Shop Talk: 2020-10-05

The Recording

The Panelists

  • Kevin Feasel
  • Mala Mahadevan

Notes: Questions and Topics


We had two announcements. First, TriPASS board elections are coming up in mid-November. We have three positions up for election this year: President, VP of Marketing, and Treasurer. All TriPASS members in good standing of eligible to run, and the election will run from November 19th through December 3rd, for terms beginning February 23, 2021 through February 26, 2023. If you’re interested, e-mail (shoptalk at tripass dot org will work) and I can provide more details as needed.

Second, Mala brought up the Azure SQL Championship, so check that out.

So You Want to Learn about Database Development

Leslie sent in an e-mail (shoptalk at tripass dot org) asking for guidance or a syllabus for learning to become a database developer, so Mala and I tackled that. We broke it down into five categories and focused mostly on books. One book-buying tip I have: if you’re looking at older books, check out a website like, as it aggregates across several book sellers to find the best price. I’ve used that site for about 15 years now. Most of the links I provide are from Amazon, but that’s almost never the cheapest price.

First up is T-SQL, as I think you should learn the language before trying to work through the rest of it. Carlos Chacon has a great book called From Zero to SQL in 20 Lessons, which was written for someone with no experience to get started. From there, I’d recommend Itzik Ben-Gan’s T-SQL Fundamentals or Kathi Kellenberger’s Beginning T-SQL. Mala brought up John Deardurff’s series on learning T-SQL as well as the SQL Quickstart Guide. Finally, once you’ve spent a couple of years building up those SQL skills, grab a copy of Grant Fritchey’s SQL Server 2017 Query Performance Tuning book, which is a massive tome full of great info. Or you can get the much smaller version from Red Gate.

After taking on T-SQL, learn about data modeling. The single best reference is the Handbook of Relational Database Design, released in 1989. The first half of the book is gold; the second half is only useful if you’re trying to implement this stuff on a late 1980s Oracle or Informix database… For something a bit more recent, check out Louis Davidson’s Pro SQL Server Relational Database Design. The 6th edition is coming out soon, but if you’re impatient, Louis and Jessica Moss teamed up on the 5th edition. I have an older edition, and I think Louis’s explanation of 4th normal form is the best I’ve ever read. Mala has a couple of recommendations as well: Information Modeling on Relational Databases and Database Design for Mere Mortals.

If you want to move from OLTP-style data modeling and into warehousing, Ralph Kimball’s Data Warehouse Toolkit is the book to get. The Kimball model is everywhere and this is the type of book you can come back to multiple times and learn more and more each time. If you’re interested in the Data Vault approach, check out Building a Scalable Data Warehouse with Data Vault 2.0. I haven’t read it, but people who are into Data Vault have recommended the book.

Of course, once you’ve learned a bit about warehousing, you might want to read up on ways to work with warehouses. If you’re looking at report-writing, Kathi Kellenberger’s Beginning SQL Server Reporting Services is a good start. From there, Paul Turley, et al’s Pro Microsoft SQL Server 2016 Reporting Services is the next step, but I’d probably only go that far if I were writing SSRS reports as a main part of the job.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn about Power BI, Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari have you covered. They’ve released a number of books and also have plenty of videos available for free. I’d also recommend Phillip Seamark’s Beginning DAX with Power BI, though I don’t think it’s really a beginner book by any stretch of the imagination. Finally, Mala reminded me that I couldn’t finish a list of Power BI resources without mentioning Guy in a Cube.

Career Next Steps

During our coverage, @jpanagi1 asked us about career guidance:

my background – dont have compsci degree – engineering background – learned fundamentals of sql – recommended next steps? do i need more coege or certs? what are employeers looking for?

We spent some time talking through this specific case. To summarize, @jpanagi is currently working at a company which has teams working on interesting projects, and the question is, how can I get into that position?

The simple form of our advice is, work with the team a bit on projects. If you have official projects, that’s easiest; if you can volunteer to help them out a bit, that can work too. If you have a reasonable manager, bring up that you’d like to do that kind of work in the medium term. A reasonable manager might not want to lose you, but there are several options here.

One is “in-house” work. Suppose that team is a report-writing and dashboarding team and they’re using some nice products in interesting ways. You might be able to build a dashboard specifically for your team with the same products, gaining experience while providing direct benefits to your team and your manager.

Another option is working part-time on projects with members of the report-writing and dashboarding team. It might not be directly for your team, but maybe a time-sharing of 80-20 or 90-10 could get you some experience on projects and try out something new without your manager losing a person.

If your manager isn’t reasonable, things get harder. In that case, you might need to volunteer on the sly and work a few extra hours with that team after you get your regular work done. I’ve known people who were trained up “after hours,” where they’d stay late at work and learn from someone in another department. Smart managers at good companies formalize this kind of training, but don’t let that limit you otherwise.

Also, a bit of freelancing doesn’t hurt. Again, this is off-hours, but if you want to try out a different path, see if there’s something tangentially related to your team. Learn about the products and try them out. Then, if you come up with something interesting, you can bring it up with your manager. If you ultimately get locked out from doing this thing, well, at least you have a project for your resume, and you can decide whether the position you’re at is the right one.

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