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    SQLServerPedia Contributor

The affordable self-service BI revolution has started.

I am officially announcing that I have now become an independent consultant and business owner. Becoming independent has always been my dream and I have now decided to follow that dream. I believe it is the right time to do it for my family and myself. It’s time to soar!

Why did I leave Pragmatic Works?

Simple. I wanted to follow my career goals and carve my own path. It was a hard decision to leave Pragmatic Works as I really enjoyed the work environment and had great relationship with the top brass Brian Knight, Adam Jorgensen, and Sam Washburn as well as my co-workers. The folks at Pragmatic Works gave me a lot of opportunities to learn and grow for which I am forever grateful. It is a great company to work for and highly recommend working for them. I would return to work for them in a heartbeat.

What are my plans?

First of all, I have created a corporation, called Agile Bay, Inc. (http://www.agilebay.com) through which I will be providing Business Intelligence consulting services, Software Development, Training and Staffing services. I will also be doing contract work and hiring BI and Software developers to take on some of these jobs.

My plan is to focus on self-service Business Intelligence solutions using the Microsoft toolset, including:

  • SQL Server Database Services
  • Analysis Services
  • Reporting Services
  • Master Data Services
  • Data Quality Services
  • SharePoint
  • Performance Point
  • PowerPivot
  • PowerView
  • & more…

I will continue leading, volunteering and sharing my knowledge in the SQL Server and Business Intelligence community and in PASS.

Enter the affordable self-service BI revolution

The new release of SQL Server 2012 will bring a lot to offer in the BI space. I truly believe it will be a game changer and many companies will embark in new Data Warehouse, Business Intelligence and Master Data Management projects. Some of these projects may have been put on hold due to licensing and development costs. This is where SQL Server 2012 will shine as it introduces lower BI licensing costs with the new SQL Server Business Intelligence Edition. Organizations will no longer require Enterprise Edition to do all the cool things Microsoft has to offer with their BI suite.

Additionally, the shift to the BI Semantic Model and the focus on self-service BI will open a lot of doors to consulting firms with lower overhead like mine. Enter the affordable self-service BI revolution!

Hitting the ground running

I am very grateful to the fact that the word has spread out among my immediate professional network and have already been booked for projects and contract work several months ahead.

I have tried not to market myself or my company too much during this initial phase as I want to manage my growth more organically. I am in the process of hiring BI developers at all levels, so if you are interested feel free to contact me via http://www.agilebay.com/#!contact.

 Mission

My mission is to empower individuals and organizations through the Microsoft Business Intelligence Toolset.

Vision

My vision is to be the catalyst and leader of the affordable self-service Business Intelligence revolution.

Value proposition

There are many alternatives available when chosing a consulting firm to help you achieve a succesful Business Intelligence, Data Warehouse and Master Data Management implementation.  My value proposition is to achieve this same success at an affordable budget and by providing you with the knowledge transfer and mentoring needed to continue your own development efforts.

The sales pitch

 You need an experienced and expert professional to help you with your design and development efforts.  I have experience and expertise. Let’s talk.

You may contact me through my company’s website at http://www.agilebay.com/#!contact or through email: info@agilebay.com

I’m also available for any quick help through email at jchinchilla@sqljoe.com. Make sure to check out my blog at http://www.sqljoe.com as well.

SQL Saturday 86 BI Edition Tampa 2011: Afterthoughts

Wow! Just Wow! That’s all I can say to describe how great SQL Saturday 86 was on November 5th in Tampa, FL . I got so much positive feedback from every attendee, speaker and sponsor. Food was great, sessions were amazing, speakers were first class!  I have to say thanks to everyone for attending, speaking, sponsoring and helping out with these great event put together by the Tampa Bay Business Intelligence User Group officers and volunteers.

Organizing Committee & Volunteers

I cannot take personal credit for this event. It was truly a team effort. Somewhere I read that in order to be successful you need to surround yourself with talented & driven individuals that are committed to your same goals. Maybe I’m paraphrasing or simply making that up, but this has proven to work with running our local Tampa Bay Business Intelligence User Group and the SQL Saturday #86 BI Edition event.

The organizing committee was made up by:

The volunteers that participated in our event included:

  • Randy Borys
  • Gloria Salcedo
  • Chris Richardson
  • William Sanders
  • Pam Shaw
  • Richard Pyra
  • Wes Helton
  • Tom Totten
  • Denis Desault
  • David Greim
  • Lena Pavlyuk
  • Lyn Taylor

Speakers

Our speakers were world class speakers to say the least. The speaker roster included Microsoft MVPs, field engineers and evangelists and other professionals that committed their time and paid for their own travel to support our event. We had just a few speakers that cancelled for personal, health or work-related conflicts. We still want to express our appreciation to them for willing to support our event as well. Thankfully, we managed to secure alternate speakers who did a great job even though it was last minute. Thank your SQL Saturday #86 Speakers!

Sponsors

Our sponsors made our event a quality and epic event by sponsoring with cash, items and swag to giveaway. Thanks to them we were able to sponsor great Cuban food from LATAM restaurant, coffee and donuts throughout the day, swag and raffle prizes and provide our speakers with a thank you dinner.

  • KForce provided their facilities for our event.
  • Convergence Consulting Group (Twitter | Website) did an amazing job with our speaker and event organizers’ shirts.
  • Quest Software (Twitter | Website) raffled an iPad and a $100 Amazon gift card.
  • Redgate Software (Twitter | Website) offered a great variety of books to give away.
  • Pragmatic Works offered a free training voucher for any of their online classes.
  • LaSalle Computer Learning School offered a training voucher for any of their in-person SQL Server certification classes.
  • Fusion-IO raffled an iPad.
  • Idera raffled one their SQL Serve monitoring software suites and gift cards.
  • Soaring Eagle, ElSavier and Wrox each provided SQL Server and Business Intelligence books to raffle.

To all our sponsors thank you for supporting our SQL Server and Business Intelligence Community!

Panel of Experts

In this event I decided to put together a panel of experts to discuss several topics relating to SQL Server and Business Intelligence as well as a discussion of what’s new in the upcoming release of SQL Server 2012. The Panel of Experts took place at LATAM restaurant right after lunch. Our panel of experts included:

We invited our sponsors to briefly talk about their products and services and prizes they were giving away during the event. Following our sponsors I decided to recognize Andy Warren, MVP and PASS (Website) Board of Directors, for his contributions to the SQL Server community, SQL Saturday creation and 100 SQL Saturday milestone.

BI BootCamp pre-conference

Along with our free SQL Saturday #86 event we hosted a paid pre-conference titled “BI BootCamp” presented by SQL Server MVP and SSAS Maestro Instructor Adam Jorgensen. We exceeded our goal with 33 attendees paid attendees, all of which gave very positive feedback of Adam’s presentation. I did a star appearance, helping Adam present a section on SSRS Reports using OLAP cubes as a source.

Thanks to Mike Wells for (Twitter | LinkedIn | Blog) for taking pictures throughout the event. You can see more event pictures at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/116314811362928917852/SQLSat86

Afterthoughts: SharePoint Saturday Tampa 2011

This past Saturday June 11th, 2011 I had the opportunity to co-present at SharePoint Saturday Tampa thanks to a special invitation by its main organizer Michael Hinckley (Twitter|Blog|LinkedIn). It was a great experience and a very well-organized event. I met several SharePoint professionals I follow on Twitter for the first time and learned more about them and others in the industry that are in a few words, Rockstars!

Speaker Dinner & Event Networking
As a speaker, I was invited to attend the speaker dinner at Donatello Restaurant (website) on Friday evening June 10th.  The place was a great choice as we had the lounge & bar area mostly for ourselves. Food was excellent. At the dinner party I had the opportunity to connect with several friends from the area, some which I had not seen personally for a while such as

Michael Antonovich  (Blog|Twitter|LinekdIn),
Assistant Director of Web Services at Orange County Public Schools

Landon Bass (Blog|LinkedIn),
Systems Engineer III – SharePoint Engineer at Raymond James

Chad Miller (Blog|Twitter|LinkedIn),
Sr Manager Database Administration at Raymond James

I also met some other cool guys like

Chris Schwab’s (Blog|Twitter|LinkedIn),
Sharepoint & PowerShell guru

David McNamee (Blog|Twitter|LinkedIn),
SharePoint Technology Specialist at Microsoft

Michael Oryszak (Blog|Twitter|LinkedIn)
Practice Manager at Intellinet, SharePoint Server MVP, MCITP

Marc D. Anderson (Blog|Twitter|LinkedIn),
Co-Founder and President at Sympraxis Consulting LLC

The Presentation
Michael Hinckley and I co-presented “Extending Business Intelligence Solutions with SharePoint 2010,” in which we did an overview of what SharePoint 2010 has to offer for Business Intelligence. Michael did a great job doing an overview of SharePoint 2010 covering deployment considerations, licensing and edition comparisons. I then proceeded to do quick overview of Business Intelligence, what it is and what it is not. The audience was very engaged and we spent at least 10 minutes discussing the BI self-delivery model and the governance necessary around it to ensure the “single version of the truth.”

Click here or on image above to download the presenation

David McNamee from Microsoft attended the presentation and contributed to the discussion regarding governance and the self-delivery model. He made a statement that resonated a lot with me as an IT professional regarding these politics and battles between IT and the business:

..if IT and the Business don’t talk and collaborate and the business does not consider IT as a strategic partner, then I’m in the wrong organization.

This is very true and agree 100% with David. As a matter of fact, a big reason why I left a past employer was because of these unhealthy politics.

At the end  of the presentation I showcased Excel Services, Performance Point Services and one of the coolest features in SharePoint 2010 Decomposition Trees. We got great feedback and hopefully Michael and I have an opportunity to co-present again at other events. I felt Michael and I had a good synergy co-presenting (even with no rehearsal).

This may be a taste of things to come between the synergy the Tampa Bay Business Intelligence User Group and the Tampa Bay SharePoint User Group.

 The Sessions I attended
I attended just a couple of sessions as I spent most of my time networking with attendees, speakers and sponsors and promoting our own upcoming SQL Saturday #86 BI Edition on November 5th.

While I am not a SharePoint Developer (yet), I really enjoyed Marc D. Anderson’s presentation “Developing in SharePoint’s Middle Tier.” I learned about his awesome SPServices jQuery library publicly available at Codeplex (http://spservices.codeplex.com/) and also about his SharePoint XSL templates also available at Codeplex (http://spxslt.codeplex.com). Through his jQuery library and XSL templates you can easily customize the user experience of SharePoint forms like cascading dropdown menus, selectable textbox word hints, real-time data validation and much more. Really cool stuff.

During lunch time I attended a session / discussion by Kathy Malone (Meetup) and Blain Barton (Blog|LinkedIn) titled “Building Social Media Communities; How SharePoint Fits In.” This was an interesting discussion as it involved one of my favorite topics: Social Media. We discussed Twitter and how it can help startups and technical communities. I added my two cents ($0.02) and explained how great the #sqlhelp hashtag helps a lot of SQL Professionals with immediate answers from experts around the world. We discussed that for SharePoint there is #sphelp available. I was able to walk away with a signed copy of “Office and SharePoint 2010 User’s Guide” authored by my good friend Michael Antonovich. You can buy his book here.

Another great session I attended was presented by Ryan Morgan (Blog|Twitter|LinkedIn) titled “Silverlight Dashboards in SharePoint 2010.” I have not developed anything at all with Silverlight but was interested to learn how complex or easy it was to create custom dashboards in SharePoint 2010 with Silverlight. It turned out it was very simple, or at list Ryan was very effective at simplifying things that even a Silverlight newb like me understood it. I also learned how easy it is to query SharePoint lists using the API’s available using jQuery and LINQ. Very cool stuff.

I look forward to speaking and attending another SharePoint Saturday. There is so much to learn from the experts that speak at this event that I can apply on my line of work which is Business Intelligence. As Michael Hinckley and I have discussed, there is so much overlap between SharePoint 2010, SQL Server and Business Intelligence and the fact that Microsoft is focusing its efforts to make SharePoint the preferred enterprise information management platform, that SQL/BI and SharePoint folks need to engage more and more.

500th Twitter follower spotlight: Joshua Luedeman

It is hard sometimes to take the time to acknowledge our Twitter followers and spend time getting to know them. I decided to change that a little bit and go beyond the 140 character limit and do a video conference spotlight on whomever became follower number 500th.

Recently, I reached my 500th follower on Twitter. The lucky tweep was Joshua Luedeman aka @BigDadyLueda, a DBA/Business Intelligence Developer from Tallahassee, FL. I asked Joshua to do a recorded video conference via Skype and answer a couple of questions to get to know him better and introduce him to the rest of the community.

It turned out Joshua is a very smart guy from upstate New York who recently moved to Florida with his family. Joshua and I share several things in common:

  • Proud father of two girls
  • Husband in love with his beautiful wife
  • Passionate about SQL Server and Business Intelligence
  • Recently moved to Florida
  • Recently re-focused his career in Business Intelligence
  • Looks up to @SQLChicken (Jorge Segarra) and his SQL University initiative
  • Reads SQL Server Books on Line and related blog posts
  • Desires to become more active in the SQL Server, Business Intelligence, SQL PASS  community by blogging and speaking

It was truly a pleasure and honor to get to know him in more than 140 characters. Here is the recording of our video conference:

 

I have been Knighted

As I announced on my 2000-2010 a Decade in Retrospect blog post I have joined the ranks at Pragmatic Works and started my first day today. I’m excited to join such a great professional team, full of experts in the SQL Server and Business Intelligence field. There is no waste of time here. Lots of engagements from the get go. Less than an hour at work, I got in my first brainstorming session. An hour later I have been assigned to two client engagements I will be involved with during the next few weeks. I will also be involved with the Virtual Mentoring services. If you have purchased Virtual Mentoring hours from us, I might be giving you a call soon! 

 The atmosphere here at the new offices is laid-back and you can feel a sense of teamwork from all of the guys. If you are looking to make a career move, Pragmatic Works is your best choice. Lots of expansion going on, great carer opportunities and lots of expertise in-house to tap into.

 

2000-2010 a Decade in Retrospect

2011: A New Year / A New Decade
The end of the year 2010 marks the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. It has been a decade of commotion in many aspects of our every day life: 9/11, war, political and economic crisis. For IT Professionals it has been undoubtedly a decade of many changes: new privacy and security regulations,  improvements in technology, shifts in delivery models like SaaS and Cloud Computing, re-shaping of roles, etc. All these changes are part of the IT evolution that never ends. 

Being an IT Professional I’ve had the need to keep up with this wave of change, always adapting, and trying to find my call. As I look back at this decade, there are so many things I have accomplished for which I’m grateful to God and to the many people who have helped me become who I am now. These are my milestones:

2000: Survived Y2K
Y2K was an event of catastrophic consequences, or so the media portrayed it. Banks were going to lose all your account data, airplanes were going to fall out of the sky, nuclear missiles will start firing at will, the end of the world was near. People started building Y2K shelters, some withdrew all their money from their bank accounts, and many embraced themselves for the turn of the century with fear. We survived.

During this time I had my own Computer Sales and Services business while finishing college back in Honduras. Y2K was very lucrative for me as many companies needed firmware upgrades, software patches and updates. I even got my hands dirty with an obscure product at that point to me called SQL Server 6.5 helping install Service Pack 5a for one customer. Little did I know this product will be what would feed my family a couple of years later. 

2001: The World collapses
9-11 made the whole world collapse to its knees in shock. I was in Honduras still sleeping when my dad woke me up and told me to come watch the news of an airplane accident in New York. As I watched in shock what appeared to be a replay of what had happened, it was several seconds later that I realized it was not a replay, it was a second plane.

At that point in my career, I was working as a jack-of-all-trades for a larger Computer Sales and Services company with foreign capital as Sales Manager, network and computer technician, graphic and web designer, and supporting a couple SQL Server and Sybase ASE database systems. I had no real clue where I wanted to focus my career on. I liked everything about IT, I enjoyed selling, building and troubleshooting those Pentium IIIs and PIVs, designing webpages with raw HTML with occasional use of FrontPage.

2002: A New Country
On a Friday morning I get a call from one of our customers requesting assistance with one of their applications that we supported. Since it had a Sybase database backend, I took the ticket and proceeded to the customer site. The issue was simple a data window was not saving the data on the screen. I put my PowerBuilder skills to work, and pinpointed and solved the issue in 10 mins. It turns out that the developer of this third-party application had been trying to fix this issue for several days, causing the business loss of productivity since they had been relying on paper base format in the meantime. Next morning on Saturday, after waking up at noon from playing StarCraft all night long,  I received an instant message via Windows Messenger (yes, old school!) by one of the client’s staff. The message was, “Would you be interested in going to our Miami office to fix some of our issues there?” Cue: Coming to America by The System

2003-2005: The “Network Guy” years
Once my work contract was over I decided to apply for permanent residency, obtaining a temporary work permit and enabling me to seek other job opportunities and study. One area of IT that really interested me at the time was Cisco networking, so I enrolled at Miami-Dade College and completed the CCNA program with flying colors. Little did I know, that no company was willing to hire a guy fresh out of some Cisco classes to manage their network. After several interviews, only one company gave me a chance, and boy it changed my life.

It was an airline, but all their networking was outsourced so all I had to do was open the door for Cisco technicians to come install and configure equipment at our data center. I learned some things here and there from them, but the most valuable lesson was that all the configurations were given to them by their top-level Cisco engineers, and they simply copy/pasted into the equipment’s configuration. I could have written the configuration myself, but no, that’s the job of experienced CCNPs and CCIEs. That was a little heart-breaking for me and soon realized Cisco no longer appealed to as my career focus.

Working at this airline I expanded my knowledge in other areas, Windows Server troubleshooting, Exchange, IIS, some Oracle Financials, and SQL Server. At this point I learned upgrading, installing and troubleshooting SQL Server 2000/2005. I did not like it, since databases was not an area I was interested in. I thought of database professionals back then as being the equivalent of report writers. And no, report writing was never my call and never envisioned myself being so, but little did I know.

2005: Newly Wed
While working for the airline, I met my wife. It was not love at first sight, quite the contrary. Our jobs crossed in a way in which we did not get along at the beginning. After several months of having to work together, I discovered her true-self and immediately fell for her. After a short relationship, we decided to get married. 

2006: An Angel from Heaven
In 2006, we were blessed with our oldest daughter. That’s when it hit me: Get your career on track! During this period I had left the airline job and decided to start my own company, with two incomes, I could afford a lower-income as I built my customer base. I had a good two-month start but when my wife gave me news of our baby, I panicked and decided to get a job, get my career on track, and start saving for a house.

After a six-month contract with a Cruise Line, I was offered a management job at a financial services company I used to provide networking and desktop support services during my short-lived entrepreneurial time.

2007: A New Career / A New Home
According to the job description I was going to be IT and Operations Manager. I knew the IT Management part, but Operations? The great thing was that the previous Operations Manager was becoming full-time Marketing Manager for the company. He had been Marketing and Operations manager but the Operations Management part was more in par with IT since all the company’s processes had a technology aspect to it. He was great to show me all the tasks he did for Operations and it helped me fine tune some processes and introduce new technology to facilitate our operations such as SharePoint, SQL Server 2005 and other technologies.

As our daughter grew, so was her need for space. Living in an apartment in Miami was not the best of places to raise a very active little girl. During that time the housing bubble was on the rise and properties in Miami became outrageously expensive. On the other hand taxes were high and schools were bad. Thinking in a long term investment for our home and for a good area to raise our girl we decided to move to the suburbs of Tampa. My employer allowed me to relocate and work from our Tampa office.

2008-2010: SQL as a Safe Heaven / A Second Angel from Heaven
Several months after I moved, our management meetings became more and more centered on the loss of revenue. Every month the conversations revolved around the sharply decrease of customers coming back. The real estate bubble had just exploded. The majority of our customers where in the construction business, mainly immigrants who now where out of work and had been relocating north to other states were there was still some construction going on. The forecast was to close down in a period of six months. I could not afford losing my income as we were expecting our second daughter and decided to jump ship. At that moment only two areas were safe to do a career move, government or health-care. I was lucky I was able to land a job as database administrator for a local government organization, what I considered a safe-heaven, to weather the economic crisis.

By the end of 2008, our youngest daughter was born. Another angel sent from the heavens.

My move not only let me  weather the economic crisis between 2008 to 2010 but it also allowed me to learn so much about database administration. This organization also gave me the opportunity to build my skills as a Business Intelligence architect and developer. I was given the task of architecting our Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence solution, which I was able to accomplish with great results, allowing our Executive Team to be able to surface important facts about the population and geography served.

2010: My calling
After going through some organizational changes at my local government job and due to some other family related factors I decided to move on and pursue other opportunities out there. At the moment, my heart was split between Database Administration and Business Intelligence. I received two offers, one as DBA and for ETL developer. I was ready to accept the job as DBA when a third offer came from nowhere to become a Business Intelligence Consultant. I had always wanted to be a consultant but did not feel I had enough knowledge and experience to become one. After a lot of soul searching I decided to take the plunge and accept the offer as a Business Intelligence Consultant. It was the best decision ever. I had found my true calling.

During 2010, I became more active in the SQL Server and Business Intelligence community. I decided to get my SQL Server certifications. I jumped on Twitter, started following and met MVPs, book authors and all of my blogging rockstars. I established new friendships. I attended and spoke on my first SQL Saturday, I attended PASS Summit 2010 and I became the leader of the Tampa Bay Business Intelligence PASS Chapter.

The 2011 New Year awaits great things for me. The beginning of a new decade. The continuation of my true calling as a Consultant in the Business Intelligence field. A new employer: Pragmatic Works (website).

More details coming soon…

4 certifications in 30 days

On June 23rd, 2010 I achieved a professional milestone by becoming a Microsoft Certified IT Professional, MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 passing Exam 70-450.  Along with this certification I ended up earning a total of 4 certifications:

Exam 70-448 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance
Exam 70-431 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance
Exam 70-432 MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008 – Implementation and Maintenance
Exam 70-450 MCITP: Database Administrator SQL Server 2008

See my official transcript at https://mcp.microsoft.com/authenticate/validatemcp.aspx and enter Transcript ID: 913755 and Access Code: transcript2010

* Note: Exact time-frame was 43 days. I had last exam scheduled within 30 days from initial test but had to re-schedule due to last-minute high priority project meeting at work.

At first glance you may think:
1) I have photographic memory and memorized each and every page of the training material.
2) I am a SQL/BI god or rock star (Thanks @mikeSQL) </blush>
3) I am the more handsome and smarter love child between @Buckwoody and @BrentO.

The reality is that:
1) My memory span is as bad as the page memory lifespan of a poorly configured SQL Server.
2) I’m humble enough to say that I know enough to get the job done.
3) No, I’m not as half as smart as our SQL masters and rock stars, but more handsome…definetely!

So here is the 5 step process I followed preparing for my certifications:
1) Play
2) Read
3) Break
4) Fix
5) Practice Test

My 5 step process in detail:
1) Play. First, setup several SQL Server instances in a virtualized environment. Install all features and try to figure things out on your own first.
2) Read. Research and read how to do the things you could not figure out by your own.
3) Break. Once you figure things out, run several scenarios to break whatever you had running in order to learn from error messages and logs. This helps to learn what not to do in a production environment.
4) Fix. After breaking something try to fix it. If you cannot fix it on your own, read and reasearch it. Tweet #sqlhelp if necessary.
5) Practice Test. Go through the Practice Tests that come in the CD included with the Self-paced books to measure your understanding of a specific topic or objective. You can customize these tests to include only questions about specific objectives.

Takeaway #1: Do all the Practice Exams that come with the Companion CD and view the answer to the questions you got wrong to get the right answer and explanation. Re-take the Practice Exams covering only questions you answered incorrectly.

Takeaway #2: Practice, Read, Break, Fix, Self-asses…loop

Reading
As usual, you need to understand the concepts, terminology, vocabulary, and acronyms of any technology you want to master. In order to achieve this, you need a combination of experience and reading.  Reading and memorizing just don’t work. Exam crams and brain dumps don’t work and you are just cheating yourself.

You don’t have to be a book-worm. I have purchased more than 20 books on SQL Server and Business Intelligence but have not read even one of them from front to back. What I do with each exam is I lookup the exam objectives and cross out the ones I feel 100% confident (concepts and hands-on experience). The ones I did not cross out are the ones I seek good reference material on.  And where do you get the best learning and reference material from? The official self -paced training books,  Microsoft Books Online (BOL) and last but not least…your SQL MVPs’, masters’ and rockstars’ books, white papers, blogs, etc.

These are part of the books I used to prepare for all these certifications:

Experience
When I say experience, I don’t mean xxx number years of experience being a Database Administrator or Developer. By experience I mean, hands-on working knowledge,  the “Oh, yeah, I know how to do that” type of confidence.

There is a saying by Confucius that summarizes it all (modified a little by me):

” What I hear I forget. What I see I remember. What I do I understand.”

Acquiring the hands on knowledge is key to a real understanding of SQL Server and its features.

Failing to pass a certification test
If you fail it is ok. I learn a lot more by failing. I call it “Success by failure” or “Learning from failure”. Many people fail because of the fear of failure itself. Take advantage of exam discounts and vouchers like Second Shot offers from Microsoft.

Takeaway #3: Failure is an option. Success is a choice.

Again, what if I fail?  It’s ok to fail !

Failing a certification exam does not mean that you are no good. Failing an exam means that there are areas or features that you need to get more familiarized with either conceptually or hands-on or both.

Takeaway #4: If you fail an exam, keep a record (mentally or write it down on pad provided) of the features or exam objectives that came up on the exam and for which you did not feel confident on the answer. Do not write down the question(s). It is against the rules and most likely they will not come up again next time you retake the exam. After failing your test, go back home and read and play with those features that you identified you needed more understanding. Re-take the test immediately. Don’t let time pass by.

So where do you start?
In my case, I’ve been working mostly on Business Intelligence and Database Maintenance on SQL Server 2008 for the last two years at my current position. As the appointed Technical Project Manager, Architect and Developer of our Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Solution for my current employer, I have spent endless nights doing all the planning, envisioning, configuration, development and deployment of our SSIS Packages, OLAP Cubes and SSRS Reports. It was only natural for me to go first for the MCTS: SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance Exam 70-448.

What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-448?
1)  Self-Paced Training Kit for MCTS 70-448
2) Business Intelligence Boot Camp by TechSherpas Tampa, FL
3) The Data Warehouse Toolkit (Second Edition)
4) The MicrosoftData Warehouse Toolkit: With SQL Server2005 and the MicrosoftBusiness Intelligence Toolset
5) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 MDX Step by Step
6) Pro SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services
7) Smart Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Next on my certification path was SQL Server Administration, Maintenance, Configuration and Deployment. Since I have been working with SQL Server 2005 since its release to market I felt that I should prove myself worthy on SQL Server 2005 by passing Exam 70-431. Although, since mid 2009 I had migrated all our production databases to SQL Server 2008 and had not used SQL Server 2005 since then, I still felt, for sentimental purposes perhaps, that I wanted to have SQL Server 2005 under my certification belt.

I believe this strategy worked really well for me because it allowed me to focus on the new features of SQL Server 2008 for the MCTS: SQL Server 2008 Exam 70-432.

What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-431?
1) MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-431): Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Implementation and Maintenance
2) Microsoft SQL Server 2005: Database Essentials Step by Step

Having passed the MCTS: SQL Server 2005 exam with no problems I immediately scheduled the MCTS: SQL Server 2008. Since I have been using SQL Server 2008 for more than a year in our production and testing environment, I felt confident to simply go over some of the concepts to reinforce my knowledge.

Once I passed Exam 70-432 MCTS: SQL Server 2008, I felt I wanted to go all the way and obtain my MCITP: SQL Server 2008. One area I did not felt 100% confident was the dreaded performance monitoring and tuning part of every DBA’s job. So I buckled up and did deep dives on performance monitoring and tuning based on Andy Warren’s (@sqlandy) methodology and his blogs along with the many blogs from our other SQL masters and rock stars.

After going over more than 20 books, reading hundreds of blogs, spending late night hours practicing hands-on and assessing my knowledge through practice exams, I was able to pass Exam 70-450.

 What learning resources did I used for Exam 70-432 and  Exam 70-450?

1) MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-432): Microsoft SQL Server 2008-Implementation and Maintenance
2) Professional SQL Server 2008 Internals and Troubleshooting
3) SQL Server 2008 Query Performance Tuning Distilled
4) Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Internals
6) SQL Performance Tuning Class by SQLShare (Instructor: Andy Warren @sqlandy)

The bottom line:  Do not attempt to obtain all of these certifications just by reading books or doing practice exams. The hands on experience really counts. Nowadays it is so easy to build your personal training labs on your home computer or laptop with free virtualization tools like VMWare.

So what is next?
Microsoft Certified Master (MCM). The MCM will take me a year or two of preparation and most probably I will attend one of Paul Randal’s and Kimberly Tripp’s (www.sqlskills.com) Public Immersion event in 2011 to help me prepare on some advanced topics. During this period I will have completed several infrastructure upgrades to our current OLTP Production system as well as really interesting Business Intelligence at my current employer.

In the meantime I will be working towards achieving certifications and advancing my skills on Virtualization technologies (Hyper-V and VMWare), SAN Administration (EMC, HP), Windows Server, Active Directory, SharePoint  2010, PowerPivot, PowerShell, Exchange 2010, Citrix, MicroStrategy, .Net Programming, Project Management PMP, and the list goes on…

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