Continuing Professional Development
Having worked with a number architects (they that design building) companies l have been made aware of the concept of Continuing Professional Development. In that any qualified architect is expected to learn and refine their skills for as long as they are a practising architect.
Another big part of the conference is the sponsors, they have stands set up in the main part of the conference. Yes they are their to sell their products, on the other hand they are very generous and have many have prizes to give away. Entering the competitions to win prizes can be as simple as giving your email address, others you might have to work for. Such playing a racing car or sail boat simulator, these are geeks what do you expect ! Some of the sponsors have technical evangelists who are there to speak all of whom in my opinion are worth going to just for their sessions alone. Next how often do you get to meet with representatives from Microsoft and ask them questions face to face.?
Fun and Games
There's even more fun to be had. So far l have only attended two SQL Bit conferences. The evening parties are well something to be experienced, the best way to put it is that these are dreamed up by geeks and attended by geeks. Both of these groups of people know how to have a good time. Also if you visit the sponsors you might just come away with tokens, for free drink, at the parties. Need l say more?
The last question that occurs to me is why do l go? Personally and ultimately l want to be the best possible person doing my job. To provide my customers with the best possible service l can offer. To achieve that will take time, energy, and sacrifices. Part of that will be paying my way these conferences till l can convince my manager to pay for at least part of them. Until then l will go to learn and develop, then one day return and speak myself to starting paying back my technical debt.
Forgive me whilst I indulge in some nostalgia first. Whilst at SQL Bits 2016, I finally made the decision to start a SQL user group in Glasgow. If I remember correctly Craig Porteous attend the infamous SQL Bits party and met a gentleman dressed as a Wookie (William Durkin). Now Glasgow has a growing SQL server user group (thanks to a dedicated hard working team). Not only that we just had our second SQL conference! (Yes SQL Bits has lot to answer for ;->)
SQLGLA was a fantastic event it has left me with some wonderful feelings. This blog post is part thank you to those involved, also just to express some of my feelings / experiences of the event.
Craig Porteous, Louise Paterson and I are the people who organised this year's event. I felt we were a team (this is a theme, by the way). Each of us contributed to the success of the event, in a different way. The success of the event was not down a single person in my opinion. It was about us all coming together to make it a success. Craig did put a lot of work into making the event what it was.
There are few words to express my gratitude about our team of volunteers. As an organizing team, we have all volunteered before so we knew what is expected of volunteers. There was a lovely mix of those who have done it before and few who have never done any volunteering. What a team though, they all worked really hard. Speaking personally, I am so proud of them, they made this event for me. Not once did I have to worry about if something was done or not being done. They just made it happen. Whilst I have said this before I cannot thank them enough for being such an amazing team, they exceeded all my expectations.
Last year thanks to William Durkin we had such an amazing lineup, and yet this year lineup was even better! A few days before the event I was looking through the list. It would be a fair comment to say I was blown away by the quality of those who choose to speak at our event. The feedback that I have heard so far the attendees also agree 🙂 Looking the depth of experience and knowledge that was shared, was to me awe inspiring. Whats even better is they all came to Scotland to share their knowledge and expertise with us.
It’s a phrase that I've seen often on social media, these are not just words it's something that can be seen and experienced in real life. To experience it is very humbling and gratifying. A few weeks before the event I was contacted by Chris Taylor (@SQLGeordie) one of the speakers. The speakers had decided they wanted to get something for Craig & Karen Porteous who are expecting their second child. It was my privilege and honor to present the gift on their behalf. Hopefully, Craig will forgive me one day for gate-crashing the closing presentation to present the gift? As Craig knew nothing about this gift.
To make the event something that little different we wanted to find a design for the t-shirts that was rather special. Having worked with Emily Chappell over the years on various projects, her quirky designs and sense of style really works for me. So I suggested we should ask Emily for a design for the t-shirts. The first design was not what we wanted. So next we all got together in a coffee shop at lunchtime. We had a chat did some brainstorming, Emily then sent back a design which we all loved (see picture below). Personally, I’ve never been to a technical conference where they sold the t-shirts :-)
First there are few housekeeping duties to take care, which we are just finishing off just now. Followed by some discussions to see what will be the next step 🙂 All I can safely say is keep looking there will be some exciting news soon....
There is saying “if you want to change some things in your life, you have to change somethings in your life”. So this blog post is part of me changing something in my life. Whilst I might think its a good idea to publicly commit to something then work towards that goal, this is not something that I have done for before. So here goes. Yes this was inspired by the T-SQL Tuesday topic in December 2018, which I mis-read the date for :-)
BIML - this just seems to have so much potential, finding myself writing more and more SSIS packages that have patterns, now's the time to learn more and do more.
My preferred method is video training. This means I am in control of the tempo, if I have 5 mins then can watch a video (or part of). On the other hand if I have not grasped something it is possible to repeat it till I get it. One course on Microsoft Virtual Academy (https://mva.microsoft.com/) about the use of the APPLY keyword I had watch several before grasping the concept. At the moment Udemy is working well for me, just make sure you wait till the one of the regular sales.
In person events is something which has been of massive benefit for me. My first visit to SQL Bits was without doubt a career and life changer. Having the opportunity to hear from so many fantastic amazing speakers is a wonderful. Then there is the networking that is another story, even for a confirmed introvert like me!
Books are still a part of my learning. Recently I have found myself reading more using electronic books. There is difference between a physical book and an electronic book. The later is easier for to take my library with me. So it doesn't matter if the book is at home or work.
Teach - the go to person regarding SQL server in my company is me. At the moment I am writing some lessons to teach what I know about SQL Server and related skills. This encourages me to make sure that anything I am teaching that I have a through understanding of the topic.
Blog - writing posts has been patchy, so this is my commitment to write at least one blog post per month. This year I refuse to allow impostor syndrome to put me off (no excuses).
Submit sessions - on this subject, time to take my own advice / encouragement to speak about what I know, My success is built on those who have taken the time to speak and teach, and I want to give back.
Stack-overflow - having attempted to answer some questions previously with varying degrees of success. Rather than waiting, now the strategy is chasing down questions that I can answer / contribute Who knows chances are that it is myself who will learn more than anyone else :-)
Attend another conference - SQL Bits has been and will be the highlight of my technical year (SQL Geek Christmas / New Year). In 2018 my minimum commitment is to attend at least one other event. If possible as a speaker, volunteer, or at least as an attendee.
Soft skills - ask my partner she will tell you these could do with some work. As a self concession introvert, its not easy to work with people. Recently small achievements mean that it inspires me to learn and work harder.
#SQLGLA 2018 - the Glasgow SQL server user group ran, their first event (2107). This was an amazing learning adventure, so we are getting bigger, watch out Glasgow.
Now that I have committed these goals time to go and start making them happen. Expect a summary in, December 2018.
On the the 10th of November 2017 the Glasgow SQL server user group ran #SQLGLA. This was a half day event, primarily for SQL server professionals in Scotland. Although we did have some visitors for further afield. Namely our four MVP speakers, William Durkin, Chrissy LeMaire, Andre Kamman and Rob Sewell.
Now the event is completed, we have gathered and compiled the feedback. Now I feel that there is time to think about the event. It's been a bit a rollercoaster ride, with the full complement of good bits and scary bits. Much of the thanks for making this entire event a success goes to my co-organiser Craig Porteous. Without Craig this event would not have come off at all.
It would be fair to say that both Craig and myself had visions of very few people coming. Other than the speakers, volunteers and ourselves. People did come and as often happens at these, people you did not expect arrived and those we expected did not arrive. All part of the learning curve. My memories of the actual day are, we arrived at the venue, we all ran up and down stairs, realized what we had forgotten to bring, set up the venue ready for our guests. People arrived, attendees, speakers, sponsors. Speakers, spoke, people mingled, chatted, had tea, coffee, sandwiches, then drank beer, & wine. We cleared up, said good bye. Some people head off to the pub to continue the fun. It was a fantastic day, all the objectives we had aimed for were achieved.
As we know these events do not run themselves. There is a dedicated team of selfless people who make these events happen. Craig Porteous my co-organiser put a massive amount of work into making this event happen. Even more his selfless decision to have one more drink at the SQL Bits party meant he met William Durkin, and the conversation resulted in the event :-). We were also very kindly blessed with two very enthusiastic and industrious volunteers Edith and Paul. Who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and just did what needed to be done.
This event was a huge learning experience for Craig and myself. This event combined with running the user group has taught me more than a few lessons. Some of which we have learned, some I am sure we are still learning. Now the event is over, and I have sometime to look back, I will blog about some of the lessons. About running a user group and a larger event such as #SQLGLA.
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.”
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....
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.