The first user group meeting I ever attended was in 1992. It was held at the Microsoft offices in Bellevue, WA, to discuss a new Microsoft offering called "certification." When one of the Microsoft representatives asked me which product I worked with, I replied "SQL Server." He responded by saying "Oh, you write programs with ODBC!"   No, was my answer, but I didn’t go on to explain that I didn’t even know what ODBC was at the time.  Even now, it seems that a lot of developers (not SQL Server developers, but developers in general) have a hard time understanding what a DBA actually does, and an even harder time understanding what database tuning and database design are all about. After all, what can you do with a database other than write programs that access the data?  (That is a rhetorical question.)

So is SQL Server a development product or an IT product? Although I did a bit of development way back in my Sybase days using DB-Library for C, I would never consider myself to be a developer, unless you consider writing T-SQL queries to access system tables and rewriting system stored procedures to be development. When my first book (Inside SQL Server 7.0) came out, I was dismayed to see that Microsoft Press had classified it as a Developers title, and I argued vehemently that the book wasn't just for developers. However, I was overruled.

Does it matter whether you consider yourself to be an IT pro or a developer, or if SQL Server is an IT product or a developer product? It does if you're going to TechEd. TechEd Europe was split into two separate weeks a couple of years ago, with a week for developers and a week for IT pros. This year, Microsoft has announced that the same division will apply in the United States. If you go to http://www.microsoft.com/events/teched2008/developer/default.mspx, you can read that “This year, for the first time in the United States, Tech•Ed offers a premier technical education conference just for developers." And if you go to http://www.microsoft.com/events/teched2008/itpro/default.mspx, you can read that “This year, for the first time in the United States, Tech•Ed offers the premier technical education conference just for IT professionals,” However, both of these announcements are wrong. Back in 1999, Microsoft split TechEd into two parts, but it lasted for only one year. I thought it was because it was too hard for some people to figure out which label—IT pro or developer—to give themselves. But Microsoft is trying again.

So if you're a SQL Server person, how do you decide which TechEd to attend? Both TechEd Developers and TechEd IT Professionals include a track called Database Platform. Some job functions are primarily SQL Server application development, and some might be almost all administrative, but in the SQL Server world, there's an enormous amount of crossover. If you develop in T-SQL, are you a developer or an IT pro? I used to write a regular column for the TSQL Solutions Journal (which used to be part of SQL Server Magazine) called T-SQL for Administrators and felt that administrators had just as much need to know how to program in SQL as application developers do.   TechEd IT Professional includes topics that I have always thought were of primary interest to query developers, such as understanding query plans and implementing useful indexes. The Developer week includes topics that always used to be seen in an Administrator track, such as SQL Server tracing. In fact, in SQL Server 2005, you have to have system administrator privileges to run a trace. Database owners (who aren’t system administrators as well) need not apply. And both weeks include sessions about how to use the SQL Server extensions to PowerShell in SQL Server 2008.

So again, how do you choose? Among my colleagues, the people who call themselves SQL Server developers are going to TechEd Developers, and the people who call themselves DBAs are going to TechEd IT Professionals. But the people who are SQL Server consultants, SQL Server tuners, or who write or teach about SQL Server (and feel they need to know something about everything) are going to both weeks. Those people aren't content with labeling themselves as either developer or IT pro. They just want to learn about SQL Server.