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Essential Resources for Anyone New to SQL Server

When I was a college freshman and I was doing what we all did in the evening—not studying—I was chatting on AIM with a gentleman—an older gent who was out of college," in IT," and was giving me career advice.

"You should learn HTML and CSS. Oh, and probably PHP and C. And SQL. Definitely SQL."

He may as well have been telling me to learn elliptic curve cryptography, phrenology, and zumology—I didn't have a clue what they were, what training was involved, and how they fit together.

Starting Out as a DBA

Fast forward to my first job out of college; I was working at GoDaddy and had done a little bit of everything, but had not yet breached the two areas that intimidated me most: networking and databases. So, when the Lead Business Intelligence database administrator (DBA) approached me and said he noticed and appreciated the work I was doing in my current role and asked would I like to learn SQL and come work for him, I replied, YES!

I took two 100-Level courses on MindLeaders and was ready to go! But, then the DBAs and Analysts and Developers all used terminology I had never heard of. My master plan to get on track fast? I looked up current Microsoft Certifications and bought books, thinking I could read my way out of ignorance in no time flat. Foolproof, right?

And I thought Kierkegaard was hard.

I had six ginormous tomes at my desk and found myself looking up every sixth or seventh term, with explanations that had me looking up more terms (you get the picture). Simultaneously, I found a cure for insomnia with Microsoft® SQL Server™ 2005 Administrator's Companion.

See, thinking books were the answer is where I went wrong. In my first week, my boss had to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to please kill my delete of 14 million records from a temporary table; I ended up learning by doing. And it took time. Not the answer you want? Good. Based on the growing pains I went through, I've compiled a list of resources for someone who is brand new to SQL Server that I think can jump start you faster than I was able to!

Best SQL Server Books

The best book you can get by far if you're planning to be a Developer or an Analyst (i.e., primary role is getting data out), is Microsoft SQL Server 2012 T-SQL Fundamentals by Itzik Ben-Gan. If I had had this book from the start, much embarrassment and confusion could have been nixed. I'm such a fan of this book I recommend it on the home page of my blog at kSQL.net.

As an aside: Do you run a Mac like I do at home? SQL Server runs on Windows and you'll want a little dev environment. Here's how: I recommend buying Parallels so you can create a Virtual Instance/Machine (VM) and install Windows and a SQL Server instance to play with.

Tip: Some hardback books will have an included CD with a trial version of SQL! Now, I did buy my own copy of Windows 7 (not Windows 8—still hearing too many horror stories) and SQL Server 2012 Development Edition off Amazon as discs and not downloads. The price wasn't awful, but SQL 2014 is the current version, so I'd buy that. Last, you can download the AdventureWorks database from Microsoft for free so you can dive right in to an existing database and start querying! (When you hear a DBA saying he found AdventureWorks on a Production box and popped a sprocket, now you know why!)

Related: Top 10 Highly Recommended SQL Server Books

Use Twitter as a SQL Server Resource

Ok, back to some great places to get started! I hit up Twitter and asked for tips for brand new SQL learners using the hashtag #sqlhelp and got some fantastic replies:

  • @ImADataGuy recommended Coursera. He says it had a very good, self-paced introduction to database course that was database agnostic. Check their site for current offerings.
  • @MHensleyJr directed me to the free and excellent W3Schools SQL Tutorial. I've used W3Schools many, many times over the years and love it.
  • @onpnt sent me a link to SQL University; this was a new one for me and I've bookmarked it!
  • Both @SQLBek and @SirSQL recommend SQL Server Central's Stairway Series as a quick start, especially if you have no exposure to relational modeling.
  • @MMosley recommended the absolute beginners course from Treehouse, as well.

Did you notice a trend above? All this valuable information came from Twitter. Twitter itself is an oft overlooked, yet priceless resource. The best minds in the industry are on there, posting blogs and articles and answering questions (remember #sqlhelp?). Get you on Twitter. Check out who I follow for ideas—I'm @SQLSnark—and say Hi!

Welcome to the #SQLFamily.

Do you have recommended resources for those new to SQL Server? Please share your suggestions by commenting below!

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