Thursday, October 18, 2012

DBA Study Guide

 Hello Dear Reader, over here at Pragmatic Works we’ve been growing like weeds.  For the most part we are looking for Sr level people for Sr. Level positions.  Part of that process is interviewing.  Going for a job as a Sr. Consultant is a bit different than going for a job as a DBA. 

Today’s market for DBA’s is quite good.  If you are looking there are jobs out there.  A lot of the time after weeks or months of interviews when the “ideal” candidate has not been found you tend to lower the requirements.   It’s the Animal House “We need the dues” moment. 

Only for a business it is we need a butt in the seat.  You start asking the questions can we find someone with the right attitude, someone who can learn, someone who might not be at the level we want, but we can work with.  Often you can find a diamond in the rough and grow that person into the experience level you wanted.

In the Consultant biz it’s a bit different.  You can do that for Jr or Mid level jobs, but Sr level positions require you to really know your stuff.  You cannot expect a person to know everything, and one person’s Sr is another person’s Jr.  Not to mention there is a wide area of DBA expertise to be considered.  But we have to draw a line in the sand, and Knowledge is very important.

Can you answer some of the following questions:

  1. What is a heap?
  2. What is a Clustered Index, a Non-Clustered Index, and what are the differences between the two?
  3. What is a Page Split?  
  4. What is a Forwarding Pointer?
  5. Why do they matter?

If you cannot then I wanted to toss out some learning resources that cover a wide breath of area.  This is similar to the Microsoft Certification exams where they say know how to Baseline a server, couple different ways to skin that cat, so I know there are a LOT of different things to each very general area.
(*Note no actual cats were skinned in the process of writing this blog).  

This is just a collection of books that I’ve read over the years.  Some go in depth in particular areas, some are general and cover many.   My buddy Mike Davis (@MikeDavisSQL | Blog) wrote a similar list for BI folks if you are interested in that click here to read more.

But I wanted to toss them out so if you are looking for a good book you can find one.  Just looking to grow in a particular area?  Then these will help you as well.

Internals:  If you are looking for a book on Internals you cannot go wrong with Kalen Delaney(@SQLQueen | Blog).  The 2012 Internals book is due out in November, and I can’t wait to read it.  This book has many wonderful contributors and is well worth the money even though a new one is on the way out.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

Internals/Extended Events/Troubleshooting:  Christian Bolton (@ChristianBolton | Blog) put together an All-Star team for this book (a 2012 edition is due out soon as well).  It not only covers internals but tools to diagnose them from some of the Premier experts in the field.  I put this neck and neck with any book.  If you work with SQL Server 2008/R2 you should own a copy.

Query Tuning:  Grant Fritchey (@GFritchey | Blog) is a damn nice guy.  I don’t understand why people think he’s a Scary DBA, (Grant thanks for the advice on the Katana collection and sharpening swords in front of the daughter’s boyfriend before dates, priceless).   I just don’t understand the scary thing at all.  Regardless of his disposition Grant is the guy that wrote the book on Query Tuning and Execution Plans.  He is a master in this field and the only people I would regard higher are the people Grant would recommend.

Clustering:  Alan Hirt(@SQLHA | Blog) is to clustering what Grant Fritchey is to Query Tuning.  I’ve attended Alan’s pre-con’s, read his books, and watched his generous and free advice via #SQLHelp.  If you are working in clustering you should have Alan’s book it will point out best practices and save you head ache’s (I’m looking at you government SOC’s Image when setting up a 2008 Cluster).

Replication: I wanted to recommend a replication book however, I haven’t purchased this one.  My friend and co-worker Chad Churwell (@ChadChurchwell | Blog) is one of the smartest replication guys I've ever met and he recommends it. I’m making the recommendation because of Chad and I have done more replication as a Consultant that I did as a DBA.  I’ve set it up, I’ve fixed it, I’ve learned how to find out when it’s broken, what broke it, and why.  I’d also bet I’m not alone.  I’ve only read the free pre-view of the book and chapter wise it summarizes everything I’m looking for an Expert in Replication (other than experience).

Mirroring:  I would put Robert Davis(@SQLSoilder | Blog) in the realm of Mirroring what Grant and Alan are to their respective books.  Robert has blogged incredibly useful and real world information about mirroring.  AND YES I understand that Always On Availability Groups are the way to go.  However, not everybody is on SQL 2012, and a solid understanding of Mirroring allows you to better understand all the goodness that is Always On Availability Groups.

Hardware and Virtualization:  When it comes to hardware you don’t get much better than Glenn Berry(@GlennAlanBerry | Blog).  From his free Assessment Scripts on SQL Server Performance (Glenn's is here) is essential when you go onto a new server for the first time and try to holistically figure out what is going on right and wrong.  The first chapter alone taught me more about CPU’s and which to choose than years of experience had.  I was able to use this knowledge immediately.

Performance Indexing: Jason Strate (@StrateSQL | Blog) and Ted Krueger (@Onpnt | Blog) are incredibly smart guys.  SQL MVP’s, years of experience, and deep knowledge all combine to give you an answer to the age old question ‘What should I index and Why?’.  Indexing is a core thing that DBA’s should know about.  Adding, removing, finding good ones, and identifying bad ones are important.  Not to mention the answer to all of my previous questions are in this book.

SQL Server 2012/ SQL Azure/Powershell:  I work with some pretty smart guys.  SQL MVP’s, Consultants, and their friends are just as smart.  These two books are a collabertaive effort between brilliant people  Adam Jorgensen (@AJBigData | Blog), Brian Knight (@BrianKnight | Blog), Jorge Segarra (@SQLChicken | Blog), Patrick Leblanc (@PatrickDBA | Blog), Aaron Nelson (@SQLVariant | Blog), Julie Smith (@JulieChix | Blog)…And MORE (sorry for the people I left out)!  If you are looking for information on SQL 2012 and how to use it go to the Bible and their other book on Professional Administration.


A lot of books I know and no I don’t expect you to read all of them before an interview, but there are a lot of common theme’s in the world of SQL Server.  A good expert should be EXCITED about what they learn about.  They should be able to pick something tell me what they know, and I’d like them to do it in a way that I’m excited about it by the time they finish.

I love going to SQL Saturday’s, PASS Events, and Conferences because they make me excited to learn.  And I really love to learn.  Find something that you are passionate about, and learn it really good.  That kind of learning and passion is infectious and is exactly what makes all of the authors I’ve mentioned such great SQL Server professionals. 

Hopefully, whether you’re looking for a job or not, it will help you find something that you love to learn about.




  1. Another excellent set of resources (and they are even free) are the MCM training videos at SQL Skills.

    I've watched most of them and they are well worth the time spent.

  2. Agreed! Probably the best technical content offered for free on the internet. Some of the best technical content period.

    I actualy did a blog on that as well MCM Videos you Should be Watching These!

  3. Do you happen to know if they plan on updating the MCM Videos for 2012? Realizing that a lot of the content is still exactly the same it would be great to get a couple of videos about the differences between 2008 and 2012.