Welcome back to this weeks installment of SQL University. The topic today is Professional Development and I am going to do my best to help you understand and navigate your way through. Professional development can mean a lot of different things to different people, and sometimes the amount of information available can be overwhelming. So, I am going to keep it as simple as possible and try to take you through what I see as the natural progression of levels for professional development with regards to MS SQL database professionals.

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If you want to get started on any professional development path then the first thing you need to do is to recognize that you are not in this alone. No DBA is an island, we all need some help. In most shops there are very few DBAs, if any, and as a result we are always in need of some help from the outside.

I cannot stress this first part enough. You simply need to recognize that no matter how good you think you are, there is always room for improvement somewhere. Even executives have retreats to work on the skills they feel they need to improve upon.

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OK, so you’ve decided that you need to seek some help, that’s great. Where do you turn to next? Open a book, or two, or read some blogs. There may even be a magazine or two still around before they go extinct. The point is to start reading. By reading you will start to get an idea about the type of information that exists out there. You may find that some topics are easier to read than others. If so, then you may have a natural affinity for those topics and you may want to explore them deeper.

Another step to take in your professional development is to take on the role of ‘mad SQL scientist’. Go home and build your own lab. Experiment with new features and functionality. Try doing some of the things you have been reading about. Make an effort to do learning outside of the office as well as inside.

Another piece that ties with this extra learning is certifications. I am not going to advocate the current certification exams but I would say that they do serve as a good way for you to do some reading, some experimentation, and then apply them to help you pass an exam and achieve a certification that can (and often is) used to compare you to others.

Another place to turn are forums, as they can provide a great way to learn new things simply by reading the questions and trying to research the answers yourself. If I could recommend just one forum it would be ServerFault. If I could recommend two forums, it would be ServerFault and StackOverflow. You can find additional forums at places such as MSDN, TechNet, SQLTeam, and SQLServerCentral. You won’t find me frequenting any forums, but I do drop in from time to time.

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By now you have been spending enough time helping yourself so at this level of professional development you should be thinking about how best you can give back to others. Three ways immediately come to mind: writing, speaking, and teaching.

You can start writing by blogging. If blogging is not for you, then consider writing an article for a website such as SQLServerCentral, or MSSQLTips. Or just start doing some of the documentation around the office that you have been putting off while you spent all that time reading. You could also consider actively participating in discussions inside the forums I mentioned earlier.

You can get started speaking at local user groups, Code Camps, or SQL Saturday events. I would advise that you get comfortable with the idea of writing before you start thinking about speaking, much in the same manner that you would learn to walk before you would run. That is not to say that you must do some writing first, just that I have found it helps people as a natural progression.

If you truly want to learn something then there is one method that trumps all others: teaching. When you have to teach a concept to others then you inevitably become better at the subject. Anyone that has ever tried to teach knows exactly what I am talking about. You can get started teaching others by doing something as simple as hosting a brown-bag lunch seminar at work.

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You’ve done some great work so far. You have been reading, you have been writing, you have been teaching others. What activity could you do that would be above and beyond all of that? One word: volunteer.

Find a way for you to volunteer your time to help others in your profession. For me that choice was easy: I volunteer my time to PASS. For you it could be different, but the idea is the same. Take your professional skills and use them to help others.

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If you are a database professional using MS SQL Server then the choice is clear: join PASS. PASS is an independent, not-for-profit association, dedicated to supporting, educating, and promoting the Microsoft SQL Server community. If you want to connect, learn, and share your knowledge with other database professionals, then PASS should be your first stop.

If you are looking for some professional development books then I can point you to my library as well as my own book, DBA Survivor.

Thanks for coming this week!