SQL Server: Support the SQL Server Community

There are a number of ways you can actively participate in the SQL Server community—all of which increase your knowledge and value.

Excerpted from “How to Become an Exceptional DBA,” published by Red Gate Books (2008).

Brad McGehee

Many SLQ Server DBAs regard their job simply as a job—a way to make money. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this philosophy, most exceptional DBAs tend to think a little differently.

Instead of just focusing on what their profession can bring to them, they also consider what they can bring to their profession. While at first this might seem contradictory, there are many benefits to sharing your knowledge with the SQL Server community at large.

The Answer Is in the Question

The most common feedback from DBAs who spend a lot of time answering questions on SQL Server forums is this: “I’ve learned more from answering questions than I could learn from any other source.” In other words, by giving up some of their own time to help others, they’ve ended up benefiting enormously from the experience.

Exceptional DBAs use the questions posed in forums as a way to learn more about how SQL Server behaves. For example, there might be a question posted in a SQL Server forum asking what the best way to optimize a particular query is. The question includes information on the current table schema, indexes, the data and the query that’s running slowly.

An exceptional DBA will regard such a question as an opportunity to improve their skills. They’ll consider the question carefully, even doing additional research and testing if necessary, before providing a detailed and thoughtful answer. By repeating the process of reading, analyzing and answering questions, the exceptional DBA will significantly increase the depth of their SQL Server knowledge.

In other cases, exceptional DBAs will encounter questions that touch areas or behavior they’ve never seen before, and that they have no idea how to answer. Again, such questions are often taken as a challenge, and they will research until an answer is found, learning something new about SQL Server in the process, broadening their knowledge base.

Every time a DBA writes a blog entry, an article, a book or makes a presentation to other DBAs, they have an opportunity to learn more about SQL Server from the feedback they receive from their audience. Virtually every time you participate in the SQL Server community, you’ll be rewarded with new learning experiences.

Make New Contacts

However you share your knowledge and experience with the SQL Server community, you’ll also be meeting new people. If you participate in forums, you’ll meet DBAs from all over the world. If you write blog entries, you get to exchange ideas with other DBAs. If you write articles or books, you will attract an audience who enjoys your work, and who often encourages you to write even more.

If you make presentations to local user groups or national conferences, you get the opportunity to not only meet other DBAs, but also industry leaders and Microsoft SQL Server product team members. These people can provide insight into the industry that you can’t get anywhere else. Making new contacts is useful for making new friends, finding new jobs and learning information to which most people don’t have access.

Sharing your SQL Server knowledge, plus making new friends and contacts, will also help you to develop other essential traits of the exceptional DBA. For example:

  • Writing forum posts, blog entries, articles and books will help you develop your written communications skills.
  • Making new contacts helps develop your people skills.
  • Speaking before groups gives you more experience as an oral communicator.
  • Volunteering for local or national user groups helps develop leadership, teamwork and project management skills.
  • Developing your own Web site helps develop your writing and coding skills.
  • Writing and sharing Transact-SQL scripts helps develop your Transact-SQL skills.

The examples could go on and on. Almost anything you do to help the SQL Server community will also help boost your skill set and experience.

Another comment you’ll hear from DBAs who contribute to the SQL Server community is that it’s just plain fun to do so. Whenever you answer a forum question, it’s great when the person who asked the question thanks you for your time and effort. When you run a Web site or write a book, it’s a great feeling to receive “fan” mail from people who read and benefitted from what you wrote. Making it into the “top 10 posters” list on a forum, for the month or year, can give you a great sense of achievement. Helping others can also help you gain more self confidence, which is another important trait of the exceptional DBA.

Become a SQL Server MVP

Microsoft recognizes that DBAs who help other DBAs provide a great benefit to the SQL Server community, besides helping to spread the word about their tools and technology. To help promote and reward community involvement, Microsoft developed its very successful Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award program.

Essentially, the MVP Award program recognizes people who are technical and community leaders in their sphere of Microsoft technology (this covers any Microsoft software, not just SQL Server). These are people who are not only subject matter experts, but who also share their technical knowledge with their respective communities. A typical MVP might:

  • Contribute heavily to technical forums and newsgroups
  • Write blogs, articles and even books
  • Speak at user groups or conferences
  • Lead local user groups, or put on free conferences
  • Run community Web sites
  • Beta test Microsoft software and provide feedback

When Microsoft recognizes a person as an MVP, they’re recognizing the person’s contributions to the community. Along with intangible benefits, such as industry recognition, this award comes with many direct privileges and benefits, including:

  • Access to a private MVP Web site and news groups
  • Access to private software betas
  • The ability to contact Microsoft Product Managers and developers with specific questions
  • Special training and conferences
  • The ability to offer specific feedback on SQL Server

So how do you become a SQL Server MVP? It comes down to how much you contribute to the SQL Server community. Microsoft employees and current MVPs regularly monitor who’s contributing to the SQL Server community and make MVP nominations based on these contributions.

Periodically, teams within Microsoft review the nominations and make the selections. The MVP Award is made for a single year. To maintain the status of MVP, the MVP must continue to contribute to the community on a regular basis. So how can you best contribute to the SQL Server community?

By this stage, I hope you’re convinced of the many benefits of sharing your skills and knowledge with the rest of the SQL Server community. Here are some of the many different ways you can participate and contribute to the community. These opportunities are not listed in any particular order—just pick the ones that you find the most appealing.

Participate in Forums and News Groups Participating in SQL Server forums (Web-based) and news groups (NNTP-based) are the most common ways to contribute to the SQL Server community. Answering—and asking—questions on these forums will provide many opportunities to learn from other DBAs.

There are many different SQL Server forums, each with their own personality. Some forums aren’t very busy, while others are visited by thousands of people each day. Some forums are very business-like, while others are more relaxed. Some are well-moderated and encourage courtesy and respect at all times, while others are littered with flame wars. Most forums welcome newcomers, but a few are not so welcoming. Some forums focus on specialty areas within SQL Server, while others are more general in their content.

Look around, find a forum you like and that suits your personality, and make it your home. Make it a place you visit regularly, both asking and answering questions. The more you participate in any given forum, the more you become known and the better the rapport you’ll develop with other members of the forum community.

If you actively participate in a forum, you might eventually be asked to become a forum moderator. You could also volunteer to be a moderator. The duties of a forum moderator vary from forum to forum, but they generally involve taking a lead in answering questions, ensuring posts are categorized correctly, settling community disputes and helping to keep spam out of the forum. However, the most important aspect of becoming a forum moderator is that you’ve been recognized as an outstanding contributor of the forum. Here are some of the more popular SQL Server forums:

Participate in Social Networking Groups Many social networking Web sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, have formal and informal SQL Server communities. Members can ask questions, answer questions or just socialize. If you haven’t become involved in either the SQL Server community or social networking, then participating here can introduce you to both:

Write and Share Scripts One of the most valuable, unsung contributions you can make to the SQL Server community is to write and share useful Transact-SQL scripts. For example, if you have a clever script to kill all Server Process IDs, or a script to make backups easier, other DBAs would certainly like to see and use them. Many DBAs write their own scripts to make administrative tasks easier. Sharing them with the SQL Server community is a great contribution.

If you have scripts, how do you share them? There are many options. You can post them:

  • In Transact-SQL script libraries available on some Web sites
  • In forums
  • On your own blogs, other blogs or on your own Web site

If you want to make it easy for people to use your scripts, be sure to include a free public license as part of your code, as described at the Free Software Foundation Web site. This way, people know that it’s safe to freely use your scripts. However you share you scripts, they’ll be greatly appreciated by the SQL Server community. Here are a couple of places to share: SQLServerCentral.Com Script Archive and Microsoft Codeplex.

Join a User Group Many cities have a local SQL Server user group and/or a .NET user group you can join. User groups are a good place for database and development professionals to get together and share their experiences, make new contacts, find out about new job opportunities, learn from presentations and socialize.

Most—but not all—SQL Server user groups are associated with the Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS). PASS is an international organization for SQL Server professionals. Most local user group members are either part-time or full-time DBAs, or SQL Server developers.

Some DBAs, especially DBA developers, choose to join a .NET user group. In fact, there are many more .NET user groups than there are SQL Server user groups. Most local .NET user groups are associated with INETA, an international organization that focuses on .NET development.

There are many different ways to participate in your local user group. Some people attend for the learning and networking, and don’t participate much beyond that. Others get more fully involved and help with leadership, marketing, managing the group’s Web site, speaking at meetings, and even putting together day-long training events, such as SQLSaturday events, TechFests or CodeCamps. Participation in a user group is a great way to improve your people, speaking, project management and leadership skills.

If you don’t live in a city with a SQL Server or .NET user group, you can consider starting your own. If you do decide to go this route, it’s worth approaching either PASS (List of SQLPass.org Local User Groups) or INETA (List of INETA .NET User Groups) for assistance.

Besides getting involved in a local user group, you can join and participate in PASS or INETA at the national level. Each year, both groups offer national conferences, in addition to smaller, one-day events. As with joining a local user group, you can participate as a member, offer your services as a volunteer to help out at one of the national events or volunteer to make a presentation at an event.

Some DBAs like to participate at both the local and national levels, while others prefer to participate in one or the other. If there’s no local user group you can attend, and you don’t want to start up your own, then you might want to consider joining at a national level (SQLPass.org SQL Server Users Group or INETA.org .NET Users Group).

However you decide to become an active participant in the SQL Server community, you will no doubt find the rewards far exceed the effort in doing so.

Brad McGehee

Brad McGehee, MCTS, MCSE+I, MCSD, is the director of DBA education for Red Gate Software. He’s a frequent speaker at industry seminars and the author and coauthor of more than 15 technical books and 300 published articles. His most recent books include “How to Become an Exceptional DBA (2nd Edition),” “Brad’s Sure Guide to SQL Server 2008: The Top 10 New Features for DBAs,” “Mastering SQL Server Profiler,” and “Brad’s Sure Guide to SQL Server Maintenance Plans.” These books are available free in PDF format at: sqlservercentral.com/Books.

 Learn more about “How to Become an Exceptional DBA” at red-gate.com/our-company/about/book-store.