Welcome! I’m Thomas…

SQL University – Professional Development Week

SQL University – Professional Development Week

Welcome back to SQL University. The topic for discussion this week is Professional Development (PD), or as I like to call it, “the value you have and your boss doesn’t want you to know about”. OK, maybe not your boss, but trust me when I tell you that there are a lot of managers out there that wouldn’t know how to help their direct reports find their way out during a fire alarm let alone help to manage their career. It is better for you to take charge of your career now and not wait around for something to happen that forces your hand (like a layoff).

So sit back and let me help you understand a bit about why Professional Development is important and how you can get started taking charge of your career.


I hate to start a blog post with ‘tough love time’, but that’s where we are. So, listen up, because what I am about to say may or may not sit well with you. But that’s OK, because some of you need to hear this.

First thing I want you to do is recognize that you are in control of, and responsible for, your career. Unless your name is ‘Kate Middleton’, no one is going to hand you anything. There is a very good chance that your direct manager has zero interest in helping you advance in your career, especially if that manager fears for the safety of their own job.Look Ma! I'm moving to the upper class!

Your career is what you make of it. You need to take all that you can. It’s like high school or college; the teachers are there for you to use as a resource. The teachers are like a big bucket of water and you need to be a sponge in that bucket. But some people are not sponges, they are bricks. And when you put a brick in water, nothing happens. And that’s is what will happen to your career unless you get up off your arse and take control of your own professional development.

If you decide to wait for good things to happen to you and your career then you are going to be sadly disappointed in the result.

Now that we understand that you are in control of your career, I am going to lay out another scenario for you. What if I told you that I was in a relationship with someone, and that I observed the following things:

  • They try to control me by being bossy or demanding
  • They try to isolate me from others, or create adversity between me and others
  • They try to exert influence over me with money and gifts (and control all my finances)
  • They have a history of bad relationships
  • They claim that I am responsible for the bad things that happen to them
  • They are often possessive of my time, or just me in general (constantly tracking my time, checking up on me)
  • They constantly criticize or belittle me in front of others (or dismisss my accomplishments)
  • They discourage healthy relationships between me and family members
  • They essentially see me as little more than their property, to do with as they please

What would you say to me about this relationship? I can only hope that you would speak up and tell me that all the signs above point to an abusive relationship. Now review that list and see if it applies to your current job. For many, it does, and as is often the case in an abusive relationship, the abused partner feels that they have nowhere else to go.

And that is why I have such passion for this topic. I want everyone to understand that they don’t need to put up with such a working relationship. But unless they have invested time in developing themselves professionally, then they will be stuck.

Like I said before. You are in control, not them. Your career and path is up to you, no one else.

Now let’s get started.


Now that we have established who is in control of your career progress (and why it is important that you be in control), let’s figure out how we are going to get the job done.

First things first, take care of your own house. Know what you are responsible for in your shop. Make sure it is clear as to who-does-what. This is important as it allows for you to have focus on the exact items that are under your control and/or influence. And the reason you want to do that is because you want to be able to start finding areas into which you can take a deeper dive. Most DBAs know a little bit about a lot of topics. But being a generalist is not going to take you very far (unless you are an independent consultant with a book of business built upon being a generalist, but those opportunities are quite rare).

You will want to find two or maybe three things that you can dive into, learn as much as possible about, and leverage that experience as part of your career path. For me, it was the problem of effectively monitoring a medium size (180 servers) environment. The native tools that MS SQL provided were less than adequate and I couldn’t find a 3rd party tool that would give me the basics for both my MS SQL and Sybase ASE instances. At some point I was introduced to Microsoft Operations Manager 2005, which then became Systems Center Operations Manager, which I just call OpsMgr.

My using MOM2005 and OpsMgr 2007 allowed for me to present at PASS in 2007 and again in 2008, showing people how valuable OpsMgr would be when you need to effectively monitor multiple instances at once. By focusing on one part of my core job function and leveraging that into a presentation at PASS in 2007 I was able to start taking control of my career path.

One last note: If you think that showing up to work on time and working extra long hours is going to help you climb the corporate ladder then you’re doing it wrong. Unless those long hours are being spent on your professional development then you are living a pipe dream thinking that someone is going to reward such hard work and dedication with a raise and a promotion. It just does not happen that way for most people. (Sorry, that was more tough love sent your way. But I would rather have you spend time with your wife and kids than in the office late thinking that you’ll be able to buy your own island someday.)


OK, you know you are in control of your career path, and you’ve identified a couple of things that you can focus on in your professional development. But what good will that do you if no one else knows that you have such experience? If you want to develop yourself professionally then you will need to get up and out of your cube and connect with others. The whole idea for PD is to advance yourself as a professional and to possibly open the door for career advancement as a result. And you can’t do that is you keep your knowledge and experience to yourself.

The next step for you is to set an example for others. This can be accomplished at work, certainly, but also important is setting an example outside of work. The easiest thing to do at this point is to get involved. Search out some technical forums such as Serverfault, or one of the sister sites they have for Database Administrators. Get involved there by reading, asking, and answering questions. Start sharing your knowledge with people outside of your cubicle.In my case I looked to join PASS as a way for me to network and interact with other DBA-type folk.

Now, something to keep in mind here is that everything you post is essentially helping to build your brand, as well as your modern resume. So, be polite and professional, no matter what the circumstance.


OK, you’ve made good progress so far. You have some pieces of technology that you are comfortable working with and you have started to share your knowledge with others as well. Now you need to step up your efforts with your communication skills as a whole. If you truly want to master your career then you need to start writing and speaking. (It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, no need to join a speaker circuit.) But you need to find ways to improve your communication skills. And the logical thing to do is to improve upon these skills by leveraging topics you are most comfortable with.

One way to get started with the writing skills is to start a blog. Getting started with a blog is easy enough. It requires a bit of dedication to keep it going, but the payoff is that you get better at communicating your ideas with the written word. And who knows, maybe your blogging will one day result in your writing a book.

Speaking is a harder thing to get started with doing but if you look around you will find opportunities at local user groups and events such as a SQL Saturday. These opportunities will allow for you to hone your skills so that you will feel more comfortable when giving presentations, which is crucial for anyone that wants to control their career path.


If you are looking for other people that routinely offer professional development tips on their blogs, here are five people I would recommend you start following.

  • Andy Leonard (blog | @AndyLeonard)
  • Steve Jones (blog | @way0utwest)
  • Kevin Kline (blog | @kekline)
  • Andy Warren (blog | @sqlandy)
  • Buck Woody (blog | @buckwoody)

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  • Great post Thom and a little tough love every once in a while is good for all of us I think.

    It’s so important, especially if you’re a Data Professional, that YOU take charge and control of your career because no one else will.

    Most of the people around us do not understand what it is we do, never mind worry about how they can help us to grow!

    One of the awesome things about our SQL Server community is that it’s kind of like a great big professional development platform itself, where the more you put in the more you get out.

    • Thomas LaRock


      Great point you made there…most folks have NO IDEA what we do, so why should we expect them to help us grow? I was fortunate to work for one manager that understood how it didn’t matter what I was doing. He didn’t need to know the details, but he knew it was important to be a coach for me and help me grow professionally.

      I doubt I would be where I am today without his help.

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  • Tom,
    Thank you for another great blog post. You hit oil on this one. This one of my favorite blog posts (I am not only talking about SQL blogs)

    It is surprises me to know that the majority of the people in IT just don’t understand that they control their own destiny. I guess this leaves more open doors for us?

    Anyways I am going back to my new baby. I just wanted to congratulate you on a great blog post.

    • Thomas LaRock


      Congrats to you on the new addition!

  • Very nice post! – really here I can find many things that I can learn for professional dev!

  • richbrownesq

    Really interesting stuff Thomas, particularly the advice – “You will want to find two or maybe three things that you can dive into, learn as much as possible about, and leverage that experience as part of your career path.”

    For me, this is one of the most challenging things. SQL Server is so vast and constantly growing that its difficult to nail down exactly which things to concentrate on. I consider myself a bit of a generalist (jack of “most” trades…definitely master of none!) within SQL Server but don’t have that deep knowledge. One concern I have is that I go deep on a part of SQL Server that isn’t used widespread and actually doesn’t provide my career with long term value.

    • Thomas LaRock


      Good question, “which part of SQL should I focus on?” My first piece of advice would be “whatever it is you enjoy most”. Start with that for now, and don’t worry about where it will be in five years. The next piece of advice would be to just dive into the engine because that stuff doesn’t disappear and is always being used. For example, indexes, locking, wait events, xEvents, etc.

      So, it should be less about a feature and more about a piece of the core product. As you grow in time your interests will change and you’ll branch into different areas naturally. And along the way you will get better at communication, do some networking, and eventually find yourself in a very good place with your career.



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