(scottish) sql bob blog

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


What do I plan to learn in 2018

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 :-) 

What do I plan to learn this year?

Machine learning - this has been on my agenda for quite sometime now.  This is an area where I see opportunities to apply to my current role in BI

R - Jen Stirrup introduced me to this tool many years ago at SQL Bits, the more I have learned the better it gets.  Now that R is supported by SQL server and PowerBI it's time to go a lot deeper.

Python - having been aware of this language for a while now, whilst looking at looking more closely at machine learning, this is one the languages which is mentioned 

Powershell - having attempted to use this before with limited success, I’ve been inspired by the example of my co-organiser Craig Porteous, Rob Sewell and Chrissy LeMarie.  So I’m going so I’m take this to the next level and see what I can achieve.

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.

How am I going to learn about these topics?

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. 

What I am going to aim to do in 2018 (gulp!!)

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.

There are some other goals I have set myself, they are more personal development that technical development.

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.


We all make mistakes
It happens to us all.  Speaking personally, I do not want to admit to them, or in some cases, I keep making the same ones.  Yes, we all make mistakes its part of life.  In my experience, these can become war stories.  When you talk about the time you <insert horror story here>.  Yes, and I am putting up my hand to say that like anyone else I have made mistakes, some days it feels like that I have made more mistakes than done things right!

What's so hard about making mistakes for me?  The embarrassment of it, maybe I did not know something, or yes that thing that I did well, yes, I did know better.  It's not easy for me to admit mistakes.  Just ask my long-suffering partner (thank goodness, she does not read my blog!).  Yes, I do like to be right and do it the right way.  Admitting that I was wrong, or did something stupid, takes it out of me, it's not easy. 

Hopefully, in my professional life, I am a little better at dealing with my mistakes.  A few years ago, one of my jobs was with a large consultancy company.  I was the person responsible for producing reports for the service desk.  From time to time there were errors with the reports that I was responsible for producing.  During that time, I developed a strategy which I still use to deal with mistakes. 

1) Take responsibility 
It's not easy to put your hand to say you have made a mistake.  On the other hand, how to do you learn from mistakes?  For me, part of growing is learning to take the bad with the good.  Also personally speaking I have more respect for someone who has what it takes to say when they have made a mistake.  Even if you have not made the mistake you find, then take make it your responsibility to fix that mistake.   If I do this then my primary focus is to get the issue resolved and move on.  Finger pointing or the blaming someone is not part of this.
 
2) Find the challenge  
What when wrong?  How did it happen?  Be able to explain what happened, in simple non-technical language that anyone can understand.   Also be confident that you can explain in technical terms to your peers.

3) Fix it 
Get your hands dirty, get involved in fixing the issue.   Help find a solution to rectify the challenge or work with the people fixing the challenge if you can.  For me, I have and do still learn so much just from fixing mistakes. 

4) Prevent it! 
Better to have a fence at the cliff edge than a hospital at the bottom.  What will stop it happening the mistake happening again?  An extra check of something, a checklist of things to do in the same situation. 

Is there something I missed, do you have a different strategy.  Maybe you disagree? Let me know, every day is school day for 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.