Earlier this year, I attended a few IT events that really underscored the need for continuing education for DBAs, developers, and IT professionals. First, at the Professional Developer’s Conference (PDC) in Redmond, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer declared that Microsoft is “all in” for Windows Phone 7 development, as well as being “all in” for its cloud-based Windows Azure and SQL Azure platforms. (Of course, how can you be “all in” for two completely separate technologies? I don’t know, but it is Microsoft we’re talking about.) Then, at DevConnections in Las Vegas, speakers gave deep-dive sessions into the internals of the critical Microsoft technologies that organizations currently have deployed, including Windows Server, Microsoft Exchange Server, SQL Server, and SharePoint. Right on the heels of that event came the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Summit 2010 in Seattle, where Microsoft and other industry experts dove into the new features of SQL Server 2008 R2, as well as providing a look ahead at the next release of SQL Server (code-named “Denali”).

I’ve been working with Windows development and SQL Server since 1978, and it’s obvious that no area of business changes faster than technology. Microsoft’s presentations at PDC left no doubt that the company’s focus is on mobility and cloud—both being areas in which most of today’s businesses and their IT and database professionals aren’t strong. Although it’s not clear to me whether businesses in the future will really adopt cloud computing technologies, it certainly is clear that IT and database professionals need to keep pace with these rapidly changing technologies. As a database professional, you need to know about technologies to be able to help your company’s management team make informed decisions about their future strategies. One of the best ways to prepare for these technologies is to apply yourself to learning about them—even if you don’t think your organization is going to adopt them.

 

Have More Control Over Your Environment

Without a doubt, cost savings is the driving factor behind the recent push for cloud technologies. However, one of the trade-offs is that database management tasks such as scalability and security move out of your company’s control and into the hands of the cloud provider. Personally, I don’t like the idea of sacrificing control to save costs, and I think the last mile between the Internet and your business will always be a weak link. I think it’s worth paying more to have more control and better service. That said, not all businesses think of their applications this way and many can get by with occasional outages, which are going to happen no matter which SLAs are in place. And even in organizations that are currently leaning against the web, this all might change as the technology improves or as management within the company changes. As a database professional you don’t want to be left on the wrong side of that. That’s where continuing education plays an important role in keeping up with future technology trends such as mobility and cloud computing.

Mobility and cloud aside, it’s clear from events such as DevConnections and PASS that SQL Server itself is a rapidly changing technology. Back in the SQL Server 6.5 days, it was possible to be an expert in all aspects of SQL Server. SQL Server was a smaller product and you were able to get your hands around the whole it. That’s certainly not the case anymore. Through the years and multiple releases, SQL Server has grown into a much bigger, more complex, and definitely enterprise-capable product. The sessions at DevConnections and PASS certainly brought this point home. Although I’ve been working with the product for years and know a lot in many areas, I know there are always important details you can learn from experts who specialize in the areas you don’t frequent that often but are still useful to your business. Conferences such as DevConnections and PASS are great opportunities to explore the areas that you need to learn more about.

 

Technology-Proof Your Job

Continuing education is more important now than it has been at any point in the past. The products are bigger and more complex, requiring you to deal with areas that you might not be an expert in. In addition, although nothing’s for certain, it’s possible that the IT industry is on the verge of a technology shift toward cloud computing or perhaps a hybrid of cloud and on-premises computing. This could be disruptive in terms of the technology deployed, as well as cause a shift of jobs from on-premises servers to cloud-based technologies. Making a commitment to continued education by attending industry conferences, training, and related web events are some of the best ways to technology-proof your job and ensure your future value to your business.