Welcome! I’m Thomas…

Wanna Get Good at SQL Server?

Wanna Get Good at SQL Server?

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell mentions about how most people need roughly 10,000 hours of training at something before they are an expert. Despite my disagreeing with many of the book’s assertions, that was one statement I did not take issue with. I know that it takes dedication and hard work to achieve a goal. I’ve seen it, time and time again. The earliest known examples I was able to witness were (no surprise) related to my experiences as a basketball coach.

Many years ago I met a man named Rob Fodor while we were working at the same summer camp together as coaches. Rob had been a standout player in high school and college and was even drafted by his hometown Detroit Pistons. One thing you noticed right away about Rob was that he could shoot the basketball really well. The first time I saw him give a talk to the whole camp about shooting he spent the first ten minutes going through drills with just one hand (because if you can’t shoot with one, you can’t shoot with two, the second hand is just for balance anyway). So Rob would be out there warming up (and showing off) with one hand shots from all over the court and using both hands. He kept backing up until he would make half court shots with just one hand…either hand…

Part of Rob’s talk was about how long it took for him to become a good shooter. Not just good, actually, but so good he would be drafted by a pro team. That was his goal, he wanted to play professional basketball. And in order to be the best, Rob knew what needed to be done.

He needed to practice.

Rob would shoot 2,000 shots a day. He did 200 shots from 10 different spots on the floor. Know how long it takes to do 2,000 shots? Hours, that’s how long. But he did it, because he had a goal. But Rob knew something else, too.

See, Rob knew that there was some other kid that was shooting 2,000 shots a day as well. And that on some Friday night, that kid would go to the movies, and Rob would go do his 2,000 shots, and in Rob’s words:


And that gave Rob the incentive to do the same thing, over and over. His hard work would put him at a certain level of ability, and instead of going to the movies he would go practice and would then have the edge on those that chose to take the night off.

So why am I telling you this story?

If you want to be good at SQL Server, you gotta put in the hours. You can’t just go take an exam and expect that will make you a DBA. There is no substitute for experience. Right now, you and another database professional are of equal skill. Tonight they are going out for a bacon martini (or two). You are going to stay home and build some VMs in order to install the CTP3 of SQL2012  just so you can try out some new features.

Come tomorrow, guess who will have the edge on the other?

Trust me, the hard work will pay off in the long run, it always does.

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  • This is a good post, Tom. You bring up an important point –> always be improving yourself. I’ve been exploring a similarly themed blog post and I probably will hold off on it now but the inspiration? Medical journals.

    Doctors who fail to keep up with the medical journals and changing standards of care are potentially at risk for negligence. They are expected to be up to speed on what’s new.

    As data professionals we should also.

    All that being said, by all accounts and reviews of that new Steve Jobs authorized biography, one of his biggest disappointments in life was that of not being there enough for his family. Not being the father he should have been.

    So yeah, get hyper focused and grow with honest effort in SQL Server and be the one who knows the latest features in the next release around the corner, etc. But enjoy life and be there for the other aspects of your life just as much, if not more.

    You may not be a DBA or Developer in 20 years, but you’ll still be a friend, son, daughter, spouse, parent, etc.

  • Excerpt from a commencement speech in 1996 by then Coca Cola CEO Brian Dyson –

    “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit … and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

    You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for Balance in your life.”

    • Thomas LaRock

      Great comments Mike, spot on as usual.

  • Great post Thomas!

    Mike has added more value to it 🙂

  • This post really resonates with me and provides a timely reminder of why we do what we do (i.e. put in the hard graft).

    This might sound daft but I sometimes feel guilty about the amount of “work” I put in. Wondering if perhaps I’ve got my priorities all mixed up. To those outside of the SQL world it probably looks that way.

    As Mike Walsh highlighted, it’s all about finding the right balance that works for YOU. Sounds so much easier than it actually is of course.

    Great post, thought provoking stuff at always Tom!

  • Mike, that was a great quote you shared there by the way!

  • Marc Bacchi

    Thanks, great post Tom!

    It rings true with me, having to get started in the beginning stages of DBA work and a new career path. This post definitely reiterates the truth that simple hard work and lots of practice are what’s going to really get a person into the career they want.
    I’ll be foregoing the procrastination and spending as many hours practicing the seemingly dull practice tasks, but in the long run it will pay off with experience. Who knows, one day soon I may actually be able to tell someone how to perform a SQL Server task by speaking in code. Now that’s the result of hours and hours of immersion.


  • Matthew

    So if he took one shot every ten seconds that would take close to six hours a day for the 2000 shots. And then to reach the 10,000 hours to become an expert he would have to do that for 1818 days which is 5 years.

    Doesnt sound right. Plenty of people become pro players without that much practice

    • Thomas LaRock


      I think you are confusing the topics. Rob didn’t need 10k hours to be a great shooter, and for some folks it does come natural. But Rob knew that for his size and speed if he wanted to play basketball professionally he was going to need to become a great shooter. not good, but great. So he put in the time.

      Also, plenty of players turn pro simply based upon size, some on speed, some on ability. That’s how teams are formed, by assembling people of different skills together. Not everyone needs to be a great shooter. Ask Shaq about his free throw percentage for his career. But Rob was not going to get a job unless he could shoot. he was of average height and average speed, so he needed to excel at something in order to earn a scholarship and ultimately get drafted.

  • Hi Thomas..
    Thanks for such a great example..
    I m not digging into stat of this exampele ..becoz i just need to understan what you want to say for this .. thnx for inspiration .. i really need to update myself!

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