(scottish) sql bob blog

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Some thoughts of your typical data shepard / data groomer / data dance teacher sort of person.


Speaking the same language

We all communicate with each other, some more than most, in our house if my partner is not talking to me there is something wrong.  It's not usual for the misunderstanding to be something I might have said (or done).  Communicating with each other verbally is something that we learn to do from an early age.  We learn what words mean, their power, what they can do for us, what to say, and what not to say.


There have been times I have had the pleasure of going to the local garage and speaking to the mechanic regarding whatever challenge is with the car.  The mechanic would explain the issue to me, using words which I have to say that wished I understood. It is entirely possible that there is a "big end" in our car just do not ask me where it is or what it does.  Or that the timing belt is very important to make the engine run properly.


Every industry, profession, hobby, has their own language.  This often makes it easy for professionals to communicate with each other often in a form of shorthand which can sound foreign to someone else even if they speak the same language.  Working in the IT industry this is something I am very aware of.  If someone asks me what I do for a job what do I say?  I might say that I am a BI professional, working primarily with the MS SQL server stack, sometimes using SSIS, and SSRS.  I write a variety of CRUD scripts in TSQL and I do some query optimisation.  If the person asking is not an IT professional who works in my specific area of expertise, most of my explanation would have sounded like I had spoken in a different language.

What I now say is my job involves three things, data shepherding, data grooming, and data dressage.  I might expand a little on these to explain that l move data from one place to another ensuring none of the data gets lost as we move it.  Some of the data might need to be polished or groomed to fit in its new home.  Then I train data to perform and dance in a way that others can understand it better.  What I try to do is use words which people who are do not work with databases can understand and relate to.


When I speak to clients one thing I try to remember is to use words that anyone can understand.  If I introduce technical concepts or acronyms in the conversation I will try to make time to explain them.  Or use analogies that are simple and easy to understand.  This is not an easy thing to do, it is our job to make IT simple and easy to use.  There might be lots of complicated moving parts behind the scenes.  Like a car, we have a simple dashboard, underneath are lots of complicated moving parts that just work.  The hard work of maintaining and fixing those parts I happily leave to the experts.


Personally, I see our job is to make our customers task as simple as it can be.  We should present challenges, technical details in a language our customers can easily understand.  As Einstein is quoted as saying “make everything as simple as possible but no simpler”.  One excellent example of this is by Brent Ozar when explaining implications of RTO & RPO here -> https://www.brentozar.com/archive/2014/05/new-high-availability-planning-worksheet/.  The worksheet sets out the terms in language everyone can understand, even better by drawing attention to the targets, so everyone knows what to expect.

Is this easy, or simple?  No, it is not.  Having said that which expert do you feel most comfortable with? would happily go back to time and again?  The one that speaks to you in words and terms you can easily understand.  Or one that uses language and words that are sometimes not easy to follow or understand?  The choice for me is easy and simple, which is why I work that little bit hard to make it as easy as possible for my customers to understand me.


Microsoft Certification Pros and Cons
This post is a follow-up to the Glasgow SQL server user group meeting on 17th January 2017.

Microsoft offer a very wide variety of certification you can get an overview here on this page,  There really is something for everyone. Like many things in life, there are good points and bad points to everything.  What l intend to do is share some experiences and maybe some tips picked up along the way.

Why should you study for a certificate?

There are as many different reasons as people taking the exams.  Many people have found it helps them to carry out their day job better.  When l started to study for Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014.  I was fairly certain that l had fairly good T-SQL skills, studying the course caused me to explore and learn in much greater depth topics l had just looked at yet not studied in depth. The next exam Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012/2014 Databases has been of great benefit to helping me understand the internals of SQL server.  Allowing me to talk with more confidence to technical staff.  Having had to study and master various skills, this has given me more confidence to expand and increase my knowledge.

Whilst nothing can beat experience having a certificate can also improve the chances when looking for a new job.  If an interviewer is looking at two evenly matched candidates, one without a certificate one with a certificate.  Personally speaking, if l was the person making the decision then the person with the certificate would the one whom l would recommend getting the job.  By studying and passing the exam the candidate has demonstrated, initiative, self-motivation, and a genuine desire for technology.  At least that's my opinion.  In one case l know of a colleague whom l work with, who said one the reasons they were offered a job was due to the fact that had studied and passed two exams, which were relevant to the role they applied for.

Craig Porteous spoke to some recruiters he knows and asked them some questions about their view of certification.  So these thoughts are directly from those who make hiring decisions.

What weight do you put on certifications when hiring? 
1) A lot. With two otherwise comparable candidates, the one with certifications wins in my mind.
2) A lot, think it shows that candidates are focused in developing their career.
3) For a technical role I see it as essential 

Do you encourage the pursuit of certifications by your team?
1) Yes
2) Yes
3) Yes

Do you see any downsides/negative aspects to certifications?
1) No, none at all. 
2) Some of the accreditation's could be more hands on focused. 
3) Cost (retaining skilled up workers)

With staff who have completed certifications, do you see any differences in working practice etc to those who haven’t? 
1) Yes. People working towards certifications are more engaged with technology and tend to apply their learning in the work environment, sharing their knowledge and improving the overall team dynamic leading to improved productivity.
2) It really depends on the individual so don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Better way to look at it is how doing accreditations adds value to that person in regards technical ability and confidence.
3) Last example was a infrastructure type. Stuck him on a sccm course. A,month later our sccm world upgraded. A year later he left and now heads up sccm at dell secure works in the US . For me a benefit – I get a sccm upgrade from a capable engineer. They get a badge they can use to get their career upgraded. Win win.

One reason l have heard for not doing any certification is the cost.  My personal point of view on this is that l am investing in myself.  If l learn a new skill gain or learn some new techniques.  Yes, the company l am working for will benefit which is excellent news for them.  If l choose to move to another role with a different company, then those skills transfer with me.  Those skills l have invested both my time and (more importantly very often) my money in they are mine.  So my choice is to invest in myself as l believe that the return on investment (ROI) is excellent.

Resources
 
So you have decided to study for certification, what resources are there available?  The following list is just suggestions, based on largely on my experience and some others.

Books

 If you are planning to take the data platform exams then l would strongly suggest investing in the books for the relevant exam. For example, this one is for the 70-461 exam. The book covers all the topics that could be questioned in the exam. There is an accompanying CD has an electronic copy of the book and practice exam questions.   One series of books which I used whilst studying for 70-461 exam Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012/14 was series titled 2 Joes.  The purpose of the books is to take a complete beginner through all the skills required to pass the exam.  Personally l found this is the best explanation of how to query xml data using TSQL.  They where for me worth the investment. 

Training Sites

CBT Nuggets - an excellent resource, the videos l viewed for my 70-462 exam were really helpful.  As part of the training package l signed up for included exam questions which l also found where excellent.  More expensive that other sites, you have access to all the courses.  Really worth considering if want to maximize your study time.

Udemy - with this provider you purchase one course at a time which allows you "lifetime access" to the course.  When the courses are on sale, the prices are low.  The quality of the courses can vary, so have a look a the reviews on the course before purchasing.  Personally, l found the 70-463 covered the basics well, on the other hand, it did not go into sufficient detail for the exam questions.

Pluralsight - this is a well know training site (ok l have heard the name in quite a few place) there are lists of videos for specific certifications.  The quaility of the courses l have watched were of a very high quality.

Microsoft Virtual Academy - its Free, which is not always a recommendation.  That said the quality of the courses that l have viewed have been excellent.   For the exams search for jump start videos, which are a really good jumping off point to start your studying.  So excellent hints and tips in the videos from people who passed and training people for the exams.

SQL Bits - apart from being one of the best SQL conferences in Europe.  The organizers have given back to the SQL community by recording some of the sessions and making the available for FREE on their website.  To find what you are looking for might take a bit of searching, most topics will have at least one video on them.

YouTube - there are a lot of videos uploaded on a wide variety of topics.  There will be some searching to find the topic you are looking.  On the downside the quality of content is variable.   Ranging from the excellent to the not so good.

Blog posts - again this will require some searching.  It has in my experience, been worth the time and energy required.  One author whilst studying for the 70-463 exam blogged about what she was learning as they went along.

Passing the exams

What is required to pass the exams?  Practice and lots of it!  One of the keys that are borne out by other people who passed the exams is the practice exams.  These exam questions will not be exactly like the exam questions.  What they will do is get in the way of thinking when doing the exams.  Reading exam questions to see the question, examining multiple choice questions for the correct answer.  Best way to get practice is to get hold of practice exam questions and take the exam.  There are a number of providers which will allow you to purchase them, MeasureUp, CBTNuggets and others. They will not be exactly the same as the exam questions you take when you go into the exam room. On the other hand they will give you practice at answering the questions.  If you pay attention to the score at the end of the practice exam you will also be able to see where you need to improve.

The questions are designed quite deliberately to test your knowledge, well you would not want them to be too easy ?  This article from Pluralsight has some excellent examples of the format of the type of question you will be answering in the exam.  If you are really interested in how the question are constructed and methodology behind them, this video from Pluralsight has an interview with someone who designs the exams.

All that remains to say if you have decided to study for a certification, good luck and happy studying.


“I get knocked down, But l get up again You are never gonna to keep me down…”
First, be warned there will be some spelling and grammatically errors.  This post is rough and ready as it comes.  Ok what is this about, l want to document and relate some of the challenges l will have overcome as the person who has started the Glasgow SQL server group.  Like most things l have attempted in my life, l have failed, that is not stopped me.  So l am going to try and share my experiences and lessons on starting / running an SQL server user group.  The sole reason is hopefully someone, somewhere will be helped by reading about my challenges (mistakes)

Ok first the bad news.  This evening was the first group meeting, time 7pm, location a coffee bar in Glasgow.  Attendees, me and my shadow (as in nobody).  Not the best start l agree, after waiting for 30 mins with my sign on the table, l decided to call it a night.  Not feeling in the best of moods l was pondering what next.  When some song lyrics popped in my head, “I get knocked down, But l get up again You are never gonna to keep me down…” the chorus from Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. So that’s what l listened to repeatedly on the way home.

So how did l get here, and what could l have done better?

Take action more quickly
- the idea occurred to me whilst at my first SQL bits conference three years ago.  It took until last years SQL Bits (2016) conference to tweet about it to see what interest there was, it was re-tweeted however no signs of interest.  On the upside, l met two people from Glasgow who hopefully will be involved the user group.

Do not wait – the longer l waited bigger the challenge became!

Make use of all the opportunities you can find – l did set up an event on Meetup.com that has been really positive (more of that in another post).  What l have not done is to contact all my professional contacts in Linked in to spread the word.  I could have used twitter more, to date l have not set up a facebook group, or set up an event on Eventbrite.com.

Positive’s – the two people whom l met at the 2016 SQL bits conference will hopefully be involved in future events and yes they let me know they could not make tonight.   The Trello board l have set up to record ideas and suggestions has worked really well.  There a wealth of ideas and suggestions of what we can do and suggestions on item to be actioned.  Whilst waiting for people come tonight l have made a list of actions l am going to take next.  That can wait till my next post.

Next steps – meetings will be arranged, scheduled and publicised in as many ways and places are possible.  I shall be making use of my contacts to spread the word of this event.
Parting thoughts.  

Following one my most epic failures which l shared with someone, who understood.  He gave me a card with this quote
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt

It’s not easy to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep going.  That’s what makes some people that little bit different....