How to Learn SQL Server BI

Professional Development

One of the best parts of being involved with SQL Server is the wealth of information that is shared by professionals in the industry. This isn’t a skillset that has an impossible Catch-22 attached. In other words, you don’t have to get a job using SQL Server before you can learn SQL Server!

There are a variety of ways to learn SQL Server and MS BI ranging from free as in beer to a week long cruise to immersion events into the inner workings of the technologies. In this article I’m going to detail how I’ve been expanding my knowledge over the past couple years and, of course, learning on a continual basis.

Books

There’s just something about having a physical copy of a text that helps you learn and feel like you’re really committed. Luckily there’s no shortage of excellent literature about SQL Server, Business Intelligence, and Data Warehousing. But how can we cull the good from the not-so-good and decide how to spend our hard earned cash?

Just do it.

It’s no secret that I’m a big advocate of Amazon. My typical shopping process involves searching Amazon’s vast listings for a specific topic, sorting by best-selling and relevant, and then choosing the book(s) with the highest average score while applying a minimum to the number of reviews submitted. This process hasn’t failed me in finding some gems in the industry.

Another avenue to finding great books is through recommendations by bloggers. Some professionals write reviews on their blogs and offer their insight on the book’s merits. That said, Amazon also has many devoted reviewers who spend substantial time writing quality reviews. On the other hand, you likely know the qualifications of the blogger so it’s still useful to get recommendations from them.

Here are some of the books that I’ve purchased on Amazon. Note that I haven’t read through all of them; in fact, they’re all sitting on my desk slowly being picked apart!

Databases and Data Warehousing

The Data Warehouse ETL Toolkit: Practical Techniques
4.9 out of 5 stars (14 customer reviews)
Takes a deep dive into DW ETL issues such as staging, delivering dimensions and fact tables, metadata, and even real-time ETL systems.

The Data Warehouse Toolkit: The Complete Guide to Dimensional Modeling (Second Edition)
4.4 out of 5 stars (37 customer reviews)
Demonstrates concepts of dimensional modeling in a relevant manner by introducing concepts in different environments in each chapter (e.g. retail, health insurance, manufacturing)

Databases Demystified (Demystified)
4.8 out of 5 stars (24 customer reviews)
Highly recommended even if you’re not new to database development. I still refer to it in order to make sure I’m following third-normal form when I design OLTP database projects.

Microsoft Business Intelligence

MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-448): Microsoft® SQL Server® 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance (Self-Paced Training Kits)
4.4 out of 5 stars (11 customer reviews)
I’m currently studying for the 70-448 Microsoft certification using this book and so far, so good.

Programming in General

Pro C# 2010 and the .NET 4 Platform
4.5 out of 5 stars (38 customer reviews)
If you want to learn C# and .NET 4, this is a highly rated book. I’ve read through the first third or so.

Beginning ASP.NET 4: in C# and VB (Wrox Programmer to Programmer)
4.8 out of 5 stars (27 customer reviews)
Likewise, if you want to add ASP.NET to your knowledge base, this is a good read.

Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction
4.7 out of 5 stars (141 customer reviews)
More for pure programmers, this book has many best practices for the art and science of software engineering.

Essential C++
4.1 out of 5 stars (30 customer reviews)
A straightforward book that will teach you both the basics and the intricacies of C++ programming and development.

There are many, many other great books for SQL Server and programming. Search Amazon for “SQL Server 2008” and you’ll get a long list of well-reviewed literature, and “programming” as a topic has a metric ton of great reads.

Online Video Training

There are times when learning through listening and watching can be more beneficial than reading a book. Luckily there are many resources online for SQL Server and BI training ranging from free community resources to subscription training services.

Tons of video content

One service I recommend is the library of Pluralsight training videos. They not only cover SQL Server and BI technologies but also dive into a wide array of programming disciplines including .NET, ASP, C#, iOS, and Android. It’s easy to get distracted by all of the knowledge available; I sometimes have to remind myself I’m there to learn about SQL Server! A limited trial is available and students have the option of signing up for three free months. I recommend paying for a month or two and learning as much as you can. Even better, see if your boss will cover the cost. It’s much cheaper than bringing in trainers!

Training videos can also get in-depth and quite technical. For example, check out Brent Ozar’s contributions to SQL Server tuning, DBA tasks, and Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) preparation videos.

Blogs

SQL Server DBA Blog

Professionals around the world are getting into the habit of blogging about their experiences and knowledge. While readers can pick up some useful technical tidbits by regularly reading blogs, an added benefits is that blogs sometimes exhibit the human side of the SQL Server industry. Motivational pieces, “soft skills” techniques, and opinions about one technology versus another are just some of the possible topics that bloggers cover.

Here are some blogs to get you started:

Stacia Misner, an expert in MS BI development and training, Founder of Data Inspirations
Paul Randal, SQL Server expert, co-founder SQLSkills
Kimberly L. Tripp, SQL Server expert, co-founder SQLSkills
Brent Ozar, SQL Server expert, MCM, co-founder Brent Ozar PLF
Vincent Rainardi, SQL Server BI Consultant

Community Websites, Article Series, and Twitter

Twitter Basics

As I’ve stated before, the community around SQL Server is part of what makes the industry special. One community-based website that is particularly helpful is StackOverflow. Users post questions and – get this – users post answers. The beauty is in the sharing of information, the comments system, and badges you can earn by helping others, among other fun.

SQLServerCentral is a community of over a million SQL Server users, developers, and administrators. Articles, editorials, and forum activity are regularly updated.

Lasty, the SQL community is very active on Twitter. For a head start on the SQL community on Twitter, check out Kevin Kline’s guide to SQL Server on Twitter, and Brent Ozar’s ebook on how to get Twitter-savvy in no time.

Local SQL Server User Group Community

SQL Pass

Last but certainly not least, local users groups are a core part of the SQL Server community experience. The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) sponsors local user groups across the nation and these groups have regular meetings to learn and network.

Another community phenomenon to watch is free training seminars like SQLSaturday. Events like these have incredible amounts of free training, networking opportunities, and overall bang-for-your-$0-buck.

Keep on Learning!

The opportunities for learning about SQL and networking with professionals seems to be endless nowadays. The key is to search out these resources and continually strive to improve your skills and knowledge.