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What book are you following?

Working as a database consultant, I am asked many times 'how do I do this?' Or a favorite request, 'I've got a quick question ... can you tune this query for me'. This is usually from someone who has not put much, if any, effort into studying sound data management practices.

While I can understand them asking I wish they could understand that is no way to gain the skills they need to have in this industry. The question I've learned to ask them is 'what book are you following'? Usually the answer is 'book?'.

Seriously, how can someone expect to 'do it right', just by clicking away in the UI without any guidance? Or by viewing a series of partial 3 minute tutorials on youtube during their lunch hour? And nearly each video is by a different author because they had a video on your topic of interest when you searched.

Please hear this ... the user interfaces we are given these days are extremely non-intuitive. They may not look so at first but just try to use them to accomplish a task without any self-study. How far did you get. Let me guess ... 'almost', at best. In fact, there is very little in 'moving data around' that is intuitive to a person at all. So how can user interfaces to assist with that goal be intuitive? They all have a specific workflow and each graphical element may or may not have significant functionality depending upon the context (from their perspective) when you clicked on it.

Yet it is nearly unheard of to get a solid high-level understanding of how to approach using a powerful product unless it is from a professional trainer. More likely you will get an endless series of 'how-to' topics organized in some non-intuitive manner. Even presented as a wiki, so you can jump all around to different web pages while not being able to print the topic, or even find the last page you visited. (Just try to synchronize Microsoft's index of topics with the current article after a bit of jumping around. Or print it out in case you wanted an idea of how many topics you have never heard of).

Also, the 'free training' you can get on youtube typically leaves out an awful lot of relevant details. And sometime the video title is not accurate either. So why should that presenter be trusted? Most of those videos are there for the author to promote themselves, not actually train you. That's why there are dedicated training sites with hours and hours of training videos. Notice the keyword hours, not minutes. Because that is typically how long it takes to gain solid skills in something new.

Even worse is trying to learn by following the 'wrong tutorial'. Ever waste hours, or even days, trying to get a tutorial to work but it just won't? Some of them are thrown together so hastily they are nothing but a frustrating waste of your time. But if you are using a bad one to learn you will probably think you are doing something wrong. And put even more time in an unachievable task.

The chances of 'doing it right' are extremely slim unless you are following the guidance of someone you understand across all topics of the subject matter. If you try to pick up a tidbit from that blog, another from this video, etc. you will certainly be left with an incomplete, and possibly inconsistent, viewpoint. But that's what most of us do/have done. And why it takes years to master a topic.

What you need is a book written by an experienced author whose writing style you understand. Someone who

  • is passionate about the topic

  • has much practical experience with the subject matter

  • cares about you, the reader or consumer of their content

And whose publisher did not ruin the book's value by:

  • trying to paste it into a previously published book 'layout' (Ever see a Group Policy section headings in a book about SQL Server? How carefully was that one reviewed?)

  • make the font 8 pt just so they didn't have to increase the number of pages

  • publishing technical inaccuracies (We're just the publisher!)

  • merely including Microsoft's samples as the major content

  • deciding not to include conceptual diagrams

And who also had it proofread by other professionals that understand the topic and took the proofreading assignment seriously.

Finally, be careful about the free training so many sites seem to offer. Many times they are offered merely to get your contact info as well as give a junior resource practice with the topic and public speaking. My favorite is a presenter referring to a vbCrLf constant in SSIS as 'VB something or other'. But he gave an entire presentation on advanced subject matter. I pretty much stopped using their materials at that time. When I stop working to sharpen my skills I want it to be quality time and content. Not a chance for someone else to improve their skills. In that case they should be paying me!

In case anyone is interested our skills have improved the most by using books authored by APress and Wrox. We've used many, nearly all, publishers over the years but those two have the highest level of quality in our opinion.

Thanks for reading!

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