text editor and make a list of the top 3 things you want or need to learn in the next 6 months. You likely know what they are.
  2. Do an internet search for links that explain those 3 topics and add those links to their corresponding topics in the text editor. Be sure to have at least 3 links per topic you want to learn.
  3. Save the file to your desktop so you see it every day as a reminder to work on your skills.
  4. If you have a whiteboard, write your plan on the whiteboard so you see it every day.
  5. Work your personal training plan by reading one article a day from your training plan.
  6. Now, rinse and repeat. Start the process over with those same three topics.

As a bonus, hopefully at least some of those articles have demos. Do the demos yourself on your own local install of SQL Server. Don’t just read the demos. After you’ve done these things, you will have read and worked through the content of 6 articles for each of your three topics that you wanted to learn. That’s a great start!

Next Steps to Take

  1. If you want to chat about any of this, hit me up on Twitter or post a comment here. I’m happy to discuss.
  2. Build a training plan using the steps above.
  3. If you’re struggling to find good resources, check out my post about how to find reliable resources for learning.
  4. Leave me a comment on this post to share your training plan, or message me on Twitter with your plan. Sharing your plan with others reinforces your commitment to the plan.

6 things to consider when presenting

 

Things to consider when presenting

I’ve presented a few times recently and discovered I like doing it. Presenting is a great way to give back to the I.T. community – in this case the SQL Server community. I’ve previously blogged about things I learned from giving my first presentation, and what it was like presenting at New Stars of Data. Here are six additional thoughts on presenting.

 

  • Be sure you show up early for your presentation

The day of New Stars of Data, I was up 90 minutes earlier than usual to use the link to the track I was in to join a panel discussion in progress. I just wanted to be sure that the link was going to work and catch a bit of that presentation. I also wanted to be sure I was wide awake when it was time for me to  present. Slumber does not mix well with presenting!

If you’re not presenting early in the morning like I was, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to your computer to have it ready for presenting. You don’t want to turn it on 5 minutes before you’re supposed to present only to find that it won’t turn on for some reason or that you can no longer find your presentation materials.

  • Use stories whenever possible

In one case I not only used words to explain why data professionals should use a particular SQL Server feature, but I told a relevant store from my work experience. People connect to stories and they are likely to remember the story and the feature you discussed long after all the technical details.  Also, telling the story helped keep me engaged and excited about what I was saying. In turn, that helps the audience remember what was discussed.

 

  • Avoid making a bunch of changes to the slides or demos late in your preparation

Doing this may make you less comfortable when you get to the parts of the slide deck that you’ve recently modified. This is especially true if you’re a new speaker or if the slide(s) have undergone more than just cosmetic changes.

Also, once you’ve tested your demos and you know they are working, I would encourage you not to adjust them if your presentation date and time is coming up soon.

 

  • Practice frequently and record yourself giving the presentation

You need to practice so that your comfortable explaining the content of your presentation. The transitions between slides, to demos and back, also need to feel comfortable and as smooth as possible. Adequate practice will help you be feel at ease with the mouse or keyboard presses necessary to make those transitions.

You also want to listen to your tone of voice to ensure you seem engaged. This is a tough one because we all have different communication styles. Some people are naturally animated and excited when talking. Some people use their hands a lot. Some are more demure. You know yourself, so do some reflection about how you sound and make any adjustments that are needed and that you can comfortably make while still honoring your own personality.

Additionally, pay attention to your pace when speaking. You don’t want to sound rushed. Try to strike a balance with the speed of your speaking. Check out a post from Catherine Wilhelmsen on a tool she used recently that helps with presentation skills.

 

  • Be sure that your information is accurate

Please, please, please do your research as much as possible to ensure that what you’re presenting to people is the correct information. Everyone is learning as we go. Just make a commitment to yourself and to your audience that you will exercise due diligence to research your topic and present accurate information.

 

  • If possible, brush your teeth before presenting

Now, this seems a bit out of place, but I learned this recently from a practice session I was doing. I was practicing for New Stars of Data and had eaten food 1-2 hours before I was practicing. Early in the practice recording I realize that I have a piece of food that has now dislodged. Luckily this happened during a practice session and not while I was presenting live to people!

 

Next Steps to Take

1. Check out the speaker improvement library here.

2. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

 

What is it like to be a presenter at the News Stars of Data virtual conference

 

Back in early July 2021, I presented at the SQL Server Meetup I co-host with Anthony Fortner. We had a speaker no show a couple of months prior and then for the July meeting a speaker had to cancel about a week before the meeting. I couldn’t let another month go by with no Meetup. So, I created a presentation from nothing, practiced it and gave it live for the first time in about a 7 day time span. It took about 15 hours of work and was my first SQL Server presentation to a public group. I learned a number of things from that experience. Then I gave a revamped version of the presentation to New Stars of Data in late October.

In late September this year I was on LinkedIn and engaged a conversation about presenting on SQL Server.  New Stars Of Data had been advertised recently and if I remember correctly, that came up in the discussion. I mentioned I might apply to be a speaker. Andy Yun chimed in and encouraged me to apply. I thought, “Why not! I’ll apply and see what happens.”

I applied and was accepted. Ben Weissman sent me an acceptance email with some introductory information about the conference and introduced me to Leslie Andrews, who would be my mentor.

I’ll admit that I had only heard the name. That’s it. I didn’t know anything else about Leslie, but I assumed that if she’s a mentor for New Stars of Data, she must be at least well-known. If you look at her Twitter profile and who is following her, etc. you can see that she is indeed well-known. I was excited and interested to work with her, and nervous. I mean, lots of people know her so she’s “SQL famous.” What will she think of me? Will I embarrass myself talking to her because I won’t know what to say? I was anxious for no reason. Leslie is very personable and easy to talk to.

3 Questions I asked my mentor about speaking at New Stars of Data

We set up a video meeting. As I prepped for the meeting with three questions:

  1. How many people are generally in the presentation sessions?
  2. Is there anything I should consider that’s different because of the number of people in the session?
  3. What advice do you have for me?

That first question was to set my expectations. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by 50, 100, 200 people being in my session. That would have been fantastic, of course! However, I wanted to know what to expect because that would help me manage my emotions the day of the presentation. My theory was that the more people I was speaking to, the more nervous I might be, but if I at least knew that ahead of time, then I wouldn’t be as nervous.  Leslie told me that there might be as many as 50 people in the session.

My second question was “Is there anything I should consider that’s different because of the number of people in the session?” This was just a curiosity question since I had never given a presentation to more than just a handful of people at a SQL Server Meetup. Leslie told me that there was nothing really different to prepare for whether there were 5, 50, or 200 people. That was actually a bit of a relief.

Advice from Leslie Andrews: Round 1

My third question was, “What advice do you have for me?” Leslie gave me 3 main ideas to think about.

  • Write down what you want to say and memorize it

I didn’t end up doing this. the point of this advise was to get me comfortable with the presentation. I did practice the full presentation at least three times in the week or so before New Stars of Data. Additionally, I went over a few spots in the presentation where I was having difficulty with the slides and demos. By the time I presented at New Stars of Data, I had also presented the topic two previous times. I recorded each time I practiced it in it’s entirety so I could listen to it. I did the recordings of my practices because I wanted to hear how I sounded.  Was I too monotone? Did I sound engaged? Were there a lot of filler words? I was asking myself those questions as I watched the recordings.

  • Showing yourself on camera is not required

While not required, I did turn my camera on for the presentation. I had built this presentation about 6 weeks or so prior and had given it twice before to SQL Server Meetups. The second time I presented, I ended up with my camera off. I found that to be unnerving. It made me paranoid that I wasn’t actually talking to anyone. For that reason, I did turn on my camera when I presented for New Stars of Data

I was already familiar with this presentation as I had attended it at the last PASS Summit. I learned a lot about font sizes, colors, and other visibility issues related to presentations.

Advice from Leslie Andrews: Round 2

I provided Leslie with my existing slides and asked her for feedback. I also provided her with a link to the first time I gave the presentation. Here’s what she said.

  • Be sure to update font sizes in SSMS for results and execution plans.
  • Leslie felt that the slides were fairly wordy and commented that slides with a lots of words tempts people to read you slides rather than listen to what you’re saying.
  • She suggested that I add one or more slides to explain the concepts of High Availability and Disaster Recovery. She said I shouldn’t assume that everyone in the session will know what those ideas are about.
  • I needed to add at least three slides. One each for prompting for question at the end, one for thanking New Stars of Data and a duplicate of my contact info slide at the end to show when I was done.

I wasn’t surprised by bullet point #2. Wordiness in my writing has always been something that people point out. I’ve worked on it, but it’s a work in progress. Also, I want my slides to be a resource of sorts after the presentation. Nonetheless, I did tone down the amount of words on my slides.

I hadn’t realized I was making an assumption that people would know what HA and DR were about. Therefore, it was nice to have someone on the outside point that out so I could explain what I meant.

A Mistake I Made with the Slides

I made a bunch of changes to the slides based on the above. Then I had to practice for that second time I was giving this presentation to a live group prior to presenting at New Stars of Data. I made a significant mistake here. I didn’t have enough time to make a bunch of slide changes and practice enough with those changes before the second time I presented to a live group.

As a result, I felt that the second presentation wasn’t nearly as good as the first time I gave it. I just wasn’t comfortable yet with all the changes I had made. I made a few more tweaks to the slides before New Stars of Data, but by about two weeks out, I committed to stop messing with the slides so I could get comfortable with the presentation format.

 

What Happened the Day of New Stars of Data?

The day of New Stars of Data, I was up 90 minutes earlier than usual to use the link to the track I was in to join a panel discussion in progress. My presentation was at 8:45 AM Central time in the U.S. I just wanted to be sure that the link was going to work and catch a bit of that presentation. I also wanted to be sure I was wide awake when it was time for me to  present.

The speaker who was right before me had cancelled so there was a gap in the track. I was concerned that I might lose most of my audience, but I couldn’t control that. I connected early to my session track and Deborah Melkin was there to greet me. Andy Yun was also there. These people are “SQL Famous” , but they set me at ease.  I decided to take questions at the end because I didn’t want to interrupt my flow in the presentation once I had settled in. Deborah said that made complete sense and was happy to handle questions at the end.

The presentation went well overall. I had a few bobbles with my words and one time where my finger hit the scroll button on my mouse, causing my slides to scroll forward several slides. I felt good about the presentation though.

A few days later, Ben sent me  a pdf of my feedback. Everyone had good things to say, and that was encouraging. One person shared the observation that they felt my vocal tone could have been more varied so that I sounded more engaged and excited about my topic. I wasn’t shocked by that. I’m not a particularly animated person when I’m talking. I’m also a new speaker and I’m sure there were some nerves there. However, I also know from listening to my practice sessions that I had improved that part of the presentation already and it would get better as I settled in as a speaker.

 

Next Steps to Take

  1. Consider sharing what you know. If you’ve solved a problem in the I.T. realm, then you have something to share. You don’t have to be an “expert” to help others by sharing what you’ve learned.
  2. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

 

What I Learned From Giving My First Presentation

I recently was thrust into a conundrum. I suddenly found myself in need of a speaker for a recent SQL Server Meetup this month. My co-organizer and I had one week to find a presenter, set up a new Meetup, and then publicize so people outside of Meetup would know about it. I decided that was too short notice to go out to  Twitter and ask for volunteers to speak.

I thought, “What could I talk about?” You see, presenting is something I’ve always wanted to start doing. I just never did it. For many years, I thought that I didn’t know enough and that presenting was for the “famous” SQL Server people to do and I should just wait on the sidelines. However, over the last couple of years I’ve felt more confident about what I know.

Alos, I’ve come to realize that even people starting out have things they can share. For example, presentations can just be a series of short talks and work problems that a person has solved. Everyone has those examples. you don’t have to Brent Ozar, Kendra Little or Grant Fritchey to share problems you’ve solved at work. Presenting that information helps the presenter grow and helps the people hearing the content. People in the audience might hear a new, inventive way to resolve an issue, or they might have this problem in the days immediately after the presentation and be helped by having recently heard someone’s explanation of how they solved it, even if the solution wasn’t “ingenious”.

Almost out of nowhere I had an idea. I could talk about features in modern SQL Server that make certain aspects of working with the product easier. These could be enhancements like brand new features and feature sets or things like enhancement to T-SQL. I put together a rough list of items to include. There were close to 20 things on the list. As I worked through the presentation, I narrowed the list to 12 features or enhancements. After about 11 hours building slides, doing research, creating and testing demos and another 2 hours practicing giving the presentation, I was ready. You can see the results of that work here.

However, this post isn’t about the content of the presentation. I want to share what I learned as the result of putting together and giving the presentation. Without further delay, let’s look at the bullet points that follow.

 

  • Be careful what you eat before presenting. You want to focus on your presentation and not your queasy stomach or your heartburn, etc.

 

  • I re-learned where Presenter Notes are in the slides. I had given a presentation many months ago internally to my company. It was on finding good resources for training and during that process, had to look up presenter’s notes for PowerPoint. So much time had gone by since then, that I had to look it up again. In the lower right corner of PowerPoint there is an icon with an ^ with four dashes under it and the word “Notes” next to it. Click that and you get a small window below your slide that you can type your talking points into.

Rather than fill up your slides with text that you end up reading, use this Presenter’s Notes area to make short notes about the ideas you want to explain. Or you could type out what you’re going to say into paragraphs in this area. When you run the slideshow, you will see the slide and your Presenter’s Notes on one screen and your audience will see just the slides.

PowerPoint Presenters Notes

 

  •  I learned there is a Presentation Coach feature in PowerPoint that lets you practice your presentation and provides a feedback report. To use this feature, inside PowerPoint select the Slide Show menu at the top and then “Rehearse With Coach”. This feature gives you feedback about things like your use of filler words, how fast you’re speaking and the tone of your voice.

 

  • I learned there is a built-in Design suggestions feature for your slides in PowerPoint. Once I had my content and Presenter’s Notes mostly the way I wanted it, I realized that I needed to do something about the drab looking slides. I hadn’t started with a template of any kind and now I needed help making it visually interesting.

At the top of the Power Point menu ribbon I clicked on the word Design. Then off to the far right I saw a button called “Design Ideas”. I left clicked that and a new set of slide options opened up down the right side. I clicked on the ones I thought would look ok, keeping in mind certain key things. First, when designing slides you will need to avoid bright or pastel type colors that hurt the eyes. Second, these color choices also often make the text hard to read. As I left clicked on options down the right side, the slides changed and I could see what my presentation would look like.

PowerPoint Presentation Design Ideas Menu

 

  • I learned new information about SQL Server as I researched some topics I was less familiar with. I was less familiar with some topics I was planning to cover than others. As a result, I had to do some research to make sure I understood how the feature worked. In this way, the experience of presenting forced me to learn more about SQL Server, and that’s a good thing!

So, that’s what I learned from giving my first public presentation. I hope this encourages you to start presenting and makes things a little easier for you when you decide to give it a try.

 

Next Steps to Take

  1. Consider some problems you have solved at work and give some thought to formalizing what you learned by sharing that information with others.
  2. Look up a SQL Server Meetup group and join one. Start attending and think about how your experience can help others.
  3. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me here, or on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

Measuring Your DBA Skills

Over the last 9 weeks I took you on a journey of skills and career topics related to being a SQL Server DBA. We looked at the Production DBA. We saw skills and career topics from the beginning to mid-career to Senior DBA. Then we looked at the Development DBA and their skills and career development needs. Finally there was a wrap up post.

To make it easier for everyone to get to these posts, I decided to bring them all together on a single page.

measuring your skills

 Production DBA Skills Years 0-2

Production DBA Skills Years 2-4

Production DBA Skills Years 4-7

Senior Production DBA Skills Years 7+

Development DBA Skills Years 0-2

Development DBA Skills Years 2-4

Development DBA Skills Years 4-7

Senior Development DBA Skills Years 7+

Series wrap-up

If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, comment on the post, or contact me on Twitter. I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

How Do I Measure My DBA Skills Part 9

Production and Development DBA Skills and Things We Didn’t Touch On

We’ve covered a lot of ground for Production and Development DBAs in terms of the skills and applicable career topics. We’ve mentioned necessary skills with T-SQL, backup/restore, automation, PowerShell, troubleshooting, SSIS, SSRS, patching, Query Store, HA/DR, leadership and emotional intelligence. That’s quite a list! However, looking back at the series, there are still a number of things that weren’t mentioned.

Other DBA skills and career topics not discussed along the way:

  1. OS skills – This once used to be just Window skills. However, with SQL Server on Linux, and depending on what is in use in your environment, you may need to learn the basics of the Linux platform as well as Windows.
  2. I also didn’t touch on the topic of SQL Server Wait Statistics. This is a tried and true method for diagnosing server level issues that can lead to further investigation about what ails your SQL Server.
  3. What about the cloud and virtualization? Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, VMware, Hyper-V. These are all virtualization platforms that are in use these days, so you may encounter these and need to know, or might want to know, something about how they work.
  4. What about certifications? Are they worthwhile? Should you pursue one? If yes, which one?

Then there is also a third career title I didn’t even mention. What about the DBA whose focus or specialty is in BI? You are the person who takes care of the SQL Servers, but maybe you also write a lot of reports for the business using SSRS, Power BI, maybe SSAS, Tableau, Qlik or some other reporting platform. This may really just be a specialty within the Development DBA role, but it could be separate as well.

Beyond the Senior levels of the types of DBA careers discussed, you’re likely to end up moving into management. That will open up an entirely different set of needed skills and career topics that you will need to explore.

Next Steps To Take

Planning - To Do List

  1. If you’ve read through this series and followed the instructions about building a training plan for skills you would like to develop, then you likely have a significant list of skills to work on. Don’t focus on how long the list is. Select one thing and work on it for however long it takes for you to feel at least semi-comfortable with it. Then, cross it off the list and pick something else. Repeat the process. Within a few weeks or months, you will see a lot of progress.
  2. Remember to keep your skills/career development plan somewhere that allows you to see the plan every day. This will help keep you on track and your To Do list prioritized.
  3. You can go to kand.io and find a variety of graded skills test. There is one for Database Administrators and one for Database Developers. Both were written by the fine people at SQLSKills.com.
  4. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me here, or on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

 

How Do I Measure My DBA Skills Part 8

Senior Development DBA

You’ve now likely reached the last stop in your career as a Development DBA. You have arrived at the Senior level. What skills do you have or should you be working on as a Senior Development DBA? I’m glad you asked. Let’s find out.

Senior Development  DBA – 7+ years of experience

    1. Most competencies from the previous levels.
    2. Advanced analysis of SQL Server Performance issues using advanced techniques to increase performance and/or stability. This could involve server level monitoring and analysis to identify issues or concerns.
    3. Makes decisions regarding SQL Server architecture, development strategies and overarching performance considerations, often in tandem with Development team or even the Infrastructure team.
    4. Regularly participates in code reviews of mid-level to Senior Devs and other DBAs, offering best practices and guidance and may assist in implementation.
    5. Fosters and protects healthy development environment, including Source control, controlled or automated migrations, and advanced development/QA Data curation via data masking technologies and potentially other methods.
    6. Makes significant contributions to the design of migrations and upgrades for SQL Server and may provide assistance to other, more junior members of the team, when it comes to implementation.
    7. Leads knowledge sharing in four or more areas.
    8. May contain competencies from Production DBA levels up to level 2 or 3.
    9. Regularly demonstrates good self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills (emotional intelligence

Automating SQL Server Processes

 

automation example

Remember the washing machine example from an earlier post? You wouldn’t want to use a tub and washboard to clean your clothes. You use a washing machine right? It’s faster and more efficient than doing things manually. Yeah, you’re going to be building a lot of washing machines at this stage of your career.

You will be guiding and contributing to efforts to automate processes. This will certainly show up in work efforts for migrations and upgrades as well because the Senior Development DBA will be a person who automates as much as possible. You may be doing this exclusively through PowerShell but you may also be using a variety of DevOps software to automate processes as well.

At this level, you will also be guiding implementation of and answering questions related to things like Dynamic Data Masking, cell level encryption and row-level security. You may be doing advanced data analysis using temporal tables. You will certainly be deciding which of these technologies, and others, should be used and when.

There is also likely going to be some skill overlap with the production DBA. This Senior level person is likely going to need to know quite a few things about production support and troubleshooting. You’re going to need to be able to support SQL Server Agent jobs and be able to troubleshoot job failures. Using a third party monitoring software will likely be needed as well. Many of the skills discussed in earlier posts regarding production DBA skills up level 2 or 3 will be needed at this level.

As with the Senior Production DBA, knowledge sharing and emotional intelligence will be key at this point in your career. You have to be able to work with others, have patience and keep your cool when things don’t go well.

Next Steps to Take

  1. Check out DevOps software that helps you automate tasks.
  2. Check out migration tools like the Database Migration Assistant.
  3. Get comfortable sharing your knowledge with other people. You’re going to need presentation skills and the commensurate people skills that go along with that.
  4. If you would like help with anything in this post, or with something else related to SQL Server, reach out to me here, or on Twitter, and I’ll be glad to offer assistance.

How Do I Measure My DBA Skills Part 7

Lead Development DBA

Over the past few weeks I have been writing about DBA skills for various career levels, and for a couple of different DBA types – the Production DBA and the Development DBA. Today, we’re examining the Lead Development DBA. You’ll discover what this person needs to know.

DEV DBA III/Lead Development DBA – 5 to 7 Years

  1. All competencies from previous level.
  2. Manages most administrative aspects of non-prod environments without assistance from other DBAs.
  3. Participate in T-SQL development and database design of advanced complexity.
  4. Investigates potentially complex data issues within SQL Server.
  5. May have several years of progressive experience with SSIS, SSRS or SSAS.
  6. Administers source control systems for the environment.
  7. Regularly automates tasks. This should include the use of T-SQL, SQL Server Agent, and PowerShell.  May include the use of other languages like Python or C#.
  8. Creates and manage design documentation related to development work.
  9. Regularly explores, learns and implements new SQL Server development features. Examples would include new T-SQL enhancements and new feature sets like Temporal Tables for SQL Server 2016 and Data Virtualization for SQL Serer 2019..
  10. Advanced understanding of execution plans, indexes, and query tuning.
  11. Investigate complex data integrity/repair issues within SQL Server.
  12. Leads in knowledge sharing in two or more areas from levels I, II, or III.
  13. Assists with SQL Server migrations and upgrades in DEV/QA or production.
  14. Mentors Junior DBA’s and Developers.
  15. Participates in code reviews.
  16. May contain competencies from Production DBA levels up to level 1 or 2.
  17. Demonstrates emotional intelligence and may take an interest in leadership roles.

So let’s dive into a few of these points in the skill list.

Managing Non-Prod SQL Servers

First, as a Lead Development DBA, you are managing your company’s non-prod SQL Servers without the regular input of other DBAs.. That doesn’t mean you know everything about managing the environment. However, it does mean you are no longer asking any basic questions. You’re managing new SQL Server installations and post-install configuration, managing access to the SQL Servers, and SQL Server maintenance (backups/restores, index and statistics maintenance, CHECK DB, etc).

You Have T-SQL Skills

Second, you know how to use views for inserting, updating or deleting data. Techniques such as temporary tables, table variables or a derived tables are used appropriately. You also know when dynamic SQL is appropriate. By the way, the answer isn’t “never.” Stored procedures you write have error handling using TRY… CATCH and/or THROW. Inputs are also validated to address SQL injection. You know and avoid the problems associated with scalar user defined functions. You consume development material from people like Itzik Ben Gan and Gail Shaw without your eyes glazing over.

SQL Server Performance Tuning and Optimization

Third, performance tuning and optimization is your bread and butter. You’ve probably read the various editions of books on execution plans by Grant Fritchey. Brent Ozar and Hugo Kornelis are people whose blogs you frequent to learn about execution plans and making SQL Server go fast. The Query Store is something you know how to leverage to find poor performing queries using the reports and perhaps some custom T-SQL. MAXDOP and Cost Threshold of Parallelism are things you understand and know what to do with at the server level. additionally, you know how these settings affect queries running on the SQL Server. You also know that MAXDOP can be set at the database level in newer versions of SQL Server. If you didn’t know that, see this.

Working With Other SQL Server Components and Features

Fourth, depending on the needs of your employers, you are likely to be  comfortable with SSIS, SSRS or SSAS. You can develop solutions with those tools that go beyond basic things. SSRS Administration using the Report Manager and Report Server URLs is familiar to you, for example. Complex SSIS packages are something you’re not afraid of at this point.

Mentoring and Knowledge Sharing

Fifth, at this stage of your career you will be expected to be a leader in your group and share knowledge with others. You will be skilled enough to share your growing expertise in 2 or more areas. You may be the go to person for execution plan analysis, Query Store and T-SQL.  Share that knowledge with others. Make someone else’s professional life better by sharing your experience. This will not only benefit the other person, but you as well.  Nothing solidifies learning like trying to teach something to someone else!

As part of your leadership among other people, you should demonstrate emotional intelligence in most of your interactions. You are able to manage your own emotions and the emotions of others during your interactions. You’re also taking on more and ore the role of a leader at this phase of your career. People will be looking to you for guidance and decision making.

Next Steps To Take

  1. Look at the criteria in this post and make a training plan for the things you know you need to work on and put that plan somewhere that you will see on a regular basis.
  2. Contact me here for questions about this post or the skills listed in it. You can also reach out to me via Twitter using the handle @leemarkum.

 

How Do I Measure My DBA Skills Part 6

Development DBA II

With the last post, we began talking about the Development DBA and the skills needed at the beginning of this career path. Now it’s time for you to ponder what the next level looks like.

Development DBA II – 2 to 4 Years of Experience

  1. All competencies from level 1
  2. Develop basic to intermediately complex stored procedures, triggers, views and other database objects.
  3. Will have some experience with SSRS, SSIS, and/or SSAS development, deployment and possibly administration.
  4. May administer source control systems for the environment.
  5. Promotes SQL changes from Dev up through all environments, including production.
  6. Contributes to automation, particularly using native SQL Server methods, but could also leverage PowerShell or other languages for automating tasks (Python, C#, etc.)
  7. Designs pre-prod testing of SQL code prior to production upgrades or migrations. This includes performance and regression testing.
  8. Basic to mid-level understanding of execution plans, indexes, SQL Server statistics, and query tuning.
  9. Investigate basic to moderately complex data integrity/repair issues within SQL Server
  10. May begin leading in knowledge sharing in some capacity in one or more areas from level I or II.
  11. May take an active interest in leadership and in development of leadership skills, including emotional intelligence.

In years 2 through 4 the Dev DBA will work with more complex T-SQL such as recursive CTE’s, and error handling with TRY CATCH or the THROW syntax will likely be introduced at this stage. You may begin writing database views during this part of your career and leveraging them to make query writing a bit simpler for yourself and others. You are likely to be exposed to T-SQL Triggers and you’ll need to understand them and even maybe write a few triggers of your own.

You will likely start to get some sort of regular exposure to SSRS, SSIS or SSAS at this point. This will of course be based partly on your own interest in learning the tools of the trade and what is in use already at your employer.

Source control and the process of promoting changes from source control up into QA, and even production, may be something that begins at this level. After all, as a person who is writing a fair amount of code, you will have an interest in ways to manage code changes.

Automation

 

automation example

Let me ask you a question. Would you rather wash clothes manually with a washboard and tub or use a washing machine? It seems like a silly question. You would want to use a washing machine. You probably can’t imagine washing clothes without one.

In a similar thought process, there are things that you and others at your job will not want to do over and over in a manual way.  Accordingly, you will make more significant contributions to automation of tasks at this level in your career. SQL Agent will become your friend and learning to script out processes to make them easily repeatable, rather than doing everything in the SSMS GUI by hand, will occur more frequently. You may automate tasks with PowerShell for sure, especially using DBATools, but Python may also be an option. In case you didn’t know, Python does integrate with SQL Server via a specific driver.

Testing Code and Performance Tuning

An important part of the Dev DBA’s work is testing SQL code. You’re going to be doing more of that at this level in your career. You will need to verify query results and probably automate repeated testing of code as well so that you can test not only results but performance. Maybe the query returned the results you expected but it took too long to do it. This is where learning how to read execution plans will come in.  Execution plan operators will give you clues about what is happening with your T-SQL and those clues can help you with re-writes or with indexing.

Aaah yes. Indexes.  You’ll need to begin understanding indexes as well.  You’ll need to know what they are, the different types of indexes and when to use each type. Types of Indexes are as follows:

  1. Clustered indexes, which may be the result of creating a primary key. These may be clustered or non-clustered primary keys.
  2. Non-clustered row-store indexes.
  3. Non-clustered columnstore indexes.
  4. Clustered columnstore indexes.
  5. Filtered indexes

As a corollary, you’ll need to look into the concept of SQL Server statistics as well.

Next Steps to Take

  1. If you’ve read the other parts of this series, then you know I’m going to tell you to copy the skills list above to a Word doc and place an “X” next to the things you need to work on.
  2. Use those “X” marks to build a training plan. Put the training plan somewhere that you will see every day. One thing that should be on your training plan at this stage is learning more T-SQL.
  3. Work the plan. I have a post that will help you find resources for your learning plan.
  4. Contact me here for questions about this post or the skills listed in it. You can also reach out to me via Twitter using the handle @leemarkum.