Continued education and training is vital for both businesses and their employees to effectively meet changing business needs and effectively deliver the best technologies to the organization. Education and training are vital to IT professionals—they help you keep up with the new technologies and keep your skill set fresh and marketable.

Keeping your skills up-to-date is more important now than at any time in the past. New emerging technologies such as the public, private, and hybrid cloud really make you rethink the way your IT infrastructure is designed. Other technologies such as Big Data, business intelligence (BI), and the upcoming Hekaton in-memory tool can open up new uses for the data that you have and can allow you to collect and process data in ways that you never could before.

Fortunately, a wide variety of different training and education options are available. Many of the training options are free, whereas others can be more costly. The best options depend on your personal goals and the needs of your organization.

One of the first places to start with training is the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA). All of the courses at the MVA are online and are completely free. The MVA is probably best suited to help you get up to speed with some of the latest Microsoft technologies. Some of the most interesting courses include:

  • SQL Server Essentials for Oracle DBAs
  • Configuring and Deploying Microsoft's Private Cloud
  • Cloud On Your Terms with Microsoft SQL Server 2012: Scale on Demand
  • Introduction to SQL Azure

TechNet Virtual Labs is another free training resource that's designed to enable you to test Microsoft's newest products and technologies. Like the MVA, the TechNet Virtual Labs provide hands-on experience using Microsoft technologies. Unlike the MVA, the TechNet Virtual Labs are all short; they're designed to be completed in 90 minutes or less. Some of the database-related labs include:

  • Working with the SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn Availability Groups
  • Creating Excel 2010 Reports based on a SQL Server 2012 Tabular BI Semantic Model
  • Exploring SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services PowerView

The TechNet Virtual Labs also have SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 courses. MSDN Virtual Labs is a similar resource that provides hands-on experience with Microsoft's Virtual Studio and other development technologies. 

Of course, one of the best career options is still Microsoft certifications. This is especially true in new technology areas such as cloud computing. Organizations looking into implementing new technology will definitely prefer to hire individuals who possess certifications in the relevant technology areas. Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) is the entry point into the Microsoft certification path. The MTA is geared toward students and is only available from select academic institutes that have an MTA Campus License. For IT professionals and developers, Microsoft certifications are the more desirable option. Microsoft offers several levels or certifications:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM)

Each level represents a deeper skill level. The Database certification path offers a SQL Server 2012 curriculum and provides both database and BI certifications. 

Other great education and training options come from organizations such as SolidQ and SQLSkills that provide you with in-person expert training. These companies offer classroom training and can also do custom onsite training. For more in-depth help, these companies can provide you with DBA services and database consulting.

In addition to these options, there are several other ways to keep your skills current and increase your knowledge. Conferences such as Connections help you to network with other like-minded professionals and give you the opportunity to attend expert presentations. Self-paced eLearning courses are another option. 

You shouldn't consider this to be a comprehensive list of the different education and training opportunities, but hopefully it gives you some idea of the options that are available and helps you find the type of training and education that's the best match for your needs as well as the business needs of your organization.