The Great Training Debate Continues

Last week, I encouraged you to "own your destiny" by training yourself one day at a time. As usual, I received many insightful reader comments, and I'd like to share a few with you.

The following reader comment typifies the responses I received: "I want to express kudos for your learn-something-new-each-day approach. I once had a manager who expected me to learn something new each day. I had to take notes so I could share my discoveries with others. If I didn't come up with something by 3:00 P.M., my manager asked me to stop by his office, and he'd remedy the situation. I found my job much more fulfilling, and I had tangible reminders of all the things I'd learned. An interesting side note: Although my manager expected me to learn something new each day, he didn't necessarily follow this philosophy himself. After 6 months, he started coming to ME with questions."

However, several readers expressed a sentiment that this reader comment sums up: "I find your idea of training for 10 minutes a day preposterous. How much can you learn in 10 minutes? When was the last time you studied any computer topic in depth in this amount of time? To say that a steadfast, plodding approach in whatever time is available is a valuable solution to the training issue is simply untenable. I believe this transmits an incorrect message to the legions of database workers in the marketplace (and their employers)—namely, that an inferior level of knowledge is inescapable and a fact of life."

Here's my response to the latter sentiment. First, don't get hung up on x number of minutes. Bite-sized training is a better way to describe this technique. Some people can steal 10 minutes a day from their busy schedules; some people might be able to steal 30 or even 60 minutes. But EVERYONE can steal SOME time back from his or her busy day for career training. Can a "steadfast and plodding" approach to education work? Steadfast and plodding reminds me of the "The Tortoise and the Hare" fable. And we all know who kicked whose tail in that race!

I can say with certainty that this scheme works because I did it! Eight years ago, I decided to focus my career on SQL Server. I still had a full-time job and personal commitments, so I didn't have much time for training sessions. But over 9 to 12 months, I

  • read every SQL Server book on the market (at the time, only two or three were available, so it wasn't that hard).
  • read EVERY word of the printed SQL Server documentation, including the glossary.
  • spent a few minutes every day reading postings in the Compuserve SQL Server discussion group. I didn't read all the questions, but I read every answer written by people I viewed as experts.

Typically, I spent 2 to 3 hours a week learning more about SQL Server in short, focused intervals. Sometimes I studied at home, but usually I studied in short bursts at work. After a few months, I went from reading questions and answers on the Compuserve forum to tentatively answering them, and eventually Microsoft nominated me to be a SQL Server Most Valuable Professional (MVP). One day, I saw that a magazine editor was looking for someone to write a short SQL Server article, and I took on the challenge. The years went by, one thing led to another, and here I am today.

Worried about taking time to learn more about SQL Server during working hours? Consider this reader's anecdote: "You're correct about company-sponsored training being viewed as a way to make people more recruitable and more likely to leave for greener pastures. I like the response a Disney executive gave at a seminar I attended a few months ago. When asked about the amount of time and money spent training Disney employees and whether he was concerned that after people were trained they'd leave, the executive responded: 'I'd much rather train people and have them leave than not train people and have them stay.'"

Does your boss get mad if you spend a few minutes each day learning more about the technology that can help your business run more effectively and efficiently? If so, stop studying SQL Server and start working on your resume.

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