Brushing up/Learning SQL and Databases

Got some awesome/exciting/thrilling/scary news at work a couple days ago.
An administrator pulled me aside, closed the office door, and handed me a draft document.

The document outlined a new position in the agency, Data Management Specialist. The admin walked me through the requirments, making sure that I had all the qualifications and then came right out and told me that my name had come up specifically for this new job. He set up a meeting with a guy that helped flesh out the requirements of the position to talk to me about specifics.

Currently I'm a MicroComputer/Network Specialist. I fix unplugged network cables, printers, install new computers and fix old ones. Every now and then special projects fall in my lap. This position would be special projects all day!

Sorry if this seems a little broken. A bottle of wine is running through my caffeine system.

So... this position is going to become available in the next few days and I've been STRONGLY encouraged to apply. I have about 1.5% fear, worry, and anxiety in me, and the rest is excited and ready to go!

So, here comes the rub: A large part of this new position will be to take a huge hodgepodge of existing, ad-hoc databases/online forms/web applications in a variety of formats... and modernizing/streamlining/consolidating them into the Databases used by the schools we service.

Too much of my Database experience is classroom only and I have next to no familiarity with frontend/backend applications/web portals in an actual working environment. My admins know this, and if I get this position I will have quite a few learning resources available to fill in any gaps in my knowledge toolkit, but here comes my question.

Are there any books or websites the GWJ collective would recommend for reference, general reading, or just good to have on hand for working with databases and online applications?

Systems mentioned: SQL, ASP, Perl, Filemaker (this is what I'd be switching over the the SQL database), Access, etc.

I have several general database/design textbooks that I believe should be mostly current. My favorite: Systems Analysis and Design (fouth edition) Shelly Cashman Series.

Any suggestions are appreciated.

Rezzy, that sounds like an awesome opportunity for you. I will now switch gears and offer up some possibly wildly out of touch advice.

If I were offered that gig, here's what I'd start worrying about: how much support is the company actually giving this project? Yes, it sounds like a great idea, but I have a surprisingly large number of experiences where the company's best intentions petered out pretty quickly once the magnitude of the problem/solution was revealed.

And then if this project gets plowed under, what's your personal exit strategy? Can you go back to what you were doing before and is anyone willing to commit to that (which is damn awkward to ask about, but best intentions don't buy a great deal of cheese mac these days)?

Having alarmed you, hopefully unnecessarily, do you know what db you'll be using? Is there a DBA assigned to the project and if so, do you know him/her well enough to chat them up about things? If no DBA, are you going to doing all the unfun stuff that DBA's get paid large(r?) sums of money to do? Wait, I'm back to alarming you, aren't I?

Basic SQL skills are nice, but since there's little to no standardization amongst database vendors, I'd figure out what brand you're looking at and then go after info related to that specific version of SQL. And if you're expected to maintain the db, I'd start breaking out into a cold sweat while gathering up every iota of information you can get on how to do so. Keeping the db up and running has almost always been more difficult than using the damn thing.

Nothing else leaps to mind that seems worth more alarm for you, so I'll leave you with my sincere best wishes!

Hey Wounder. I hear you! Those concerns have been swimming around in my head all weekend. I have a few rebuttals, but until I have at least a roundabout idea of the dollar signs at the bottom of the tally I'm still not quite sure that it will be worth the ulcer!

Okay. Background. I work for an Educational Agency that provides learning and teaching support for families, kids, teachers, whatever. Early Intervention, OTPT, Hearing, Vision, Special Ed, Learning Shelters, the works. We are the piece between the School Districts and the Department of Education. Three guys from the agency have been working for the last five odd years to modernize much of the record keeping and data tracking in our biggest School District. As a result we have gone from Filing Cabinets and hundreds of forms to a nearly paperless digital system for generating paperwork and school records. The SCHOOL maintains their servers and database and records. Lots of little programs and projects have sprung up to serve needs.

So here we have this School District, and a push from the state to bring this digital record keeping to the other school districts we serve to facilitate new Department of Education and Federal mandates in tracking services provided to teachers and students. Turns out the agency doesn't have a dedicated programmer.

3 guys... right? Well none of them have an IT background and have sort of cobbled all this together with the help of the School IT staff and our Webguru/Internal Tech department.
One of the guys has been offered a job that actually pertains to his training and he'd be a fool not to take it. Instead of replacing him with a guy with a background in education and asking him to do tech stuff... the powers that be have been persuaded to consider hiring a tech guy and asking him to apply it to education.

From my conversation with one of the remaining two guys their main problem is that they don't have any techies that speak "non-tech." No one that can guide, advise, persuade, teach those that need to make the decisions regarding the tech. In fact, he shared a few horror stories with me...
(Sorry if all this seems irrelevant and rambling... It's helping me get a grasp of this whole situation!)
In the last 3 years with this agency I have apparently built a huge rep as someone that can talk "non-tech," is very personable and persuasive, and knows his stuff. (All deserved! BTW) And from my conversation with both the admins and the guys doing this stuff right now they don't want some guy that'll come in with preconceived notions and an inability to adjust. They want to "grow" someone into this. Training, classes, resources are already at my disposal. Working for an educational agency has some perks! (and I'm not just talking about Office 2003 Pro for $70!)

So, the primary justification for this new position is this specific need. But the position opens up a lot of other needs that would fall in my lap. Instead of having our main admin taking time away from tending the routers and servers to troubleshoot the lending library database that he threw up 6 years ago... they take it to the Data Management Specialist. The Family Program needs a way to track Baby Massage Class attendances, contact the Data Management Specialist. A lot of these things I'm doing already. There would be no shortage of problems or projects.

As for 'Company' or Agency support for this position... I can see this going two ways. One I'm flooded with projects and get absolutely swamped. Two I grow into it gradually until this becomes it's own department and I am forced to hire some IT goons to aid me in running my binary dominion. No shortage of available work, and from the people I've talked to so far I would have quite a bit of support. As for the magnitude of the problem/solution at hand. It's not quite as dire as my first post may have led you to believe. All the mission critical stuff is handled by the provider of the backend database system. I would be developing custom components to do what currently is being done with Partial Exports and imports into other external databases. So, streamlining and improving, Not Totally redesigning and implementing. The School District has spent a LOT of good money to have a core system in place.

As for Personal Exit strategy. I do believe my current position would be refilled, so going back to what I was doing would not be an option, however... No, I'll leave that Ace in the hole for the moment. Having Data Management Specialist for an Education Agency Serving 31 School Districts in 7 counties on the ol' resum ewithasquiggleoverit won't hurt either way.

As I said, the School does all the heavy legwork with the Databases, they are running a giant SQL database on an Active Directory Domain network, with a frontend called Clarity. A custom piece of software the School uses to track all student info and generate Individualized Education Plans (the piece that my Agency deals with primarily). They allow Terminal Services and Web access to the system, and there are many online resources that have been developed to assist teachers in navigating and using the system. That would be a large part of my job. Documenting/Streamlining/Teaching.

Disclaimer... this is from my conversations with the people that did the convincing that this position would be viable.
Here is part of the draft doc:

Essential Functions
1) Develop problem statements and translate logic design into executable code.
2) Test code to ensure accuracy and adherence to specifications.
3) Documing program logic to ensure maintainability and uability of applications (this is a big one apparently! "We made it work but can't figure out how! Oh well... get it on the server!"
4) Communicate verbally and in writing with supervisors regarding fuction ability of current application and future design requirements.
5) Guide others in the development and execution of system level test plans.
6) Function as primary data management interface across agency. (WTF? Huh? Are you the Keymaster? I am the Gatekeeper!)
7) Propose enhancement to departmental processes and procedures and recommend improvements to operational processes and procedures.
8) Experience with the phases of the software development lifecycle, having full technical knowledge in all areas of application/software utilized to develop and maintain applications. (ALL of them? Wow. Uhm... )
9) Good time management skills with the ability to prioritize, muti-task with a variety of concurrent projects, and work under pressure while meeting and exceeding deadlines. (I always love this one! Do the important stuff first. It's all important. Do it by yesterday.)

There are five more but I've decided to prioritize. Basically To keep learning and make sure we keep up to date with best practices and technology. Keep the admins up to speed on what we can and should be able to do. Don't screw up and make the agency look bad.

I think I'm going to try talking with the guy that's leaving and creating this void. Figure out from him exactly what is going on. I love the prospect of this position, but the seeds of worry were sprouting long before you penned the demons, Wounder. The scope and the problems could easily balloon out of my reach depending on the expectations and needs of the people that are expecting a silver bullet!

I'm still excited, but I'm going to feel this out a little more and figure out if I'm talking about a "gee whiz! A raise!" or "Holy Batsh*t, Robin! A Career!"

Thanks for the support and the well wishes Wounder!
I'm kinda scared. My current job is cushy as hell and has kept me housed, clothed, fed, and in toys for 3 years now. Could this be me moving up? Or the candy coated stumbling block.

Have been offline whilst moving, so apologies for the late return to the thread.

Sometimes, at least in my experience, you just have to go find out. And if it doesn't work, make it work. Which is clearly easier to say than do. I just like to be pleasantly surprised, which means having a pessimistic outlook... hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Personally, I'd like to at least hear someone state exactly what they think the workload will be (written docs would be ideal) and what will happen when they're wildly incorrect either way. That someone should be whoever's going to be giving you your annual review. The draft doc isn't very specific, which isn't unusual, but isn't comforting either.

Also, about #3 on the doc... is "documing" a typo for documenting? If so, understand that figuring out what the hell a different code monkey was thinking when they came up with that bizarre idea is far more difficult than actually documenting it when you implement it. I seriously doubt your ability to stay sane if a large part of your job is to document someone else's code, particularly if you can't walk into that person's office with a baseball bat whenever you get stuck.

The rest of it sounds like the completely unenforceable goofiness you get with any job, so if you can handle someone threatening you if you fail to meet the nebulous goals outlined there, you should do fine!

Dug up this 6 year old thread, so I figured I'd ask here...

Its been recommended that I learn some SQL basics as I start looking for some new opportunities. I have no desire to be a DBA admin or any technical type person, but getting the basics of queries and structure could be very helpful.

Given this thread is so old, any more current recommendations on a "SQL for dummies" sort of approach? Again, the goal isn't to become some hardcore data jockey, but to be able to navigate through and at least hold my own when it comes to pouring through tons of data in a sql database.

Honestly, a few Google searches can usually direct you to some pretty good free tutorials or materials for any Computer Science topic.

If you are willing to spend some money the courses offered at Pluralsight are pretty good, and relatively cheap next to taking a University course.

Holy crap. I clicked on this earlier but didn't scroll up and didn't recognize it as my old thread. Heh... so much water under the bridge.
The pay they offered for the new position stunk so I opted out. The position that was offered went through MANY revisions and eventually was taken by a non-tech coworker who used it as a (major) step up from where she had been. Shortly afterwards the district restructured. Dropped their custom applications in favor of the State-provided solution (but kept the position for their in-house tinkering projects). They are now a Google Apps shop and doing 1:1 with Chromebooks and I'm still where I was. Older, wiser, and really glad I didn't go out on a limb this time. IPERS + 403(b) = WIN!
Carlbear95: Here is the resource I turned to when I was wrapping my head around how to normalize Gigabytes of data in flat tables compiled through various iterations of a library 'database.' It helped a lot:

Fantastic book: SQL: Visual Quickstart Guide. It won't tell you why things work the way they do nor how to design a database or anything like that. But if you want to get up to speed on SQL syntax in a hurry, this is hard to beat. Includes sections on where the major RDBMs differ in their syntax,