An editorial on technical work, but one that might apply in other areas as well. This was originally published on The Voice of the DBA blog on Oct 4, 2011.
I can understand that, but if you don’t have the ability to actually tune large data sets and see the impact of partitioning in a larger, production environment, it’s easy to dismiss this as a feature that doesn’t provide many benefits in a smaller situation. The same could be said for clustering, SSIS imports, or any number of features that aren’t often used. So how do you actually learn to get some experience with these features?
The first thing you need to do is get a copy of SQL Server Developer Edition and install it as a virtual machine on your primary computer. I use VMWare, but you could use Virtual PC, Hyper-V, or VirtualBox as well. The important thing to do is have a sandbox to play in and a machine you can easily copy, clone, or destroy as needed. I would recommend a base install of Windows and SQL Server DE, and then copy that for a machine you can experiment with.
One way to learn is duplicate the work that someone else has done. Make a copy of your virtual machine and then implement partitioning as described in an article. See if you can duplicate the way the author used the feature and get the same results. If you can’t, find out why, and if you can, experiment with the feature and try to improve the author’s implementation. The SQLServerCentral Stairway Series is a great way to do this in SSIS, SSRS, or other features that you may never have seen. Set aside an hour or two a week to learn some feature. After a month or two, you might be surprised what you’ve learned.
The most important is to understand how a feature works and gain some experience in using it. You might not become an expert, but being able to talk about the feature, and explain how you might use it in a situation comes from practice. That ability might get you the project or job that allows you to become an expert over time.