I eat, sleep, and drink SQL Server. It helps me pay the bills, keeps me challenged, and never disappoints my thirst for knowledge. And while there is plenty of focus on extolling SQL Server's technical merits, I wanted to address a couple of unsung benefits of SQL Server.
Benefits in Perspective
People tend to be passionate about their databases. Oracle, MySQL, and Postgress all have zealots who are just as passionate about their platforms as I am about SQL Server. As such, I'm not writing about SQL Server's unsung benefits in the sense that they don't exist elsewhere - or with other DB platforms. If they do, great. But I could care less.
Instead, I'm writing about things that I really love about SQL Server. Things that make it a pleasure to work with. Things that really resonate with my personal philosophies of always striving to be open, share knowledge, act professionally, and trying to never be stingy or selfish.
Benefit 1: User Community
Most people don't know this, but my background is in Near Eastern Studies. In college I studied Semitic cultures and traditions, the Holocaust (or Shoah), Arabic and Islam, ancient scriptures, and even Mongolian interactions in the Middle East during the period of the crusades. My degree didn't do a whole lot to prepare me for a career change into development and database administration.
Happily though, with some hard work, serious desire, and the help of some truly self-less people who volunteered time in forums and SQL Server newsgroups to answer sometimes dumb questions on web development and SQL Server administration I was able to not only cope but thrive and succeed.
Early on in my career I also did a stint with PHP and MySQL. And while I enjoyed aspects of both of those technologies, asking stupid questions in forums dedicated to those technologies seldom met with the same kind of patient, helpful responses, that I grew to love in SQL Server and ASP forums. I hope a lot has changed in the many years since I used those technologies, but my perception of many of the forums for PHP and MySQL was that they were more of a place for users to show off their prowess and skill. Or, in other words, they were filled with lots of arrogant, self-righteous condescension that frequently resulted in mocking people who didn't know the answers to everything. And I'm not speaking from some place of personal trauma because I was always too afraid to ask questions given some of the responses I saw.
With SQL Server and ASP.NET groups, I've noticed an entirely different approach and spirit. Mocking or ridiculing someone in the ASP.NET or SQL Server forums that I've participated in is not only rare, but offenders typically end up getting called out on the carpet by their peers, even in cases when no offense was meant, because there's a culture that encourages newcomers and resists any air of superiority.
Even better is the fact that this same culture and spirit of helpfulness seems to translate across mediums. For example, I could ask a question on Twitter today about a specific SQL problem or what the name of a certain command is and I'd typically have answers and/or insights within just a few minutes. More importantly, virtually no one from within the SQL Server community would call me an idiot, tell me to switch jobs, or quit wasting everyone's time.
In fact, I'd wager that a few people reading this post have no idea what "RTFM n00b!" means. And, sadly, that's just not the case with all other communities. But this cultural strength is a real gem that often goes unsung when it comes to interacting with the SQL Server community.
Benefit 2: Organizational Community
The great culture that persists among individuals within the SQL Server community appears to run deep—organizations of SQL Server users tend to share those same sentiments in aggregate. In other words, not only do individual SQL Server users enjoy a strong sense of community and strive to be truly helpful instead of selfish and stingy, I think there's a definite trend among organized groups of SQL Server users to behave the same way.
Organizations that have been around for awhile, such as PASS and SSWUG (which facilitate user groups and skills acquisition) along with SQL Server Magazine (written for and by SQL Server users with an online and print presence) don't tend to really compete with each other. The same goes for newer arrivals on the scene such as blog aggregators and the SQL Server wikis. Being a member or participant in any one of these organizations or mediums isn't like being in a biker gang; it doesn't preclude you from participating in another. And it won't get you beat up. Instead, the more organizations or mediums you subscribe to or participate in, the more your benefit as a user and the more you can interact with peers and learn.
Although all of these organizations definitely have keen interest in developing user audience and attention the unspoken competition between these groups is invisible to most SQL Server users and rarely gets ugly. In fact, you'll commonly see these groups selflessly promote each other in order to ensure that members have the greatest possible access to the skills, tools, instruction, and guidance that they need to successfully complete their jobs. To me, that's professionalism that you won't find elsewhere. I'd even argue that it's rare. The primary goal of all of these organizations and mediums is to give DBAs, developers, and IT pros the tools, knowledge, skills, and support they need. In other words, it's almost like there's an unspoken code that promotes civility and really places service above self interest. I don't know if that happens in other communities. And I don't care. I only know that I really appreciate that aspect of using SQL Server, and I think it goes unsung far too often.
Benefit 3: Vendor Community
As a DBA and database developer, I've had the chance to work with a wide variety of tools from various vendors providing solutions for SQL Server. I've also had the chance to review a number of different products and solutions for reviews in SQL Server Magazine. And, as a consultant, I've also had the chance to evaluate tools and solutions for clients and customers.
I’ve observed how all of the major vendors of SQL Server solutions such as Quest, Idera, and Red Gate, have embraced the idea of honestly trying to educate and empower their customers and SQL Server users in general. And while there's no doubt that they eventually hope to turn that rapport into a sale, there's a definite dignity, professionalism, and openness about how they seek to find new customers that I really love. In fact, I'd say that they've all figured out that if they can help make their customers succeed, they're helping furthering an environment where their tools and solutions can continue to be marketed. But what's great is how they strive to build that success for their potential customers.
Ultimately, I don't know that you could get that kind of feeling anywhere else. Hopefully it exists elsewhere. All I know is that it exists within the SQL Server vendor community and it's another huge, unsung benefit that comes with using SQL Server.
Those of you who read this column regularly know that I'm not afraid to take Microsoft to task when needed. But it's only fair that I hand out kudos where they're deserved as well. To that end, in discussing the strengths of the SQL Server community, I would be remiss in not acknowledging Microsoft's influence and help in making the community as successful as it is.
At the individual level, I don't think that the MVP program is the sole source of what makes SQL Server users (or .NET developers) so willing to help each other. But there's no doubt but that the MVP program recognizes selfless service and helps keep it alive. Microsoft's recognition of this aspect of community involvement says tons about the kind of community and culture they want to engender around the continued sale and support of their products.
Microsoft has also done a great job in championing and even helping to fund and support user groups and professional organizations aimed empowering users of their products. Obviously, that makes great business sense for them, and it appears to pay off well. But Microsoft also puts a lot of tangible effort into its products’ user communities and that's something you don't see everywhere.
Finally, I wonder if Microsoft doesn't have some round-about role to play in creating the sense of community fostered by vendors. Much of this is defined by the caliber of folks working at these companies, many of whom have carried SQL Server community ties and culture into their organizations. But competing with Microsoft can be hard. Even when we're just talking about filling in the gaps with products and services that Microsoft has left off. Consequently, many businesses that work to fill these gaps have adopted a culture of “embrace and extend,” at least nominally. But that's still a much different mindset than “seek and destroy,” and I wouldn't be surprised to see some form of link between that reality and the great way in which vendors within the SQL Server community comport themselves.
I Love This Community
Regardless of sources of these benefits, they frequently go unsung. Yet they're things that make working with SQL Server better, easier, and more cost-effective. But they're also paradigms that resonate deeply with my own sense that when you do right by everyone (even when it sometimes seems hard or scary) karma takes care of you in the end. Accordingly, I love being a part of the SQL Server community in every way, shape, and form.