As the one or two regular readers of this blog would know, about six months ago I moved into a new role. Instead of being a 3rd-level-tech-cum-team-leader-cum-project-manager-cum-network-admin-cum-you-name-it-I'm-it, I'm now a server engineer. This is good for me in lots of ways, but my favourite thing about it is that I get to focus on just one thing instead of having to spread myself across so many disciplines.
It also means I'm getting exposed to a lot of technologies my fomer role didn't expose me to. Rightly or wrongly, my workplace's IT infrastructure is largely outsourced, so I've never had the exposure to directly administering some of the fun parts of our infrastructure – eg Exchange, VMware, to a lesser extent, SQL. That I'm getting exposed to it now is a good thing. That I need to know it all now is not quite so good. Of particular "joy" is the fact that I've had to take over a departed team mate's SQL responsibilities. I've always had a bit of a hate-hate relationship with SQL. I know just enough to get by, and possibly just enough to be dangerous. But since nobody else wants it, and I'm "new" to the new IT organisation, I've been lumped with it. So I am now something of a reluctant DBA.
I spent the first six months in this job hating/resenting having to deal with SQL on a daily basis. Largely, I regard SQL as something that must be defeated. They say it is best to truly know one's enemy. So last week, I decided I had to do something about it. I've decided I'm going to learn SQL.
Since BlueScope's training budget is zero, I knew I'd have to pony up the $$$ myself. Classroom training for SQL is around the $5K mark, and I just don't have that sort of money to spend. I started looking at online/CBT training. Two companies stood out: CBT Nuggets and TrainSignal.
TrainSignal's demo system lets you view a presentation. In this case, it was an 18 minute segment on SQL. It was well-presented and I found myself wanting to buy the course. Around $600USD. I noted they also have a MCITP:EA course, listed at $1000 or thereabouts. So that's $1600 for Windows plus SQL. Seems like a lot of dough. The good news is that you can download the content to view it offline, which made it very appealing.
CBT Nuggets' demo, quite simply, sucks. You get a TWO MINUTE taster of a presentation. Hardly enough to get an idea of how good the product is. Interestingly, however, they have a 24 hour subscription for $24. And it gives you access to their whole library. So I figured, what the hell, I've got a few spare bucks in my PayPal account, why not? It was well worth it. I got to see not only their SQL 2008 training, but their Windows, VMware, Exchange etc etc. The thing about CBT Nuggets is that their content is not available for offline viewing. It's a streaming model. If you buy a course (eg SQL), you get access to it for four months. Four months just isn't enough for me. I'm not that motivated, and with a product I'm new to, I need to go over the material many times. I had a look at their other courses. Their MCITP:EA course is $1500. The Exchange course is $600. That's a lot of money. And I know that the next twelve months will see me covering all sorts of topics, not just Windows or just SQL or whatever. I saw then that they have a 12 month subscription for $2000. It lets you access their entire library for 12 months.
Both providers offer access to Transcender exams, and pricewise, they're about the same (except for CBT's MCITP:EA course which is inexplicably $600 more than TS). Offline access was really important to me, but so was having access to an entire library of training material. As interested as I was in the TS products, their sales people just didn't impress me. They weren't interested in modifying their packages or offering discounts unless I spent over $1300. Even then, that would only get me a couple courses.
In the end, I decided a wide library was better than offline access. I pulled out my credit card and signed up for the CBT Nuggets 12 month subscription. I'm very glad I did. I've gone through 3 SQL presentations now and have learned heaps. It's already helped me answer some pressing work questions.
Emboldened by my experience with CBT, I started looking at Safari Books Online. They also have a subscription model – one with limits (cheaper) and one that's unlimited access to their library for 12 months. They're running a deal at the moment, where you can get the 12 month unlimited access deal for $399 USD. I went for it. Again, I'm glad I did. They have an iPad app that lets me read their books on my iPad. You can't read them offline using the iPad (or maybe you can, I haven't looked hard enough), but the point is you can read it on the go. Eg if you're a commuter stuck on a train or bus or have time to kill or whatever.
So for $2400, I have 12 months access to a large CBT library and a huge textbook library. That's half the cost of a single face-to-face training course! My credit card is hurting, but I'm feeling much more positive about SQL and also about my ability to improve my skills at work. I'd better get stuck back into study now. I don't want to waste these subscriptions!