Before I sat down to write this post, I reviewed the Lynda.Com website to refresh my memory of courses taken and courses I want to take.  Forty minutes passed before I looked up from my screen; so many great courses, so little time!  Today we’ll break down the plethora of Lynda.Com training options over several blog posts: Part 1-SQL Server and T-SQL, Part 2-Excel 2013, and Part 3-Microsoft Business Intelligence/Excel 2013 Power BI.  Other Lynda.Com courses on ‘building your brand’: Branding Basics, LinkedIn, and WordPress for Blogging will be examined later in the overall series. For my previous post on Lynda.Com basics and free trial information, click here to read. So, if you’re ready, join me in exploring Lynda.Com courses on SQL Server.

SQL Server

SQL Server is the backbone of the Microsoft BI stack: SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services), SSAS (SQL Server Analysis Services [Multi-dimensional and Tabular flavors]), and SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services); with everything ‘talking’ to each other via T-SQL (Transact SQL) language and DAX (Data Analysis Expression) language for Tabular and PowerPivot in Excel 2013. To help you build a solid foundation, I‘ve listed several Lynda.Com courses with their time length and subject matter. You don’t have to follow my order, but it will probably help you from getting lost and ‘falling down a rabbit hole’.

At the time of this writing, it’s hard to find the SQL Server 2012 Developer Edition for $59, but you can still purchase the SQL Server 2014 Developer version for around the same price. So purchase SQL 2014 Developer Edition if you don’t already have a SQL Server instance, so you can follow along with the Lynda.Com SQL Server 2012 course without any problems.

Installing SQL Server

The first course to watch is Installing SQL Server 2012; it’s a three hour long course. Not that you’ll be able to get through it in three hours, as you will want to stop and rewind the video, take a few notes, and actually practice the examples on your own SQL Server Developer Edition. So it will be helpful to have an extra monitor for these classes; one to view the video and another screen to work with your SQL Server application. If you have not purchased your SQL Server Developer Edition for 2012 or 2014, this would be a great way to watch the video and install your software at the same time!

Installing SQL Server 2012 teaches you how to install and maintain your SQL Server application, either from the GUI (Graphical User Interface-it’s like an installation wizard) or from command prompts. This course also shows you how to configure and enable the different components of SQL Server, and how to connect to databases.

The Language that Makes SQL Server Run

The second course I suggest is Introduction to Transact-SQL; it’s over fours long but you’ll need every minute of it.  This course is a good introduction to T-SQL, but the best way to learn T-SQL is from Itzik Ben-Gan books; Ben-Gan is a T-SQL guru to me.  In an upcoming blog I will talk about my favorite training books and authors, but if you can’t wait until then, I recommend Ben-Gan’s book ”Microsoft SQL Server 2012 T-SQL Fundamentals”.

With the Lynda.Com course on Transact SQL, you will learn how to use the SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), basic command statements like SELECT, inner and outer joins, and more.  Another Lynda.Com course, Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012, will build on the previous T-SQL course.

Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 is over five hours, and includes a history of SQL and the relational data model theory. From here you’ll build your skills to include working with special data types like characters, integers, time and date. You’ll be exposed to advanced topics like subqueries, common table expressions, and query performance.

If you have the SQL Server 2014 Developer Edition, this next course SQL Essential Training (3 ½ hours) has been updated for SQL Server 2014. The course provides a good understanding of SQL terminology, writing basic queries, sorting and filtering, along with updating a table with triggers. Creating views is also included in this course.  These courses will give you a good overlay of T-SQL, but I still recommend you buy the Ben-Gan book; yes, the book is just that good!

So What’s Next?

If you have completed the above courses, you now have a basic understanding of the SQL Server application and know the basic T-SQL commands, but these two don’t paint the full picture; you need to understand the concepts of a relational database, so I recommend another Lynda.Com course, Relational Database Fundamentals. To be a good developer or report writer, you must know about relational databases and, well, ‘relationships’!  SQL Server Reporting Services in Depth is an advanced course on Lynda.Com, but it’s a good way to show how to build static reports from a relational database.

Final Thoughts

I’ve provided you several excellent training courses through Lynda.Com, but they might seem overwhelming. Where do you find the time? I remind you of the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. This is a good time to remember this saying.  You will not become technical overnight, but you WILL become technical; you just need to remain steady in your studies.
We’ll continue exploring other great courses on Lynda.Com for the next few posts, so stay tuned.  Until then!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI. See more information under the ‘About Me’ section. Remember to sign up for new blog notifications: Go to Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!

Note: ‘Technical Tidbits’ is an addition to this blog comprised of mini-blogs on different technical topics. Not all of these topics will be on the introduction level; in fact, most will deal with new things I’m learning as I continue on my own technical journey. These little blogs will expose you to advanced topics. You will want to read them and tuck them away for later review. For example, you may not have a clue about parameter tables now; but when you begin your study of the DAX language, you will remember the ‘tidbit’ blog and have it to review. Think of ‘Technical Tidbits’ as little markers down the road; they’re showing you what lies ahead.

DAX Master Wanna-Be

I’m on a quest to be a DAX Master.  As Yoda of Star Wars fame wielded the ‘force’ as a Jedi warrior, I’d like to wield DAX functions to make Tabular Services and Excel Power BI slice through complex evaluation contexts!  OK, I want to be taller and cuter than Yoda as well; I’m a stickler for detail.

So what is DAX and what is so great about DAX?  Data Analysis Expressions is a formula language, used primarily with Tabular Services and Excel Power Pivot data models.  Using DAX, you can create calculated columns and calculated fields on your data models; but our focus in ‘Technical Tidbit’ today is on creating a Parameter Table.

OK, what do DAX and Parameter Tables have to do with each other?  What is a Parameter Table and what is the value of creating one?  Well, you might not get as excited about Parameter Tables as I did, but I thought they were amazing when I first learned about them.  As I read Ferrari and Russo’s book Microsoft Excel 2013: Building Data Models with PowerPivot, Chapter 7 dealt with ‘Understanding Evaluation Contexts’.  Then, in order to bring Evaluation Context into the practical realm, they set up a real-world scenario utilizing the theory of evaluation context and introduced Parameter Tables.

I won’t go into the concept of ‘evaluation context’, but remember that it is VERY important to understanding DAX; using it wisely with data models and filtering is a must.  With that said, let’s get to what a parameter table is and when they might be useful.  A parameter table is when you create a little Excel table BUT it is unrelated to the rest of the data model.  Well that doesn’t do anybody any good; but wait!  This unrelated parameter table is used internally by DAX functions to modify the behavior of the other tables.

Say, for instance, you have a database with millions, billions or trillions of rows of Sales Amounts; trying to build a report on the sales column could drive you nuts.  Now say your manager’s boss wants to see a report on all these sales.  This amount of data would take up lots of space in a report and would not lend itself to concise reporting or easy analysis.  We need a plan; a parameter table!

How to Create a Parameter Table

Your parameter table (let’s call it ‘ParameterSlicer) will allow the end user to decide the scale they want to view the sales amounts; for example: ‘Real Value’, ‘Thousands’, ‘Millions’, ‘Billions’, etc.  The use of the parameter table does not filter the data; but allows you to change the scale used in viewing the numbers.  Now that’s slick!

First, I used the ContosoRetailDW to create my data model, especially because there are millions of rows with lots of sales amount that will produce large sums.  Then I created a little Excel table, named ‘ParameterSlicer’;  giving it three columns ‘ShowValueAs’, ‘DivideBy’, and ‘Order’ along with four rows: ‘RealValue’, ‘Thousands’, ‘Millions’, ‘Billions’.Excel Parameter Table Sample

After you create the new table, you used the Table Import Wizard to load the Excel table to your data model.  Remember, the new table is not related to anything inside your model; but once the table is in the model, you can use it as the source for a report slicer. This little Excel table will be the source for the slicer in that report your boss wants to see; but nothing will happen without the DAX Magic!


Without DAX, your little Excel table will sit in the data model and just look cute; lonely and unrelated, but cute. Data Model with Unrelated Table

But that’s not good enough; we must use DAX code to make everything work.  Your DAX formula must ‘see’ what the end user has selected in ‘ShowValueAs’ and modify the content of the report to display the values selected.  I modified the DAX calculated field as shown in Ferrari and Russo’s book, and will try to explain it as simply as I can.

SumOfSalesAmount (this is just the name of your calculated field that was placed on the ‘Sales’ table) =

IF (

HASONEVALUE = ( ParameterSlicer[ShowValueAs]),    (this is the table name|table column of parameter table)

SUM (Sales[SalesAmount]) / VALUE (ParameterSlicer [DivideBy]),



DAX Explained

The IF function works with another function HASONEVALUE.  The IF function test a condition; if the end user does not select anything in the slicer, the HASONEVALUE will return FALSE and nothing happens.  When the end user selects a single value on the Slicer table, then the HASONEVALUE will return TRUE and the sales numbers will be seen by the scale selected by the end user.  It’s like saying “if the user has selected a single value in the slicer, then show the ‘sum of sales amount’ divided by the corresponding denominator; otherwise, show the total of the ‘sales amount”.

It’s important to remember that the ‘ParameterSlicer’ Excel table DOES NOT filter the data, it will simply allow the end user to change the scale of the numbers.  Now with the Excel table loaded into the data model and this DAX calculated measured placed on your ‘Sales’ table, you can bring everything together. Parameter RealParameter ThousandsParamter MillionsParamter Billions

This is a simple example but the most common use for a parameter table; however, they can be used for much more.  With a parameter table you can modify the way a number is computed, change parameters for an algorithm, or change values returned from a calculated field.  So don’t dismiss this little guy.

Final Thoughts

The table names and columns have been changed to protect the innocent, just kidding; you know you’ll need to plug in your actual database table names and columns, but you get the idea of using parameter tables.  Be sure to get Alberto Ferrari and Marco Russo’s excellent book: Microsoft 2013: Building Data Models with PowerPivot.  The book is a great way to begin your journey into DAX.  Until next time!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI. See more information under the ‘About Me’ section. Remember to sign up for new blog notifications: Go to Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!

Deep Dive: Pragmatic Works Training

I’ve blogged about the great training at Pragmatic Works before, but today, we deep-dive into the various training available through Pragmatic Works; let the lovefest begin with Training on the T’s!

Before my journey on the technical side, I was a teacher; so it’s quite easy for me to recognize great teaching versus good teaching. So, if you have a limited number of hours to dedicate to training, but you want to get the best possible learning experience; then you need to watch Devin Knight’s training sessions. It doesn’t matter what Devin is teaching on, the subject is going to be excellent! Devin is a wonderful communicator and teacher, and he presents the subject matter in a logical progression; making it easy to learn.

Another favorite presenter is Brian Knight.   I remember sitting in a seminar at a SQL Saturday, many years ago, listening to Brian talk about Data Mining.  Brian’s knowledge of the subject, along with his boundless enthusiasm, made you want to learn Data Mining. He says data is sexy, and he’s correct!

I’ll also introduce you to a few more of my favorite webinar presenters: Kathi Kellenberger, Bradly Schacht, Mike Davis, and Angel Abundez. There are other great presentors like Adam Jorgensen, Shawn Harrison, and Jason Strate; but there’s not enough time in the blog post to cover everything!

Building a Strong Foundation

For the next few minutes, I want to list specific Training on the T’s webinar titles and presenters that will help you build a strong foundation in your technical knowledge. I’ve selected the following order of webinars to save you time and help you lay a solid foundation for your learning. So let’s get started!

First off, watch Devin Knight’s webinars, with my comments listed for a few of them:
-Understanding Microsoft Self-Service Business Intelligence
-Introduction to Power BI (**great overview of Power BI Excel 2013)
-Introduction to Power Pivot (**the cornerstone to the Power BI tool suite in Excel 2013)
-Introduction to Common DAX Expressions (**the language that make Power Pivot rock)
-Creating Real World Power Pivot Models (**you’re only as good a your database)
-Introduction to Power Query (**talk about an easy way to ETL: ‘extract, transform, and load’)
-Creating an End to End Power View Reporting Solution (**deliver the ‘wow’ in report presentation)
-Touring your Data with Power Map
-Choosing a Microsoft Reporting Technology

Now, there are many more topics that Devin has available, but I’m giving you a logical course of training to give you the building blocks you need for a solid foundation in the MS BI Stack. After you view these webinars, let’s move on to a few webinars from Brian Knight.

One of the best ‘soup to nuts’ overview on planning a Data Warehouse was recently presented by Brian (with PowerPoint by Devin). The webinar presents a clear cut look at the planning stages of a DW. With that said, it’s also beneficial for beginners as well, as you learn the terminology and concepts; you’ll not want to miss this one.

Brian Knight:
-Tips and Tricks for Planning a Data Warehouse (**great presentation ‘soup to nuts’ overview)
-Quick Start to Power Pivot
-How to use Power Query as your Self-Service BI ETL tool

Topics for a Future Day

When you have some more training under your belt, you’ll want to move on to webinars by Mike Davis, Kathi Kellenberger, Bradley Schacht, and Angel Abundez. When you feel comfortable with T-SQL, learn about Window Functions; Kathi gives two excellent webinars on this subject. Mike Davis gives the best presentation on how to prepare for a technical interview. His presentation on the subject at the 2014 SQL Saturday was excellent, but his webinar ‘Mastering the Technology Interview’ is even better! These folks are just a few of my favorites, but all the PW webinars are excellent. When you get a chance, check out some webinars by Adam Jorgensen, Shawn Harrison, and Jason Strate as well.

Kathi Kellenberger: T-SQL Window Functions
-T-SQL Window Function Performance
-Write Better Queries with Window Functions

Mike Davis
-Mastering the Technology Interview
-Complex DAX Expressions Power Pivot

Bradley Schacht
-Introduction to ETL Using SSIs
-SSIS ETL for Beginners
-Back to Basics: SSIS 2012 for Beginners

Angel Abundez
-Power BI Tips for Data Analyst
-Chart Anatomy 101

Virtual Training

Sometimes you just need to spend some money on training. So when you’re ready to make that move, PW offers Virtual Training courses in six areas: Analysis, Big Data, Business Analytics, Data Integration, Data Visualization, and Database Administration. The cost is $995.00 for 4 days (3 hours each day) of in-depth virtual training; the class is limited to around 24 participants. You’ll usually have labs to complete after each day’s training. For more information click on the Data Sheet (a one page outline of each day’s topics), Details (specifics for each day’s training), and Date/Time(when the class will be offered during the year). I’ve taken the SSRS course and I’m scheduled to take the Tabular and Power Pivot for Developers in October. I can hardly wait!

Workshops and Bootcamps

PW offers workshops around the country; they are in-person two day training courses on a variety of SQL Server topics. Then you have Bootcamp, a week-long intensive learning on either Business Intelligence or Performance Tuning.

Closing Thoughts

Pragmatic Works has lots of good stuff under their Resource section; things like Articles and Whitepapers, Cheat Sheets, and more. If you are limited on time, but want consistent, excellent training; spend your time on the Pragmatic Works website. Well, we’ve definitely had a Pragmatic Works lovefest today. Next time we’ll take a deep dive into Lynda.Com and the great technical training available there. Until then!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI. See more information under the ‘About Me’ section. Remember to sign up for new blog notifications: Go to Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!

Welcome back to part 2 of ‘Free and Low Cost Computer Training’.  I decided to break up the blog because I wanted you to have time to explore the different sites at your leisure and to not overwhelm you with too much new information.  Also, by the time we dive deeper into each of these sites, you will have had ample time to become familiar with them; so you’ll get more out of the blog posts.  So let’s check out part 2 as we look at SQL Server Central Stairway’s tutorials and  If you missed Part 1 of ‘Free Training Options’, click here to read it.

SQL Server Central Stairway

SQL Server Stairway is another free training site, offering series of tutorials with detailed training on different topics. The mission statement of the Stairways series is so well written, I’ve included part of it to give you a flavor for the site; notice the emphasis to take you from “zero knowledge of a particular SQL Server topic, to a level of practical understanding… (the) learning gradient is steady and manageable, but also brisk. You won’t be wasting your time.” That’s what I’m talking about!   Read the entire statement and see the different ‘Stairways’ of studies.

Here are a few of the ‘stairways’ available for immediate consumption: Stairway to Data, Integration Services, MDX, Database Design, PowerPivot and Dax, SQL Dialects, Powershell, SQL Server Agent, Reporting Services, T-SQL: Beyond the Basics and more. You’ll need to create a free account for this site as well.  So what’s stopping you; ‘start climbing’! Website is the only site I’ve listed that charges on a monthly basis, but it’s worth every penny of it. Membership is $25 per month for 24/7 access to hundreds and hundreds of topics. covers so much more than just ‘technical stuff’; it has courses in Business, 3D, CAD, Design, Developer, Photography, Video, and Web; along with project management, WordPress, etc. This list is extensive, so I won’t try to list everything; check out the site for an overview ; click here for

Free 7 Day Membership with

When you click on this link, you will be able to try free for 7 days, with unlimited access to over 2,700 courses.

If you like, sign up for the free 7 day trial subscription to get a flavor for what’s available. I’ll do a ‘deep dive’ on in upcoming blogs as well; so you can check the site out now or wait until we talk about it in depth. Regardless, you now have lots of training options!

Personal Suggestions

I would recommend you start with watching the past webinars on Pragmatic Works as a first start. These webinars are only an hour in length and many of them are targeted for the beginner. Personally, I would wait on taking a MVA course until you’re further down the road; these 6-8 hour videos can overwhelm a beginner if you’re not careful. The same might be said of SQL Server Stairways, but you can view some of them and make your own call. Regarding, review the site and sign up for the free membership when you have the time; you’ll want to make the most of those 7 days!

Depending on what courses you decide to take first, you might need to spend a little money on software. In the next blog, we’ll talk about what software you’ll need for what studies and where to find them for the best price. If we have time, we’ll discuss the Office 365 options available and the new prices Microsoft will offer starting       October 1, 2014. Until then!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to  Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!

‘Technical Tidbits’ is a new addition to this blog comprised of mini-blogs on different technical topics. Not all of these topics will be on the introduction level; in fact, most will deal with new things I’m learning as I continue on my own technical journey. These little blogs will expose you to advanced topics and current technical news. You will want to read them and tuck them away for later review.  Think of ‘Technical Tidbits’ as little markers down the road; they’re showing you what lies ahead.

Power Map

For those of you who have the standalone version of Excel 2013 (or Office 2013 Professional Plus), you had the option to download and add in the Power Map Preview for Excel 2013.  But after May 30, 2014, you might have noticed that your Power Map plug-in no longer functioned; because the preview period expired.  But don’t worry as there is a way to get it up and running again, for free!

A Little Background

In February, 2014 with the advent of Office Service Pack 1 for Office 2013 (and Sharepoint 2013), Microsoft announced that Power Map would no longer be a preview add-in.  Now Power Map would be native to Excel; but only for Office 365 Pro Plus customers. Well that’s great news but it’s not helping my Excel 2013 standalone!

Quick Solution

Here’s what you do; uninstall Power Map Preview from your computer’s ‘Programs and Features’ on the Control Panel.  Then click this link to download and install the Preview again from Microsoft.  Voila!  You are back in business with Power Map.

To read more information about Power Map expiration click here.  To watch a tutorial on Power Map, click here.  Regarding Office 364 and its price changes coming in October, 2104; we’ll talk more about that later.  For right now, this fix should get you back in the game with Power Map.  Until next time!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!

You might not want to spend a lot of money on technical training right now; but there will come a time when you need to invest some money, like  a course with Pragmatic Works.  But for right now, you are in the exploration stage of your technical journey; so you need some free but good training. This post will give you an overview of three free sites and one low cost, but well worth the money, site. In subsequent posts, I will ‘deep dive’ into each of these sites; and I will highlight courses I have taken, point out insights/pros/cons of each site, and show you courses you might want to take next. So join me for this two part blog as we look at Pragmatic Works’ Training on the T’s, Microsoft Virtual Academy, SQL Server Central Stairway Series, and

Pragmatic Works

I can never say enough good things about Pragmatic Works; the company and the people are fabulous. Pragmatic Works is a local consulting and training company that started small and now has served over 7,500 national and international clients. Regardless of their phenomenal growth, this group of guys and gals are always humble and fun to be around. When you check out their website, take time to view their ‘Company Culture’.  Their five company business tenets are Be Humble, Deliver Wow, Achieve Mastery, Value Community and Mentorship, Every Second Counts, and Be Fun, Creative, and a Little Weird. Hey, that’s what we want to be! Click here to read the full statement.

This blog is not meant to be a love fest about Pragmatic Works, but my technical journey was due in great part to their purposed effort to give back to the community and to mentor new folks in the tech field, with things like JSSUG and SQL Saturdays. Pragmatic Works started the Jacksonville SQL Server Users Group (JSSUG) many years ago and continues to be instrumental and participatory in both JSSUG and the SQL Saturdays each year. Without Pragmatic Works’ involvement in the community, I probably would not have begun my technical journey or this blog; but enough about that, let’s look at their weekly live, free webinars called Training on the T’s.

Every Tuesday and Thursday  at 11:00 AM, Pragmatic Works provides a live webinar on different technical and professional topics.  View all their training options here.  Under the ‘free’ training tab, you will see  topic areas like  SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SharePoint, Business Intelligence, Big Data, DAX, Azure; the list goes on.  Every webinar is presented by experts in their field; many of them being Microsoft’s Most Valued Professional (MVP).

Click on the link for the Training Center; from here you’ll see a tab for ‘Future Webinars’ and ‘Past Webinars’. The ‘Future’ tab shows a list of upcoming training for the next few month, but pay attention as sometimes they have a week’s worth of daily webinars on a specific subject; more about that in future blogs.

On the ‘Past Webinar’ tab you are able to view previously recorded training sessions. Sometimes your schedule doesn’t allow you time to view a webinar live, but you have access to all the past webinars 24/7. Clicking on the past webinars, you will see the most recently recorded topics, or you can do a search for a specific topic area. There are currently 418 entries in the ‘Past Webinar’ section; that’s 418 HOURS of excellent, free training on a broad range of technical topics. We’ll spend much more time in an upcoming blog about specific webinars (and topic areas) worth watching on the site. But don’t wait until then, check out the upcoming webinars now. All you need to do is complete an online registration to register for future  webinars or click to watch previously recorded ones.

Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA)

Microsoft provides free online IT training courses broken down by either topic or products, as shown by the screen shot.

Microsoft Virtual Academy

In addition to previously recorded trainings on the site, MVA has upcoming trainings you can view ‘live’; and they are free as well. To get started with MVA, you need to sign up for a free account. You can create your own ‘My Learning Plan’, and I recommend you do this.  The Learning Plan will put all your courses in one place, making them easy to locate and view .  Also, when you complete a MVA course, you earn ‘learning points’. You don’t win any prizes, but it shows a potential boss that you’re serious about training and staying on the cutting edge of technology. We’ll go into more detail about MVA in a later blog, but for now, I’d like you to check out the link to an article written by Michael Otey of Windows IT Pro. At this link, Michael answers the top ten questions about MVA.

I decided to break this blog post into two parts because I want you to 1)  have time to explore these two sites at your leisure and to 2) not overwhelm you with too much new information.  Also, by the time we dive deeper into each of these sites, you will have had ample time to become familiar with their training topics and formats.  Lastly, by giving you more time to explore these new sites, you will get more out of the upcoming ‘deep dive’ training posts on Pragmatic Works and MVA.  See you next time for Part 2 of ‘Free Training Sites’.  Until then!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to  Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!




“It’s Like Drinking Water from a Fire Hose”

I have heard this saying for many years, but could not understand the significance (or truth) of the statement until I began my technical studies. There is so much ‘stuff’ that you can learn in the technical field; and when you finally choose an area to study, then there is more ‘stuff’ to choose and learn in that area. And on top of that, there is ALWAYS new information, new breakthroughs, new technology, new terminology, new updates on old ‘stuff’; and you, as a ‘techie’ want to know it ALL! The truth is there is so much exciting technology out there, but you can’t learn it all. You must decide a general interest area and go from there; so we’re going to take a 10,000 foot view of the technical landscape. Yet, even from this view, we’ll not have time to talk about other learning areas like Azure, Big Data, Database Administration or Sharepoint 2013 BI; but we’ll cover as much as we can.

Hopefully, after this 10,000 foot view, you will see where your technical interests might lie. Personally, as I was interested in Business Intelligence, the Database Fundamentals was the path I chose when I decided to take my first Microsoft exam. We won’t talk about actual exams at this point, but the information contained in the exam ‘areas’ will assist you as you make a decision on your study path.

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Tracks

Microsoft has entry level training and certification exams in three fundamental areas: IT Infrastructure, Database, and Software Development. Within each of these areas are different knowledge exams that help you learn core knowledge. I won’t go into detail for each of the specifics, but I’ve included a link for you later in the blog so you can research these areas at your leisure. So before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is IT Infrastructure anyway? explains IT Infrastructure as follows:
“IT infrastructure refers to the composite hardware, software, network resources and services required for the existence, operation and management of an enterprise IT environment. It allows an organization to deliver IT solutions and services to its employees, partners and/or customers and is usually internal to an organization and deployed within owned facilities.

Typically, a standard IT infrastructure consists of the following components:
• Hardware: Servers, computers, data centers, switches, hubs and routers, etc.
• Software: Enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), productivity applications and more.
• Network: Network enablement, Internet connectivity, firewall, and security.
• Human users, such as network administrators (NA), developers, designers and generic end users with access to any IT appliance or service are also part of an IT infrastructure, specifically with the advent of user-centric IT service development.
• All components that play a role in overall IT and IT-enabled operations. It can be used for internal business operations or developing customer IT or business solutions. “

Three Major Subject Areas

IT Infrastructure : For folks wanting to build a career in desktop or server infrastructure, or a private cloud computing.
349: Windows Operating System
365: Windows Server Administration
366: Networking
367: Security

Database: For folks wanting to build a career in data platform administration or Business Intelligence
364: Database

Developer: For folks wanting to build a career as a software developer.
361: Software Development
362: Windows Development
363: Web Development
372: .NET Fundamentals
373: Mobile Development
374: Gaming Development
375: HTML5 App Development
379: Software Testing

My Particular Path

As you can see, there are lots of options for you to explore, so I encourage you to check out the links and do your own research. As my interest is Business Intelligence, I chose Database Fundamentals. We’ll talk about certification much later in the blog series. For right now, I want you to take time to research the three major areas: IT Infrastructure, Database, and Developer. Once you decide on one, then drill down and examine the learning areas. Find out if you’re interested in software testing or security, business intelligence or Windows Server administrator. Remember ‘drinking water from a fire hose’? Once you know your areas of interests, it should ‘turn down the water pressure’ a little bit.

Where Do I Begin My Studies?

You’ve got some research to do. You’re learning your way around; so have fun on this journey.

1. Start with a general overview of the different facets of Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) with this link to Microsoft. You’ll see three tabs: IT Infrastructure, Database, and Developer.

MTA Certification Tracks

2. When you click on a tab, a dropdown box will show you what exam(s) are included in this area.


3. Click the box entitled ‘Exam’, then scroll down to ‘Skills Measured’; this section provides you details of information you will need to master in this subject area. Expand each area and find out what you are expected to know in order to master a certain area of study.  Then begin work on one area; start small but start somewhere!  Build on your new knowledge, one topic at a time.


Terminology, Terminology, Terminology Again!

Remember when I told you the importance of using the correct technology in a tech savvy environment? Be sure to visit  Technopedia.   At this site you’ll learn the newest terms and definitions, top tags and buzzwords, and much more. In fact, I’ll probably hang out here a while myself! So start clicking!

Join me next time as we explore three major FREE learning sites and one ‘really low cost’ but excellent training site.   Until then!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to  Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!


‘Technical Tidbits’ is a new addition to this blog comprised of mini-blogs on different technical topics. Not all of these topics will be on the introduction level; in fact, most will deal with new things I’m learning as I continue on my own technical journey. These little blogs will expose you to advanced topics. You will want to read them and tuck them away for later review. For example, you may not have a clue about parameter tables now; but when you begin your study of the DAX language, you will remember the ‘tidbit’ blog and have it to review. Think of  ‘Technical Tidbits’ as little markers down the road; they’re showing you what lies ahead.

Our first ‘tidbit’ is a simple concept I wished I had employed at the beginning of my technical journey; it would have been of great help over the years. Don’t expect flashes of light and angel choirs in the background, it’s a simple little thing; it’s called a Knowledge Document.

Knowledge Document

A Knowledge document is a simple word document or spreadsheet where you record learning links and bits of code you find in your studies. In fact, I have several Knowledge Documents: one for keeping a list of training links on different topics, one for cool SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) expressions, another for T-SQL and Functions (Time Date, Cast/Convert, etc) for SQL Server 2012, and another one for DAX and PivotTables/Tabular with Excel 2013. There is just so much out there to know and learn; a Knowledge Document helps you to keep up with everything. There’s nothing worst that knowing there’s something you really need for your technical project, but you can’t find the link or the expression, or the function, or ……..

Creating a Knowledge Document is easy; just create a new word document or use a spreadsheet. You can insert a table or label topic areas; make the document easy for you to use, it’s for your use alone. The hard part is taking the time to record the nifty things you learn along the way. I didn’t find out about the concept of Knowledge Documents until two years into my learning; so I wasted lots of time looking for stuff over and over, because I didn’t save them in a file the first time!

Create a folder and keep all your Knowledge Documents in ONE location. It will make for an easy time when you need to locate something fast!   See, I told you not to expect fireworks; this is simple common sense.  I just wish I had thought about it sooner.  Sigh!

Wanting to make your technical journey easier,

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to  Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!

You Are Not Alone in Your Desire to Change Careers

A recent article in USA Today (link below) discussed the fact that many people in their 40s and 50s were planning major career moves. The article noted that only 41% were working in their dream job; what about the other 60% of us? It surveyed folks over 40 to get their views on what ranked the most important for their ‘dream job’, the biggest obstacles to obtaining that dream job, and changes they wanted to make within the next five years.

Among the most important considerations for a ‘dream job’ were: Higher Pay (23%), Better Work/Life Balance (22%), Lower Stress (15%), Flexible Work Schedule (12%), Desire to Give Back to the Community (10%), Fun Environment (9%), and an Opportunity to Learn or Advance (8%). Of those surveyed, 27% viewed financial obligations as the biggest obstacle to having their dream job, followed by lack of opportunity where they live (19%), lack of adequate training (15%), difficulty in starting a business (14%), lack of time to look for a better job (5%), and not knowing where to start on the job search (3%). I am sure that most, if not all of us, fall into one of these categories. It’s very interesting to note that 46% of those surveyed wanted to make a change in their professional life within the next five years. I told you, ‘You are not alone!” on the career changing journey. Along my personal ‘career changing journey’, I encountered similar obstacles, and I’ll focus on the top four in this blog.

Lack of Self-Confidence….Seriously?

The four largest obstacles I encountered in my ‘technical transition’ were: lack of self-confidence, money, time, and motivation. I can show you sites and provide you information for free or low cost training, but I can’t improve your self-esteem. Knowing this is a huge problem for many of us, I want to address this obstacle first. Think about it, the biggest obstacle to becoming technically proficient might be YOU; at least this was the case for me.

When I left the job market to raise our children, the task of re-entering the job arena loomed large. My thoughts plagued me. What do I have to ‘bring to the table’ in a job setting? Do I have any marketable skills for the current job environment? Can I really ‘self-learn’ and change careers at my age? Can I ‘catch up’? It was a process for me to gain the self-confidence I needed for the journey; step by step. Trust me, it didn’t come overnight! However, with each new skill I learned, each new terminology grasped, each technical book I finished; the pieces (and self-confidence) started falling into place. I want you to address the self-confidence obstacle head on; embrace the self-confidence battle and don’t defeat yourself.

Money, Money, Money

So you might be thinking, “If I had lots of money, I wouldn’t be looking for a job!” How much is this technical training going to cost me? You can spend a lot of cash and take courses at a local college specializing in computer studies, but I’m all about getting the ‘biggest bang for my computer training buck’. Stick with me and I’ll show you how to get lots of free (and low cost training) that will reap huge dividends. Sure, you’re going to need some cash along the way to buy a few training books, to purchase some software, or maybe take a focused, short-term course; but it’s a small amount when compared to the alternatives. I’m all about free training when I can get, and there’s LOTS of excellent free training out there. Oddly enough, it’s not a lack of free training but carving out the time for the training; this leads to our next obstacle.

Time, Love, and Tenderness

Some of you might be in a full-time job somewhere; so carving out time to study is not easy. Start thinking now about when you can set aside a regular block of time for study, each day if possible. If you’re working full-time and in a relationship, that doesn’t leave lots of time to study; so it is always a good idea to have a conversation with your ‘significant other’. Life, and your study time, will be more productive if you have the support of your loved ones in your career change adventure.

Motivate Me

This is much like the ‘Self-confidence’ issue, in that you are the only one who can make yourself study and be committed to push through difficult training concepts. Only you can make yourself go to the monthly SQL Server meetings or other technical groups. Only you can commit and follow through with completing a 500+ page technical book. You get the picture.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

I would be remiss if I did not address the importance of learning the correct technical terminology along the way. As you study, whatever the technical subject, pay close attention to the terminology used and HOW it is used. Nothing will give you away faster in a technically savvy crowd than to mix up your terminology.

Complete Your Homework?

So how did you do with the last blog assignment? You know, the one about locating a local computer group and visiting? If you have not completed that task, it’s time to get moving on it. Click here if you need to re-read that blog post. Getting involved in a local server group is a great (and free) way to learn new topics AND network at the same time.

Let’s Get Your Feet Wet with Some Free Training this Month!

Pragmatic Works is an excellent training resource; I’ll be blogging soon about all the wonderful things those guys and gals do for the technical community. They also offer free weekly webinars along with virtual training classes for a fraction of what you would pay at a community college. So let’s take advantage of one or two of their free ‘Training on the T’s’ webinars.

I selected two free webinars to get you started: ‘Power BI tips for the Data Analyst’ on July 15th at 11:00 AM by Angel Abundez and ‘Networking to Build Your Business Contacts and Boost Your Revenue’ on July 23rd at 11:00 AM by Don Gabor. If you cannot watch them live, you can view them later by going to the ‘Past Webinars’ section. I’ve provided a link to take you directly to the Learning Center at the Pragmatic Works website. Click ‘Future Webinars’ and scroll until you locate the webinars. You’ll need to register for them, and it’s free.

Be sure to subscribe for new blog notifications.  Subscribers of this blog will get extra ‘technical tidbits’ between regular blog posts; make sure you don’t miss out on anything!   See you next time when we talk about “How to Decide the Right Computer Training Path”.

Link for USA Today article 

Link for Pragmatic Works Learning Center

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to  Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!


Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

My journey on the technical path began four years ago. The first part of my career was as a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor, and the last twenty years I homeschooled my three children. Now that the two oldest had graduated university, and the youngest had started her freshman year in college, what to do now?

My husband Steve has been technical for the last twenty something years, so he often speaks to technical groups and at SQL Saturdays, PASS Rally, etc. Now I know what you’re thinking; she has a technical husband, so sure it’s easy for her to learn this stuff. Yes, Steve is technical and has the patience of Job, but teaching his wife for any extended period of time doesn’t work all that well. It might have something to do with my strong will, but we won’t go there right now. Suffice it to say, over the course of my technical journey, I’m learning to listen more and speak less!

Tabula Rasa for Technical

One year Steve was speaking at a local SQL Saturday, and he invited me to come with him. Not knowing much more than how to turn on my computer, I really was the ‘tabula rasa for technical’. He encouraged me to sit in on the ‘beginner’ sessions that day, just to get my feet wet and learn the terminology. After that, I started to attend our local Jacksonville SQL Server Users Group (JUSSG) each month. I had fallen down the ‘rabbit hole’ into a whole new world; I was hooked on ‘technical’ and wanted to learn more. So that’s the background for the beginning of my journey to becoming technical. You might be where I was four years ago, or you want to add more computer skills to your resume, or you are just out of college; regardless of where you are, you will glean important knowledge from this blog series. Now let’s get started.

Don’t I need a degree in computer science?

Many people believe that they must have a computer science degree to enter the technical field, but you don’t. Technology is changing all the time; we just need to get ahead of the curve. We’ll talk more about that in the next blog “Overcoming Obstacles”. In upcoming blogs we will discuss some of the following topics:

  • correct terminology and why it’s so important
  • different technical paths available
  • software options for the developer
  • free training sites and low cost learning sites
  • useful technical areas (T-SQL, Excel, BI, Oh My!)
  • how to self-train with technical books (specific books I’ve used)
  • how to develop a learning plan (roadmap for technical success)
  • how to dive deeper into the technical(passing your first MS exam)
  • creating your own brand
  • resume writing
  • how to prepare for a technical interview
  • and how to continue the journey

Don’t be overwhelmed; it’s time to get excited!

So why this blog?

At our last SQL Saturday event I encountered multiple people telling me they didn’t know how to get started in the technical field. Others, even in the technical field, didn’t know about all the free resources and software options currently available. After talking with them, I was encouraged to write this blog; hopefully to assist them and you on your own technical journey. It is my way of giving back to the community for all the help they have given me.

Reinventing oneself is a scary process, especially if you don’t know what to do. Your self-confidence might be lacking. Your work skill set might be out of date. You might not know how to explain the gaps in your work history; especially if you’ve stayed home to raise children. You might dislike your current job and want to do something different. You might be fresh out of college and need some ‘technical’ in your tool belt. You might just want a challenge.

First Steps: Join PASS, Locate a Local Group, and Start Visiting

I don’t know about other blogs, but you will have ‘homework’ opportunities with this blog. This week I want you to locate a local SQL Server User Group, and the best way to locate one is to visit the PASS website. Professional Association for SQL Server site helps you locate a group in your specific area, provides free online training, along with info about upcoming events like SQL Saturday.   In addition to locating a chapter, PASS offers Virtual Chapters like DBA Fundamentals, Business Analytics, Women in Technology, to name just a few. The list and opportunities goes on. If you’re in the Jacksonville area, come join us at JSSUG (Jacksonville SQL Server Users Group) each month. Well, that should be enough assignments for this week, so let’s get started!

Sign up for free membership to Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) and search the PASS site for User Groups in your area. Find out when and where they are meeting, and start visiting the different groups; this is a great way to ‘get your feet wet’. Next time we’ll talk about ‘Overcoming Obstacles’ and the importance of correct terminology, along with more learning links. Remember, a journey begins with a first step; don’t focus on the long path ahead but the step right in front of you. You’ll get there!

Invite Some Friends

Maybe some of your friends might want to follow this blog; by all means, please let them know about it. A journey is better enjoyed with friends! You can also sign up to be notified when a new blog is posted in the series.   Look for ‘Subscribe2’ on the left-hand sidebar and click ‘subscribe’ to set up your ‘new post’ notification.  I hope you’ll join me on this journey into “Becoming Technical at any Age”. See you next time!

Susan Schneider lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her wonderful husband Steve. She enjoys sailing and is a ‘wanna be fisherman’, and loves all things BI.  See more information under the ‘About Me’ section.  Remember to sign up for new blog notifications:  Go to  Subscribe2 on the sidebar and sign up!