Robert Davis is hosting T-SQL Tuesday #008 this month and the topic is Gettin' Schooled (learning and teaching). I started writing this blog post with two sections; how I learn, and how I teach. I quickly realized that everything in my teaching section, also belonged in my learning section because every time I write something or do a presentation it is always a learning experience. It really goes back to the saying that "The best way to learn is to teach." (Frank Oppenheimer). So, how do I learn?
I spend a lot of time reading. What exactly I read depends on where I am, how much time I have, and what exactly I am trying to learn.
I always have several SQL Server books around; however, I rarely ever read them from start to finish. I generally only read books when I am not around a computer and my focus tends to jump around a lot. For example, if my focus at the time is indexing, I sift through all the books I have and read the chapters on indexing. That way I can get a few different perspectives on the subject, reinforce what I have learned, and pick up different pieces of information from each book. I do however always have a book that I am trying to read from start to finish, but it rarely ever happens.
Blogs are something that I read on a daily basis. I do more of your “scanning the newspaper and reading what catches your eye” kind of thing here. New blog posts are a great way to keep up with what is going on in the SQL Server world. Blogs are a great way to get information about other peoples “real world” experiences. I use Google’s Reader to aggregate all the new posts for the blogs that I follow. If you are not sure what blogs to follow, PASS has a great list to start from here. And yes, all of these are in my feed. The last I checked, I had to do some work to the OPML file to get it to work, so I will be more than happy to share mine with anyone that is interested. Although, there are so many good bloggers that have started up recently, I probably need to update my list also.
I use books online a lot. I don’t even want to try to remember every single option that exists for every single command. The nice thing about Books Online is that it is context sensitive. If I am writing a specific SQL command, I can just highlight the keyword, hit F1, and Books Online will open to the correct page explaining all the options for the command. Hitting the F1 key also works for dialog boxes you have open in SQL Server as well. If I am not quite sure what an option means on the screen, I can simply hit F1.
White Papers offer an in-depth look into a specific topic within SQL Server. They are definitely the place to go when you want deep technical insight on a certain area. For example, there is a White Paper that covers just about everything you would ever want to know about the tempdb. You generally can’t get that kind of information from books; there’s just not enough room. Plus, White Papers are written by experts that specialize in that specific topic. Until you can find a 100 chapter book written by 100 different authors, your not going to get the level of detail you can in White Papers. You can find a great list of White Papers here. You can also find several good White Papers on the Microsoft Certified Master Pre-reading list.
I use iTunes to subscribe to podcasts that are related to SQL Server. I also try to catch as many live webcasts as I can. Since webcasts are usually around an hour, I don’t make time to go back and watch them unless I am researching a specific topic. MidnightDBA and Steve Jones both have good podcasts. I also try to catch a webcast from SQLLunch or one of the PASS Virtual Chapters when it fits in with my schedule.
There is a world outside your desk. Get involved. Other people are having the same issues you are. Some people can help you solve your problems and you can help people solve theirs as well.
Forums are the perfect place to learn as well as teach. When I started answering questions on the forums, I learned about things I would have never known. I have seen issues that people were having that I would have never had exposure to if I weren’t participating in the forums. You can see several different ways to solve the same problem, so even if you know how to do something already, often times you can find an ever better way.
Now that you have learned all this new information, write it down. Since you are writing it down, you may as well write it where other people can take advantage of it. When I started my blog it was mainly a place for me to store some things online where I could easily access it from anywhere. It was really just some scripts with hardly any explanations. I have gone back and cleaned up some of those old posts, so hopefully other people can take advantage of some of it. I also started writing for websites like MSSQLTips and SQLServerCentral because it reaches a wider audience, hence more people can benefit from the material.
Asking for Help
#SQLHelp that is. If you don’t have a twitter account, go get one and start following a bunch of DBA’s. I was reluctant to get a twitter account, but I am really glad I did. It’s like standing around the water cooler with a bunch of techno geeks. Sometimes the conversation is serious and sometimes not so much.
I like to go to User Group meetings. You can find a list of all the PASS Chapters here. When I lived in Georgia, there really wasn’t a User Group close enough for me to attend, so I started one. Even though I have moved, they are still having meetings. Your Local User Group is the perfect way to you to start presenting as well. User Groups are always looking for presenters and more than happy to hand over the podium to one of the locals. Presenting is another one of those win/win situations where you gain experience by helping other people.
Finally, I try to keep on top of the latest features or just features I am unfamiliar with by installing the Developer Edition of SQL Server on my computer. I need a place I can mess around with the features where I don’t have to worry about making mistakes. Most of the times production issues and projects help keep me up to speed, but I still have to go out of my way to learn and get some hands on practice with the new features.
This whole post can easily be wrapped up in three words - Connect, Share, and Learn.