Until now, SQL Server training usually meant registering for a course, showing up, hearing a lecture from a podium (often from someone who’s only done demos on their laptop, not production systems), working through a few workshops, and then going home with a bunch of ideas. It was like trying to ride a rollercoaster by jumping on as it came speeding toward the platform, having a great time, and then jumping off at high speed again. No graceful transitions, just a shocking experience.
We wanted to do better.
We wanted to ease students into the experience, get them more involved with the material ahead of time, connect the dots between the demos and their real environment, and empower them to help each other with their studies. We wanted to mix up the training so that it was less about theory, and more about their real world environment. Finally, as students left the classroom, we wanted to ease them back into the real world in a way that empowered them to succeed.
We couldn’t accomplish all of those goals immediately – doing this kind of practical, realistic, and comprehensive training is really hard work, so we’ve been gradually experimenting with more and more tactics this year. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
What It’s Like to Attend Our Training
We start mixing things up as soon as someone registers for one of our courses. For example, our How to Be a Senior DBA students were assigned a series of private pre-requisite training videos as soon as they registered for the course. They get started learning about RPO, RTO, and SQL Server’s options to meet their availability goals. (Behind the scenes, it took us years of work to get our e-commerce setup and training videos to this point, but the integration is definitely paying off now.)
On the first day of the in-person class, we started by discussing a couple of real-life case studies – then turned their own environment into a real case study. Each attendee used worksheets to describe their current production environment’s requirements to the person sitting next to them, and that person acted as a consultant. The team worked together to sketch out the right long-term solution for a company’s needs, and then they switched roles. Each student was able to sit on both sides of the issue – describing a problem, and building a solution for someone else.
In just one hour, this combination of pre-learning plus collaborative exercises accomplished three goals: it reinforced the student’s knowledge, helped them get a second opinion about their systems, and built a relationship with other people in the room. The relationship-building paid off throughout the course as the students carried on lively discussions at every break, over every lunch, and hanging around the flipcharts to talk shop. I wish I could say this was part of our giant master plan, but it was just a happy discovery that we made back in San Diego, and we’ve been using it ever since.
Another discovery this year was that students learned better when we assigned them script homework before the course. For example, before the SQL Server Performance Troubleshooting class, students were assigned scripts to run on their production servers and copy the results into Excel.
In Chicago, one of the students came up to me and said:
“I’m so glad you gave us the wait stats homework before class. I’d run the queries on several of my slow production servers, and I didn’t understand the results at the time, but now it all makes perfect sense. I understand why the data warehouse has PAGEIOLATCH and the web app has CXPACKET, and I know exactly what to do next.”
As we’d been covering wait stats, she’d been comparing her results with what we were discussing, and she was able to make a simple set of steps for her next maintenance window – all while sitting in class. Some of our students even used our lab scripts on their live production servers, fixing issues as we discussed them. (That might be taking the concept a little too far!)
Our Next Round of Training Experiments: Seattle
In our 2-day Seattle class, Make SQL Server Apps Faster, we’re running a couple more experiments.
We’re starting off with a day of lectures on performance tuning. We cover how to think like SQL Server, using wait stats to know why SQL Server is slow, tuning with the plan cache, beating anti-patterns, building the best indexes, and a challenge for attendees.
We weren’t content with that. People keep asking for more hands on sessions like “Watch Brent Tune Queries.” You really want to see our thought processes at work. We’ve done just that. Attendees think through the problem and sketch out their answers. Then they spend the day watching us solve it – they watch me doing query tuning, Kendra doing index tuning, and Jeremiah working through execution plans. At the end of the day, we judge their answers together.
We’re also offering a package deal – some attendees have said they want to watch recordings of the sessions later to reinforce what they’ve learned. (They already get the demo scripts, but sometimes it’s better to watch us doing it.) For an extra $200, the attendees get our 7-hour Developer’s Guide to SQL Server Performance videos that cover about half of what we’re teaching in-person, and we’ve extended similar deals to our 2014 training class attendees too.
For 2015, our new week-long courses represent another new experiment. This year’s attendees kept telling us, “As long as I’m out of the office, I might as well be out for the whole week.” Sounds good! So we’re taking more time to dive deeper into more topics.
We’re excited about how we’re doing SQL Server training differently than anybody else on the market, and we can’t wait to share it with you.