As part of my role as editor-in-chief of SQLServerPedia , I am attending my first Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit in Seattle this month. A lot of DBAs I meet are very keen to attend these events as the standard of speakers and quality of content is so high. Travel, accommodation and attendance costs are often prohibitive, however, let alone getting the time away from the office. Getting managers' approval to attend and justifying the cost can be difficult, especially for those of us based outside the U.S. PASS also runs a European event in April each year in Germany and, in the U.K., we have the SQL Bits conference. Those who wish to attend can still run into the same objections, however.
I work closely with the SQL Server community on a daily basis as we syndicate over 65 MCM, MVP and DBA blogs at SQLServerPedia, and the real buzz recently has been around the area of professional development, so much so that we've dedicated part of the site to it. Nothing compares to experience on the job working with SQL Server, but what should you do to push yourself onto the next level? It used to be a case of working towards the certifications available for SQL Server. While this is important, a potential employer would certainly be impressed if you've taken advantage of some other options open to you.
Previously, the lucky SQL Server professionals out there began with a good mentor. Others read books and spent a lot of time searching the internet for solutions to issues they faced, or just trying to learn about a new subject. A lot of potential solutions I used to find online never included confirmation from the questioner that they worked successfully, or were from an unknown source. Recent developments have made this process so much easier. Resources such as SQLServerPedia or the Twitter search terms (#sql, #sqlserver, #sqlhelp for example) give you access to other professionals - often MVPs - who will happily offer advice. I find it most useful when someone out there finds a good article or blog post and shares the link with the community. A little time spent reading each day greatly increases your knowledge, and often leads to further research into related topics.
There are many smaller events, often free and outside of working hours, in which you can get involved. In the U.S., there are many SQL Saturday events taking place all over the country, SQL Server User groups can be found worldwide. Attendees will often tweet live updates from the events, or blog about what they learned for those who can't attend. Even better, in some cases, you can download content and videos.
This would be the first step - just attending and learning. I've never been to a SQL Server event where I didn't learn something. The next step is to take part. The initially terrifying experience of standing up in front of your peers and speaking about a topic can be one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do. It's unusual for IT professionals to present in front of people, but you learn your subject better than ever as a result, and it is a great way to promote both yourself, and, in some cases, your employer. Some user groups will have "nugget" sessions, where attendees can present for five minutes on any subject. This is a great way to get started. User groups and conferences also provide a great opportunity to network with other SQL Server professionals, and this can be the most valuable part of attending.
So, I suggest you get involved - start a blog to share your experiences, use Twitter, go to your user group (or start one up) and, if you feel you can, start presenting. It's great to give something back to the community that provides so much for you.
If you are coming to PASS, be sure to stop by the Quest stand and say hello.
Let me know your thoughts.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iainkick or visit my blog: www.iainkick.com