Welcome to this semester’s Professional Development week at SQL University. If you found yourself here without first reading the introduction of this week’s topic, please take a moment to read, “Professional Development Week, An introduction to this week on SQL University“. This week is being taught by Andy Leonard (Twitter | Blog) and Ted Krueger (Twitter | Blog). Yesterday in the introduction, there were questions raised. One of them was, “Most of all how do we truly become advanced beyond our standings and know we still has further to go?” Today we are going to focus on this question and look at how we may be able to answer it.

Advancing an already advanced development plan

Striving to be more advanced at what we do has many variables. In those variables, one stands above the others: do you want to strive to be more advanced? Often in our careers while at or above the mid-level standing with a combination in years of experience and skills obtained, we hit a mentally balanced state of mind about where we are. The skills we have gathered are all we need to get through a lot of what SQL Server can throw at us. In all this is a true statement. A mid-level DBA or Developer with solid progressive experience in SQL Server has the knowledge and nerves to handle many situations. This is more prevalent with situations where infrastructures are the same, similar and most of all, built by them.
So given all of this and the feeling of having complete control; how do we strive to accept we need to be more advanced?

There is a simple answer to this question. You need to go outside your comfort zone. This can be as simple as finding a blog, Books Online entry or lab on a topic that you truly have no knowledge of. There are enough features within the SQL Server package that this is not as hard as it sounds. A DBA can look to advanced T-SQL, SSAS or SSRS. A Developer can look to DBA tasks. A .NET Developer can start to look at database design from experts that only focus on database design. There are many avenues to take to find a place you feel completely lost.

Comfort in life is good: or is it?

A comfort zone is important. Never think it isn’t. With your career path you must (and I mean, must) feel comfortable that you can handle the task at hand. Database professionals have the ability to cause massive degradation of performance, inaccurate results and complete failures from what we do. This can be as simple as a developer writing SELECT COUNT(col) while not knowing that NULL is not interpreted by this statement. (See, the DBA that is not known for development can take these on as outside their comfort zone.) But, if we are not comfortable with our skills and confident in where we are already, stepping outside these bounds isn’t viable. We must build ourselves up professionally, in the scope of our careers, before moving to the next level.

Once we hit this level, advanced professional development is a key to pushing us to the next level. As mentioned earlier, moving outside the comfort zone is the next step. Remember, professional development can be anything: a feature like SSAS, a book about project management or even a books online article that dives deep into SQL Server database mirroring. The task can be small or as large as you can take on at that time. Developing yourself once in already advanced level may take a long time or may be a weekend project. Allowing this development to assist in building your career is the ultimate goal. If that means a career change, it may just come to that. Professional development allows us to push the course of where we find another level of not only skills, but satisfaction in ourselves.

Proof is in the results

Proof of concept is an extremely powerful practice. You can write down on paper (virtually) the paths to take in your professional development practices, but are they accurate? In order to obtain the required POC in order to keep advancing ourselves by means of relinquishing our comfort zone, we can look to known and respected mentors and other groups that have done exactly this.

Aaron Nelson (Twitter | Blog) is an extremely well known and respected leader in our community. Aaron has a strong focus on PowerShell and is nothing short of an expert with it. Aaron didn’t always have these skills though. In fact, talking to Aaron, the first few times he made an attempt to use PowerShell it was a painful experience and he put it to the side to never be used again. Already, we see the comfort zone concept coming into play. In Aaron’s own development, PowerShell did come back in and he ventured back outside that comfort zone to gain the skills. In doing this, Aaron has become one of the foremost experts on PowerShell and his career and community leadership has evolved to where it is today. Professional development at its best! Aaron was even a guest on a well known PowerShell related, PowerScripting Podcast. I recommend heading over to listen to it. It was episode 132, “Episode 132 – PowerScripting Podcast – Aaron Nelson on the PASS Summit“. Aaron is a great person and you’ll be able to see that from the cast.

POC: Aaron stepped outside his comfort zone and in the course of his own professional development become one of the most advanced PowerShell individuals around.

(Note: listening to Aaron, he will let you know that he is a PowerShell enthusiast and not an expert. Aaron being an expert is my opinion. But if you look at most of the experts out there, most will be the first to say they are not an expert.)

Don’t stop now

In our professional development plans, pausing to fully grasp a skill or career change is a good idea. It will allow you to expand on it even more. This in turn, is adding to your professional development plan and brings us to different paths we can take. However, pausing for too long leaves us in the state mentioned early and finding ourselves never advancing to the next level.

As you can see, we can answer the question of when to stop with, never. We can always can achieve more in our own professional development. Along with knowing this, we also know that we can achieve a more advanced hold on existing and new skills, goals in career paths and the current job you are in.