Tag Archives: Training

I’m a Fraud

I’m a fraud because I didn’t bust out the query I needed right away.
I’m a fraud because I couldn’t remember the exact syntax to restore a certificate even though I’ve done it dozens of times.
I’m a fraud because a user asked me a question I had to lookup.
I’m a fraud because I still haven’t had time to learn Service Broker.
I’m a fraud because it took me too long to troubleshoot my last PS script.
I’m a fraud because I only study about a half as much as I need to.
I’m a fraud because I haven’t written a book.
I’m a fraud because I haven’t filmed half the new videos on my list.
I’m a fraud because I don’t understand all the ins and outs of SMO.
I’m a fraud because every other MCM and MVP out there is so much smarter than I am.
I’m a fraud because I had to go running to a real .NET guy to have my site rebuilt instead of doing it myself.

And on and on…

See, we’re all a product of the same marketing.  We see all the super smart guys around us and we believe the marketing around them.
Grant Fritchey didn’t have to research anything for his book.  He knew it all off the top of his head. 
Adam Machanic couldn’t write his last book fast enough.  He banged it out like he was signing his name.  And Denny Cherry knew everything for his last security book and didn’t have to look anything up or test anything.

All we see is the final product.  We don’t see the weeks/months of failed attempts, tinkering, research, and begging for help that go into the books, whitepapers, blogs, and videos that people crank out.

Sure, some have to beg, borrow, and steal less than others, but nobody and I mean NOBODY just sits down and bangs out an entire book on the first try.  And nobody writes an entire training course in a single sitting and then just films it.  It takes planning, practice, and experimentation to make everything look easy.  And everything looks easy by that point because it is.  They’ve already learned it.  In fact, sometimes they may have even learned it for the book, or for that video.

This is what’s both good and bad about the way we do things these days.  We have access to so much material there’s just no excuse to not be able to find something.  But at the same time, having access to that much info and that many authors shows us exactly what we don’t know and it’s easy to compare yourself with them and start to feel like a fraud.  And the industry experts aren’t immune to it either.  Trust me, they all do it too.

I always say, don’t confuse your mentor with your mirror.  Find someone in the community you want to be like, but don’t compare yourself to them.  You’ll always lose that battle.  Compare yourself to how you were yesterday, or last week or last month.  Give yourself something solid to accomplish and then do it.  If you really want to learn Service Broker, then make it happen.  Put yourself a training list and start working your way through it.  Then look at your list in say a couple weeks or a month and see how much you’ve gotten done.  Are you a fraud then?  Are you a failure?  Maybe, maybe not, right?

So is it possible to actually be a fraud, or a failure?

Of course it is.  In my estimation, anyone who’s been a professional DBA for 10yrs and doesn’t even know the basics is a complete fraud.  You have to know something about your craft, and you can’t tell me that in 10yrs you’ve never had a chance to learn the difference between char() and varchar(), or how to type a backup command, etc.  If you’ve been doing SQL for that long and you don’t even know simple basics like that, then yeah, you very well may be a fraud and you need to do something about it.

However, if you think you’re a fraud because you’re comparing your on-going process of building yourself to the finished product you see the industry experts churning out, then you just need to compare yourself to the right thing.  Making that comparison is like starting to build a skyscraper and comparing it to the one next to yours that’s finished and just disappears into the clouds.  What you don’t see though is the construction going on on the other side of those clouds, or the remodeling happening on several of the floors, or the bad plumbing.

So keep your head down and build your own tower.  Look to the others for inspiration and guidance, but don’t compare yours to theirs. 

Hey, if you want a really want to see how perfect the experts are from the start, then just ask any of them, and I do mean any of them, if they’re embarrassed by the code they wrote 10yrs ago. 
Almost without exception, they’ll all say yes.

So now it’s your turn… why are you a fraud?

What an idiot!

As DBAs we quite often run into others who aren’t as smart as us.  The dev is an idiot.  The .net guy is an idiot.  The users are idiots.  The manager is an idiot.  The VP, well don’t even get me started.  And other DBAs are really idiots.  At least that’s how it is in our heads anyway.  We fall into this cycle of calling everyone idiots for every little thing they do wrong.  The dev uses a wrong data type and it makes a few queries a lot slower, what an idiot, he should’ve known better.  A .net guy uses EF instead of putting it in an SP and it causes tons of blocking, what an idiot.  Another DBA tries to fix a DB that’s down and he does something that ends up making it worse… what an idiot.

It’s pretty easy to say everyone’s an idiot when we have the luxury of hindsight isn’t it?  Sure, I could have told you that every single one of those decisions was wrong and why.  But could I have told you before you did it and it went south?  Maybe, maybe not.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career (and am dedicated to continuing) that in hindsight weren’t the best option, but was I an actual idiot for doing it?  Again maybe, maybe not.

I just think we jump on the idiot bandwagon too early and too often.  And I know I’m a big offender.  It doesn’t take much for me to start branding people left and right, but I also try to temper it with some reason.  Just because someone doesn’t have the same experiences I do doesn’t make them an actual idiot.  A dev chooses the wrong data type for a column.  Is he an idiot, or does he just not have the same experience with data types that I do?  I’d have to say it depends on what the mistake was.  Did he choose a varchar(25) for Address, or did he choose datetime?  Because one makes him less experienced with addresses and the other one makes him pretty close to an idiot. Well, what if he chose the bit data type for a SalaryAmount column? Well, I can only hope that he’s writing the table his own salary will be stored in.

I’ve seen plenty of things that seemed to be basic that I didn’t know. And that’s becuase there’s just so much to know it’s hard to quantify. That’s why I make sure I interview everyone I see for at least an hour before making a decision. I honestly believe you can’t judge the sum of someone’s experience in just a handful of questions. In fact, I’ve found plenty of guys who got the first 20 questions wrong and then we suddenly got to their area of expertise and they started blowing the questions out of the water.

So anyway, just give some of these guys a break and realize that they may not be complete idiots just because they don’t know something you don’t. That’s not to say there aren’t any real idiots out there. You guys know that I’ve definitely run into my fair share of them. But I’m trying harder to lighten up on them.

Part of the problem is the learning process we go through, which is next to none. Computers are hard. SQL is hard. .NET is hard. They’re all hard. And yet training is so poor. I’ve seen so much IT training I can’t even count, but the number of courses I’ve been in that actually taught the topic is very few. sure, the high level stuff gets taught, but the hows and whys of doing things is rarely covered. There are some guys out there who really take the time to break it down for you, but try to find one of them. One of the biggest reasons I never got into BI is because all the BI guys teach beginning BI like you’re already a BI expert. They explain BI terms with other BI terms and everyone just nods and smiles. But I guarantee you that most of them walk away without a good understanding of what was just said. .Net guys are big offenders in that area too. They explain .Net to you like you’ve been a coder for years and you’re just supposed to know what all this stuff is. So it’s no wonder that so few people really know their jobs well. They’re never taught what they need to know. So are they really idiots for not knowing something they weren’t taught? There are so many things that can go wrong with a system at any given time how can they be sure that the issue is being caused by a bad data type, or by one particular piece of code? There are of course ways to find out, but so many companies are in such a hurry to move on to the next project they never get a chance to dig into these issues. And again, were they really taught how?

So here we are in the middle of the learning revolution and there’s so little quality training to be had. You can go almost anywhere and learn how to perform the steps for a task, but where do you go to learn what you actually need to know? How do you learn that one thing is stupid over another thing, and that other thing exists for a reason, so when is it supposed to be used? I was talking to someone about this very topic just this morning.

So this whole thing was prompted by a training session I had with someone not long ago. Someone did something they shouldn’t have and when I corrected them they asked why. And when I gave my reason he said oh y, I never thought of that. And I could clearly see that he wasn’t an idiot, he just didn’t have the experience he needed. And since then he’s done it right and even did it the other way a couple times because the situation was different. See, I gave him the reasoning so now he can reason out for himself when to use one method over another. And that’s training that’s worthwhile.

To me, a true idiot is someone who gets shown the way to do things right and still refuses to employ them. He is also someone who has been in his current career for many years and doesn’t even know the basics. I have very little patience for say a SQL dev who’s been doing it for 10yrs and doesn’t even know the basics of the data types. Because you can’t tell me that it’s never come up. I also don’t like DBAs with 10yrs behind them who can’t write a simple backup statement. Again, that’s a basic that you should know cold.

T-SQL Tuesday: A file delete exercise

This is my submission for T-SQL Tuesday on Files and filegroups.  You can find the blog tsql2sday.


One of the things I’m known for in the shops I work in is giving my DBAs some interesting exercises.  And sometimes they even come with prizes.  This is an exercise I’ve been giving off and on for a few years now.  I typically point them to a test server and send them to the MyDocs folder under one of the profiles.  In there is a list of files that I want them to delete.  Typically the email has similar verbiage to this:


I have an assignment for you guys.  I want you to go to the following location and delete this list of files.

And whoever gets to that server first and deletes those files first gets their pick of these 3 books.


They always rush to be the first there and I can hear their initial failure one at a time as they find out it’s not just an exercise in speed.  Just for fun, here’s a screenshot of the files I have them delete.


About that time I follow-up with another email.  It says:

You’ve just discovered that the files cannot be easily deleted.  The only hint I’ll give you is that I did it by highlighting a feature in the new version of SQL Server. 

Good luck.


For a few years now, the race has been whoever could find the obscure setting in filestream the fastest (because they figure that’s the best place to go).  There has to be something in filestream that’s doing it.  So they dig through everything filestream-related they can find.  They dig and they dig and they dig.  They put together some test DBs and do their best to recreate the issue.  I hear all kinds of wacky theories flying around.  But they never hit that magic bullet that makes it all come together (if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors).

It typically takes them 2-3 days before they give up for good.  I’ll tell you something… in the years I’ve been doing this I’ve never had anyone actually get it with no prompting.  So then at the end, we come together and talk about the process they went through to troubleshoot this issue and their reasoning.  They talk about handles and locked files and permissions, and all the new features in SQL Server that would cause something like that, but they’re just not sure because they couldn’t find anything on google and they don’t know the undocumented XPs, etc. 

And as it turns out, this exercise has nothing to do with the files at all.  I mean, it does, but it’s really meant to serve a much greater purpose.  I want to teach them that the customer always lies, or does his best to throw you off track by sprinkling whatever piece of misinformation he has into his request.  And you never know what they’ll do to their systems.  I want to teach them the following things:

  1. Listen to the wording.
  2. Users lie.
  3. Think for yourself, don’t get distracted by what they tell you.
  4. Ask Questions… for the love of GOD ask questions.


So what’s the resolution?  Tell ya what, I’ll give you the code to repro it and that’ll tell you what the issue is.

create database UserDB




filename=’c:\users\sean.midnight\my documents\Master20120105.bak’





filename=’ c:\users\sean.midnight\my documents\BlogPost.docx’




filename=’ c:\users\sean.midnight\my documents\Expenses.xlsx’





filename=’ c:\users\sean.midnight\my documents\LovePets.pdf’



It’s not always exactly like that, but this is one variation of it.  Now, you may wanna say that I lied, but didn’t.  What I said was that this hinged on a feature in the new version of SQL Server.  But I didn’t say it was a new feature.  It is in fact a feature in the new SQL Server, it just so happens to be a feature of all of them (well, most of them).  And that feature is the ability to create DB files of any name and any extension you like.

Happy T-SQL Tuesday, and I hope this fits in with the theme.

Nothing beats practice

For a very long time now I’ve preached to my various teams the value of doing your 20s.  And I don’t expect most of you to know what that is, so here’s a quick explanation.  I believe there’s certain syntax you should know by heart.  Things like backup/restore, DB creation, working with user accts, etc. should be so ingrained you never forget them.  And the only way to do that is to do it again and again and again.  So when I start new DBAs down their road to discovery, I start them on their 20s.  And that means writing the command you’re working on 20x a day for 2 weeks.  And by the end of the period, you’ve written it at least 200x.  Now, in the case of backup/restore, I typically pick a test server with around 10-15 DBs (I often create empty DBs) on it and make them type the commands for every DB 20x a day for 2 weeks.  And that means that they’re writing the commands 200x for each DB.  And a little quick math tells you that the total they’ve written the backup command by the end is at least 2,000x.  Now, name me something you’ve done 2,000x and have forgotten easily. 

The whole point of this is to give them tons of experience with the commands in a very short period of time.  Innovation and understanding don’t come when you’re struggling to remember syntax and they don’t come if you don’t know any of the options available to you.  So by forcing my DBAs to learn like this, I’ve found that they really start to become competent and ultimately they appreciate that I forced this on them.  And it’s incredible how simple things start getting when you know what you can and can’t do and now that you know how to code it you’ve got a world of options available to you.  And I still find way too many DBAs are button monkeys and don’t know anything that isn’t presented to them in a wizard.

So anyway, the main reason I wrote this is to say that it’s proven itself to me today.  We needed to add a PK to a table and I was in a room with a bunch of SQL devs.  They started to lookup the syntax and I said, wait, give me a crack at it.  I sat down and busted it out without any slips.  And the thing is that this is one of the things I’ve practiced a lot.  But I haven’t touched it in almost a year so I’m a little surprised to find that it didn’t leave me.  Then again, when you do it as much as I have you won’t forget it anytime soon.  So my point here is that if you practice enough you can go a few months without doing it and you’ll still be ok.  And the funny thing is I didn’t even really remember the syntax myself.  My fingers did it for me.  I love how muscle memory works.  So hey, if you really want to get good at SQL then practice some of the more common syntax.  Do your 20s.  You’ll really be glad you did.  And you’ll get things done a lot quicker cause you’re not always looking up basic syntax.

Learning Powershell in Steps

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