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Up to now, most chapters have had a technical bias and contained plenty of code. The remaining chapters are softer, although no less useful and interesting.
Chapter 11 Building Better Reports
Good reports should contain accurate data and be presented so users can get the information they need easily. The aim of this chapter is to look at what makes good reports.
The chapter begins with some scare stories of what can go wrong when reports are presented badly (see www.eusprig.org/horror-stories.htm), for example: £4.3M spreadsheet error leads to resignation of its chief executive. This should drive home the importance of good reports.
The author identifies the keys to good reports as:
Skills as a reports developer – Various technical skills are listed. Additionally, communication with various member of IT community is essential
Report design – reports should be easy to read and understand. Gather key requirements and prototype in Excel, amend as requirements become firm. An agile approach is useful
Report platform and tools – if only tool is a hammer, then every problem is a nail. Good to have knowledge of several tools. Microsoft and non-Microsoft tools are discussed
If you build reports, this chapter is definitely worth reading, there are plenty of useful tips, and some common sense advice (many problems are not technical in nature, and don’t require a technical solution – communication is often essential to ease problems). There’s a very useful, long list of skills that report developers should have, together with the skill level. There’s also some very useful tips on designing graphs and tables (with helpful links too).
Unfortunately, on Safari, the hyperlinks didn’t work for this chapter due to a mistake with case e.g. the text shows HTTP://BIT.LY/QWRSZE when it should be http://bit.ly/QWRSZE.
Chapter 12 Communication Isn’t Soft
IT professionals are often viewed as poor communicators, this chapter aims to correct this by provided written and spoken approaches you can practice.
The chapter starts with a look at the written word, and the need to pay attention to your spelling and grammar. The author recommends reading more to improve your writing, the premise being that you’ll get more ideas on how to present information. As for actual writing, you can start small by looking at and using Twitter, its 140 character limit forces you to concisely formulate your ideas. This can be extended by creating a blog for more in-depth articles.
Next the spoken word is considered, the main point being people fear an audience, but there is a solution, practice! You can record yourself and examine how you speak and your body language. You can start a lunch-and-learn session with colleagues, you’ll learn what things work and what doesn’t, and gain in confidence. This can be followed by speaking at user groups, and even national events.
I enjoyed this chapter, communication is something we all do, consciously or unconsciously, and most of us could probably do with some improvement. This chapter provides sensible graduated steps to improve your written and oral communication.
The key take-away from this chapter is that practice will help you. When you see a good presenter you can be sure they’ve spent time practicing. Practice will improve your self-belief, written and oral communication, and should pay off at interviews too!
Chapter 13 Guerrilla Project Management for DBAs
Being a DBA often involves a lot of unplanned work, so being well organized and having good communication skill will help protect against stress and long hours.
The chapter starts with a look at the DBA’s crazy workload, with plenty of unplanned support work, providing consulting for other projects, as well as planned projects. Sometimes, owing to the political nature of organizations and staff, DBAs can be the default point for blame when things go wrong or change (e.g. project A is delayed so it conflicts with project B that you’re working on).
Various techniques are discussed, under the guise of “The Shield of Project Management”, to protect you from otherwise stressful situations that can results from unplanned changes. Firstly a list of common project management terms is defined. This is followed by techniques such as:
outsource prioritization (your boss should decide)
don’t say ‘no’ (just say everything has a cost)
communicate risk in a positive light
make project plan for reoccurring and underappreciated tasks
This is another chapter with an unusual slant. The author tries to make a few jokes along the way, but I know there is a degree of truth in his jokes, often DBAs have been worn down by the challenges they’ve faced. So this list of approaches to combat this is surely to be welcomed. Since a fair amount of this chapter relates to communication, I would have expected a link to the chapter on communication – but none was given.
Chapter 14 Agile Development
Perhaps the keystone of Agile development is to quickly develop the most important feature users need. This obviates the major pitfall of the waterfall approach to projects – developing feature that are never or rarely used.
The chapter opens with a brief history of Agile, and why it’s replacing other development approaches. The details of Agile are explained in the context of automation, balance and communication. Where possible, repetitive events should be automated, this includes monitoring, email prioritization, and the build process. Since Agile creates lots of changes, a balanced approach is needed to ensure the new features don’t overwhelm the technical debt that can result. Since Agile is fast moving, communication is essential to ensure team members know what is happening.
The chapter ends with a look at some database specific Agile methods for design (simple, patterns), deployments (make robust, re-runnable) and tests (unit, integration and performance tests).
This is another interesting and unusual chapter, it was helpful to see some Agile techniques applied to databases, specifically there’s some nice code for adding objects when the object already exists.
Chapter 15 Nine Habits to Secure a Stellar Performance Review
The author prescribes the following 9 habits to allow you to grow professionally, and give you a great performance review:
Work hard: minimize distractions, can use various method – Pomodoro, time management matrix (importance v immediacy) or Getting Things Done (GTD)
Know parameters for your success: what does your boss expect?
Work with vision: know business, volunteer,
Train to gain edge: study, including read blogs, webcasts, books, events etc
Stand on the shoulder of giants: use other’s tools:
Ola Hallengren’s Backup, Integrity Check and Index maintenance solution
SSMS tools pack
Full Server DDL Auditing solution
Custom SSIS tasks
Management Data Warehouse
Control the headlines: summarize for bosses
Recall sparks of success in self-appraisal
Use review to negotiate rewards: know what you’re worth (check pay websites)
Don’t rest on past successes
Another interesting and unusual chapter, I especially enjoyed the recommended tools!
This is certainly an interesting book, covering a wide range of topics. All the chapters are well written, most are easy to read, and fresh. Some of the topics are offbeat, which itself adds to the book’s interest. Most chapters contain links to additional and deeper information, and many chapters have practical step-by-step examples.
You can download the first chapter of the book here: http://downloads.red-gate.com/ebooks/SQL/sql-server-storage-internals-101.pdf
The book contains a few basic code and English errors, but nothing too distracting. Cross-referencing between chapters is limited - some chapters end with a conclusion, others with summary, and others with nothing; some consistency would have been helpful. The book’s font was a little large, a more typical font would have reduced the book’s size from 466 pages to around 300 pages, making it more manageable.
I love the concept behind this book, get 15 previously unpublished authors to write about topics they find interesting. They may be new authors, but they are certainly experienced in their field.
The book’s authors have donated their royalties to the charity www.computers4africa.org.uk/, which collects, data-wipes, and refurbishes redundant IT hardware, and sends it to African schools, colleges and selected community projects. So buying the book has the added bonus of helping less-fortunate people.
I enjoyed reading the diverse range of topics in this book, indeed I hope there is a periodic release of this book with new authors talking about subject areas they enjoy. If you want a fresh look at a diverse range of SQL Server related topics I can certainly recommend this book.