I started my data career in the waning days of the Y2K crisis as an Access developer. By May 2000, I was a true “accidental DBA”: I had no intentions of going the DBA career path, but circumstances had other ideas. At that time, there were significantly more options for quality online help forums than exist today. With that said, there are several options DBAs can turn to for advice, support and help, especially when it comes to Microsoft SQL Server.
Forums were an integral part of my (self) training as a DBA, and, to this day, I say that one of the most important traits of a DBA (especially an "accidental" DBA) is the ability to recognize the quality of the information you’re getting online. To help you get started, here are four free options for getting good answers to tough SQL Server questions.
Twitter has it’s good and bad points. One of its best use cases for myself and my peers in the SQL Server community is the SQLhelp hashtag. By tagging a Twitter post with #SQLhelp you’ll be reaching a dedicated SQL Server Twitter community measured in the thousands. Most of my fellow Microsoft Data Platform MVPs have a Twitter presence and have filters in place for #SQLhelp. Post your question, tag it with #SQLhelp and (usually)--quicker than you’d possibly expect--you’ll garner at least one response.
Quite frequently you’ll have multiple solutions to choose from, or at least corroboration that the first response was the right one. I often see names on Twitter that I recognize from those early forum days.
One word of warning, though: Don’t use #SQLhelp as your first level of SQL support. If you post something that could have easily been solved with a quick Internet search, you will either get no response or be met with a wave of sarcastic “Let me Google that for you” tweets. For its speed, accuracy and quality of answers to questions that don't have easy-to-find solutions elsewhere, Twitter is my top choice.
Stack Overflow excels in weeding out questionable answers to difficult technical questions. It’s also not as limited as using the #SQLhelp option for Twitter in that you can tag your questions with one of dozens of more specific tags to narrow those who will be looking at your question. You’re also not limited to 280 characters so Stack Overflow is better suited for questions that are more complex or difficult to explain in brief. Those who respond to your questions can do so in two ways: they can answer the question with a response they feel is correct based upon their knowledge base or they can upvote or downvote an answer that has been submitted previously. This allows for those answers that have a high “consensus of correctness” to rise to the top of the answers list and those that do not to sink to the bottom. The quality of the answers here are on par with what is offered by Twitter #SQLhelp but the downside is that you may need to wait a bit for a response, which is not much different from the 2000s and the standard technical help forum experience.
This option and the next are holdouts from those early forum days. SQLServerCentral has been owned by Redgate software for over a decade now, but they’ve done a great job of keeping the personality of the site independent and practically unchanged for almost two decades. Much of that is owed to Steve Jones, who acts as editor for the site on behalf of Redgate. Steve co-created SQLServerCentral and, as a result, takes great pride in maintaining its quality. SQLServerCentral is a mixed platform in that it has the forum experience you’d expect, but also technical and SQL-community-focused articles and a Question of the Day feature that helps you learn while having fun.
The quality of the answers provided on the site runs the quality gamut, as one would expect from a standard technical forum, and I’ve found that response times are not as good as those on Twitter #SQLhelp (but not far off of the cadence that Stack Overflow provides). I find myself using SQLServerCentral more as a lookup tool for a previously asked-and-answered questions than I do as a place for posting questions in hopes of a response.
TechNet is run by Microsoft and therefore has a rich library of information across the company's entire software catalog. Content comes in the form of professionally developed presentations, official documentation, knowledge base articles, moderated forums, and more. TechNet is a good option for finding the official answer from Microsoft on a given topic, but the forums are a little slow. This may be due to the fact that MVPs used to be expected to keep up their MVP award by posting answers on the forum, but are now posting on other sites (including Twitter and Stack Overflow). Today I find that questions sometimes go unanswered, or they are answered in a questionable way. However, there are gems scattered among the rocks, and TechNet does still save me from time-to-time.
Of course, none of us knows the answers to every topic. Being the only person in your company doing what you do is challenging. Having these resources at your fingertips greatly improves your ability to address issues you’re facing when you don’t have the answers. Please let me know if you have other quality forums you use.