According to a recent study cited in a Microsoft website, "cumulative data will grow 44 times over the next decade." That surge in data growth can only increase the demand for data professionals. More and more people will be needed to fill that demand. There is no better time to become a SQL Server professional than now. I have friends that expressed their interest in becoming a SQL Server DBA or Developer, but they don't have the resources to afford formal training in SQL Server. A week of end-to-end introductory courses could cost around $2,000-$3,000. Those that are on tight budget may not be able to afford that. Check out this tip to learn about training on a budget.
If you have a good background in IT and have some exposure to tasks or projects that are related to data in some form or another, you could take the self-study route. I would high recommend taking the Microsoft Certification exams on SQL Server to validate your self-study effort. I still recommend formal training, plus real-world experience with SQL Server, as a better way to learn.
Below are few tips for SQL Server training on a budget.
Set Your Goals
You must set some goals. SQL Server is a multifaceted software platform, and it is quite easy to get overwhelmed with it. I suggest you pick a particular SQL Server certification to pursue.
There are two stages of the SQL Server Certification. Your first step is to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA). You can advance to the next level by becoming a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) in which you have two tracks to choose from - MCSE in Data Platform or Business Intelligence. Decide on which path you want to take in order to focus your self-study effort.
Create Your Study Plans
Once your goals are set, your next task is to build your study plans. Your study plans serve as a concrete outline of how would you work toward your goals. The Microsoft Exam Study Guides are great outlines to use for study. They provide the topics you need to focus on to pass the certification exams.
Your primary resource for studying SQL Server is the Books Online. You might also want to invest in a book from the Microsoft Training Kit Series. Get the book specific to the exam you're going to take. Blogs are also great resources for studying.
Invest In Tools
You need a good computer to run SQL Server. If you have the budget, I recommend a laptop, but not just any laptop. SQL Server requires a computer more powerful than most consumer computers. You might want to buy a laptop with Core i7 Processor and 16GB of memory if you have the budget. Features such as Failover Cluster and AlwaysOn Availability Groups require multiple SQL Servers. You need at least two instances of SQL Server, aside from a separate Windows Server Domain Controller, to setup AlwaysOn Availability Groups.
For the software, you can purchase the Developer edition of SQL Server, which contains all features of the Enterprise edition, but cannot be used in a production environment. Or you can download the trial version. There is no Developer edition for Windows Server, but you can also download the trial version.
Another option for your software needs is a TechNet Subscription, which provides full versions of Microsoft Software - Windows Server and SQL Server included - for use in a non-production environment.
Set Your Training Hours
Find time to study in a distraction-free environment. You need a lot of focus and it is very important to have a schedule to follow. Have "off-limit" hours in the evening (or day) so you can sit down and focus on studying. You might need to sacrifice some other activities that are in conflict with your study hours.
Just because you're on a self-study training doesn't mean you're all alone. Once you decided to study SQL Server, the whole SQL Server Community has "got your back". You only need to let them know you need their help. The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) is dedicated to helping you advance your SQL Server knowledge in any reasonable way.
The good thing about the SQL Server Community is there are multiple channels with which you can reach SQL Server professionals ready to help you at any time of the day. You can find them on: SQL Saturday events, SQL Server User Groups, forums, and even on Twitter. Use the #sqlhelp hash tag on Twitter to get answers for your SQL Server questions.
Practice your new SQL Server skills in the real world. If there is no "On the Job Training" opportunity for you now in your current job, talk to your management to see what opportunities may be available.
Continuously build upon what you already know and take advantage of any learning opportunities that you might come across.
Last Update: 9/21/2012
About the author
Marlon Ribunal is a data specialist for an aerospace & defense company. He is passionate about SQL Server, data, and BI.