3 Ways To Master A New SQL Server Feature

Last week, announcements were made about when SQL Server 2016 will be released for general availability or what is commonly referred to as GA. With new releases come new features. And with the increased frequency of version releases, it’s hard to catch up with all the learning. This is one of the reasons why we still see software applications that do not support features of the latest SQL Server versions even though they are already running on top of it. Developers and database administrators don’t have the time to learn a new feature yet faced with the challenge of implementing it. So, how do we deal with it?

Side note: The top response to one of my blog reader survey questions from last year – What types of activities do you wish you had more time to do – is learn new technologies.

Picking a feature to learn about SQL Server is already a challenge. Back in the SQL Server 7 days, you can learn almost everything about SQL Server. Not any more.  The database engine in itself already has tons of features that can be overwhelming. Add to that Analysis Services, Integration Services, Reporting Services and now the new SQL Server R Services.  So, I decide based on NEED versus WANT. What do I need to learn about SQL Server right now and within the next few months? I want to be able to perform my job well before I start learning new things.

Now, say you’ve already decided which feature you want to learn about, how do you master that feature?

  1. Just do it. Download SQL Server, install it and try out the feature. There is no substitute to getting your hands dirty to learn how something works. Got no test environment to play around with? Try the Microsoft TechNet Virtual Labs. Follow the lab manuals for a guided learning experience. This is how I start learning about the new SQL Server features. But I take it to the extreme – I do the hands-on labs three times – not because I really want to master it but because I’m really not that smart to get it the first time.
  2. Write about it. This is a good reason to get started with blogging or writing articles. And it’s also a scary way of doing so. That’s because you are exposing yourself to the public. You’re being vulnerable and not a lot of people are comfortable with that – especially when anybody can just throw negative comments at your writing. This is how I got involved with MSSQLTips.com. I wrote about the features as I was learning them. And because I need to have valid sources, I did my research – a lot of research. I read SQL Server Books Online, other articles, blog posts, forum questions, etc. My articles and blog posts included a lot of references to support my claim. Surprisingly, one of my articles ended up as a question in the Microsoft Certified Master certification hands-on lab exam for SQL Server (not sure how it got there but it did.)
  3. Speak/Present about it. If you think writing is scary, then you haven’t been in front of a crowd. Public speaking is not for everyone. You need to answer (or not) questions from the audience immediately, manage your time, make sure that demos work and navigate thru your slide presentation. And because the stakes are higher, you over-prepare. And unlike writing an article where you can go as long as you want, you also need to learn the art of keeping the audience involved throughout your presentation. This is the reason I love public speaking. It involves more than just mastering a feature. And if a feature is dependent on other features, you are forced to learn all of the dependencies because you need to get your demos working or maybe someone will ask a question related to it. I think this is the best way to really master a new feature.

Whether you are trying out a new feature or implementing it for your upcoming deployment, you need to start somewhere. You can pick any of these three and see what works for you. Personally, I still do all of them because it really helps me better understand the feature from different perspectives.

You can also help me help you in the learning process. Last week’s webinar on New SQL Server 2016 Database Engine Features was the most requested one so far (even though my webinar platform got totally wrecked.) If you can fill up the survey form below, I can continue creating content about the most requested topic. I’m sure this can help better serve the SQL Server community.

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