Getting Started As A SQL Server Professional

I’ll never forget when I first started working with SQL Server. After the initial excitement of diving into something new I launched SSMS and then just sat there looking at a blank query window, with no idea what to do next.

I see a lot of questions online regarding how to get started as a SQL Server professional. Either they have an interest in data and are looking to make a career out of it, or very often they’re in an entirely different role and their company throws data responsibilities on them as well. (Many of us are “Accidental DBA’s”.) In either case, it can be a daunting prospect at first.

I’m here to tell you that you’re going to be fine. Not only is there mountains of information available, but there is also a community of data professionals who have been in your shoes and are more than willing to help you find your way. This article serves as a bit of a foothold, a launching point of sorts to direct you toward those resources and get you moving.

Community

This might seem like a strange place to start, but I think it will help you to begin here. We tend to be loners as IT people, hiding in our dark corners and interacting with others as little as possible. But there is a wealth of knowledge out there held by your colleagues, and many of them are eager to share it with you. Your first step as a young SQL Server professional should be getting connected with PASS. This is the Professional Association for SQL Server, and they have a number of resources to help get you the training you need. There are user groups, both physical and virtual, SQL Saturday events, as well as the yearly PASS Summit. Getting connected with them early on in my career was a tremendous blessing to me, and I know it would be to you as well. Half the battle is not knowing what you don’t know, and they have resources for every level of your career whether you’re a complete beginner, intermediate, or advanced.

Also, one thing you’ll learn at PASS is that the SQL Server community is very active online. You can easily connect with them via Twitter or Slack. On Twitter, just search for #sqlhelp. World-class professionals watch it throughout the day to provide feedback and assistance. This includes many of those that speak at PASS Summit and other events.

One last note on community: don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone has been new, it’s okay.

Online Resources

There are a couple of resources that I did not find until much later in my career, and I wish I’d had them sooner. One is w3schools. This site gives a great tutorial of the SQL language, and will get you well on your way to making good use of it. A second is SQL Fiddle. This is a fantastic resource, especially for those that do not have a sandbox environment to practice in. It lets you build schemas of various database types (MSSQL, MySQL, etc) and test your query syntax against them. When you’re just starting out with the SQL language, these two sites combined are a great way to practice.

Another great website for new SQL Server professionals is Brent Ozar’s. There is a “Free Fundamentals” section on his training page. He is also well known for his Blitz scripts, which allow you to quickly ascertain the health of a SQL instance and take care of common issues. All of his First Responder Kit is available to download for free.

Also, don’t forget about YouTube. There is a ton of great content out there, including big names like Microsoft and PASS.

Books

Not every learner is the same, but for me books were what first helped me really start to understand SQL Server in depth. The Training Kit and Exam Ref series by Microsoft are very good. The Training Kit is what I used at the time, starting with the one for the exam I wanted to take first. I read it cover to cover, passed the exam, then did the same for the next one. There are a lot of boring stretches along the way, but in the end you cover a wealth of information.

I also see Itzik Ben-Gan recommended a lot, particularly his T-SQL Fundamentals book. Incidentally, he also co-authored some of the books mentioned above.

Conclusion

There are a great many other resources out there as well, these are just a few that I’m aware of and that have been beneficial to me. I’ll be asking the community to contribute to this as well, so stay tuned for updates!

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