The Ironic DBA—Review One: A SQL Story

Welcome back to The Ironic DBA Files, a series where the newbie DBA on staff at Dallas DBAs chronicles the ups and downs of fast-tracking a new career as a DBA.

Last time around I related the exciting development of beginning to touch production servers. Now, with ten episodes in the can I think it’s time for a review of what I’ve learned and done so far. Stick with me as I hope to relate a few things I haven’t shared before, as well as some of my favorite tips, links, and resources that have helped me progresses as rapidly as reasonably possible.

What my brain looks like after a few months of DBA training.

A New Trail

I originally related how training to become a DBA was a new and unexpected opportunity, thus my reason for choosing the moniker “The Ironic DBA.” I’m not quite sure at this point whether I’m truly ironic, or using the word incorrectly like Alanis Morissette, but I digress…

Having a Senior DBA who can mentor you is absolutely the best approach to this career. I’m sure there are many intelligent people who could self-study and figure out all of this on their own via trial and error, but having an experienced DBA looking over your shoulder is one of the ways to progress much more quickly.

Not everyone can be as fortunate as I am to have a close friend be your personal coach, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for someone who can help you regularly, whether at your workplace or a local PASS meeting.

Mapping the Loops

Stacked Loop Trail SystemIn mountain biking, we most often have trails that are full loops—loops that when followed from beginning to end bring you back to the trail head where you originally started. Some trail systems are stacked loop systems, where successive loops are “stacked” upon each other, connecting in such a way as to give users options for extended distance or varied routes. Trail systems are often constructed this way so that one or two loops can be opened to the public while successive loops are constructed and added over time. It’s also common that the successive loops increase in difficulty as you progress through the loops.

That’s exactly the approach we’ve taken with my DBA training. To start, you’ve got to get a handle on the basics like nomenclature, systems, and base-level architecture. What is a database? What does relational database mean? What’s an instance? Before I ever seriously considered becoming a DBA, I had already attended Kevin’s Free SQL Server DBA Training twice because I’m his friend and designer. He asked me to help him evaluate his teaching and presentation. This means I was pretty familiar with basic concepts before we started any sort of formal training.

From there, you can begin mapping out your loops in order of priority and difficulty. There are many different ways to map out these paths—another reason why a good mentor will be a great trail guide. If for some reason, you’re going it alone, I hope this post (and my series in general) will help you. I would also highly recommend these posts here on Dallas DBAs: Top 10 SQL Server functions every DBA should know by heart, and Dear Junior DBA…

For the record, and in an effort to not belabor my previous posts, here’s a breakdown of the “loops” I’ve traveled so far:

But Wait…There’s More

As you might imagine, my weekly posts have only hit the high points and most critical information I’ve been gleaning. I’ve learned quite a few things along the way I haven’t written about previously, as well as collected several resources. Below is a sort of stream-of-consciousness recollection of other things I’ve learned that I think will help other Apprentice and Accidental DBAs kick-start their career. Excuse me while I scroll back in time in my Dallas DBAs Slack channels…

Since you’re going to be working on the files and file systems within SQL Server, get familiar with using the .mdf, .ndf, and .ldf standards. One of my first questions about these filetypes—because you can actually use whatever suffix you’d like (but shouldn’t)—was whether all three were identical filetypes. Kevin’s quick answer was, “No. There are (minimally) two file types… ‘Row Data’ (.MDF, .NDF) and ‘Log’…different internal structure that SQL writes to differently.”

By the way, this and other initial questions specifically came out of watching Kevin’s Pluralsight course, Getting Started with Your First SQL Server Instance. Use this as a foundation to get familiar with installing, updating, and uninstalling instances properly. And then get familiar with how to find and install test databases such as AdventureWorks, WideWorldImporters, and StackOverflow—using a test environment Azure VM if possible.

Oh, and get ready for a huge chunk of acronyms that look almost identical that you need to learn and know the differences: SSMS, SSIS, SSAS, SSRS…

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but staying on top of applying the latest Service Pack and Cumulative Updates to SQL Server instances is very important. A fantastic resource for quickly and easily finding the latest releases from Microsoft is the Microsoft SQL Server Versions List blog. You can drill down and find the correct version and download the appropriate SPs and CUs.

Being a visual person, I gravitated toward viewing Execution Plans early on. Of course, I didn’t understand a whole lot about what I was looking at, but it was good to begin getting familiar with the icons and arrows and such. Don’t sweat it, you’ll learn more and more about Execution Plans and how to read them as you move forward. Hint: Make sure you learn the difference between Estimated and Actual Execution Plans, and how to get those specific plan results.

A sneak peek at my Google Docs SQL Server training library.

I highly suggest building a Google Docs or Office 365 online library of notes and documentation on your journey.

I’m running out of space here, and haven’t covered anywhere near as much as I’d like, so I’m going to leave you with a couple of different lists I hope you’ll find helpful.

DBA Scripts and Tools

Great Links for a New DBA

(I’m currently working my way through Stairway to T-SQL DML.)

That’s all for this week. Join me next time for next episode in The Ironic DBA Files.

Follow me on Twitter at @SQLandMTB, and if you’re into mountain bikes come over and check out my site NTX Trails.

The Ironic DBA Files

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