Monday, April 5, 2010

Getting Immersed in SQL Server

I had the pleasure of spending the past week at the SQL Server Immersion event in Boston.  I was joined by our lead developer, Brooke Philpott (blog | twitter).  This was an intensive course on SQL Server internals, and much more, put on by the esteemed Paul Randal (blog | twitter) and Kimberly Tripp (blog | twitter), and hosted by Adam Machanic (blog | twitter).  I knew going in that Paul and Kimberly were authorities in their respective areas – Paul in the storage engine and related areas like backup/recovery, and Kimberly in query tuning and index optimization.  What I didn’t expect was the sheer breadth and depth of their knowledge, and that they also share quite a bit of knowledge in common.  They are of course married, so I expect this leads to a lot of information-sharing at the dinner table that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

The material covered is far too extensive to get into here, but I will say that every day, and just about every hour of every day, was a challenge… and I have worked with SQL Server for almost 15 years.  This was not basic stuff.   A couple of times in the past I’ve made the mistake of paying for training where the outline looks great, but you get in class only to find that it’s far too basic and high level, and therefore not worth the time away to be there.  This was not that class.  Even though GAMS, IAMS, PFS pages, headers, slots and associated bits and bytes could be considered “basic” in the sense that they are the building blocks of SQL Server, they are certainly not simple.  The amazing thing is that this class really costs no more than many other lower quality week-long SQL Server training courses, when in reality it should probably cost twice as much.  It is an absolute bargain.

When it comes to the instructors themselves, Kimberly and Paul simply have no equal.  Not only are they both ultimate authorities, but they have endless enthusiasm about the material, and spot on delivery.  If either ever got tired they never showed it, even after going all day and all week.  We witnessed countless demos over the course of the week, some extremely involved, multi-step processes, and I can’t recall a one that didn’t go the way it was supposed to.  When has that ever happened?  It certainly hasn’t for me.  Seems as if whenever I demonstrate something in public there is invariably some glitch or another.  These are not beginner presenters, and they put an extreme amount of preparation and attention to detail into everything that they do.  Completely, utterly professional.

You might think that with this extreme level of skill comes extreme levels of egotism and lack of patience.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There were no stupid questions the entire week – well, there were of course, but the response from Paul or Kimberly usually started with “Excellent question…” even when the question wasn’t so excellent.  They simply know how to teach, and are approachable, humble, and patient.

Anyone, from the accidental DBA (there were actually several in our class) to the experienced MVP, will gain significantly from this training.  Not everyone has 3 weeks and $20K to spend on MCM training, the first week of which is Paul and Kimberly on similar material.  Is Immersion the same as the first week of MCM?  According to Kimberly it is not quite as deep, which surprised me… I mean, how much deeper can you go? ;-) There is also no test at the end of the week at Immersion, so probably a lot less pressure as a result.  However, if you are thinking about going after the MCM and want to stick some toes in the water first, I suspect Immersion will give you a good idea of what to expect, as well as serve as a serious primer for much of the first week.

What I think it comes down to is that Paul and Kimberly truly enjoy what they do.  They have a passion for sharing the unique knowledge they have accumulated over the years while working at Microsoft and consulting with some of the largest SQL Server enterprises in the world, and it shows.  The SQL Server community should be thankful that they are so willing to share this knowledge, and that they are able to do it so well.  I count myself privileged to have been able to spend a week with them, and learn many things that will undoubtedly help me and my company, today and years into the future.

This was the only public Immersion event they will hold in the U.S. this year.  Keep a close eye on the SQLskills.com upcoming events page for announcements about future events.  I believe there is one in Dublin later this year, but I'm not seeing it on the site, so it may be sold out.

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