Networking and job search

I’ve been looking for a different job, one with more potential to learn and actually dealing with database administration instead of just pulling reports.

But I haven’t conducted a real job search in a long time.

I’m on LinkedIn, but I’ve never been very good at networking.

And I have a problem with confidence.

In November, I attended an event cosponsored by Women Veterans Connect and Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco.

Over the years, I’ve said that I missed the military, but until I was surrounded by other female veterans, I didn’t realize how much. It was a great day, a great environment. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of people. I was able to connect to some of them on LinkedIn.

One of the women, Melissa Washington, is the expert networker I’ve never been – and we were on the same West Pac in 1993/94. We didn’t know each other then, but the coincidence is so cool. (Melissa has also written a book Get Back to Work)

Anyway, Melissa realized that several of us drove out to San Francisco from the Sacramento Valley area and asked us if we wanted to start a local Women Veterans Networking group. Heck yeah! We had our first meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was a lot of fun! And I think I made some connections that will turn out to be valuable in multiple ways.

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When it comes to updating my résumé and selling myself, I’ve got trouble. I suppose a lot of people do. I’ve been reading job descriptions and sample résumés and getting discouraged.

Almost all of them have multiple programming languages (R, Python, C++, etc) in addition to SQL skills and experience listed. I can learn programming languages, but it’s hard to figure out what to concentrate my limited study time on. What direction do I go? I was starting to panic that maybe I’ll be stuck in this job forever because I can’t get up the courage to go anywhere else because of my hesitation to learn programming.

A friend mentioned she was taking a couple of courses on Coursera. I looked into it and there’s a data science sequence from Johns Hopkins that will work for me. It’s a lot cheaper than any grad degree or certificate program I’ve looked at. I’ve signed up to start on Monday.

I’m still working on the SQL Server certifications as well.

Last night, I found CodeSchool and did a very brief intro to programming in R. I was immediately pretty comfortable with it, as it’s based on Linear Algebra (scalar vectors, matrices, etc). Maybe it won’t be that difficult to get up to speed on what I need to know.

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Slow slog

Once again, I got distracted by other things and put off studying.

Earlier this week, I enlisted some friends to help me stay on track. I set a goal of taking the 70-461 exam by the end of January.

Considering that I was still on chapter 2 of a 17 chapter book, that might be a bit too ambitious, but I can always reevaluate in a couple weeks.

Microsoft “toolkit” books for certain exams are only sort of prep for the exams. The authors don’t have access to the exams and the exams aren’t written to the books* – like a final exam for a course might be.

The Microsoft exams are aimed at people who have been working with the software for a couple of years. That strikes me as a bit odd – that you’d expect someone to work with something before knowing that they won’t break it.

The books are written in a way that generally meets the goals of the tests, though. The authors seem to work from Microsoft’s list of “skills measured” by the test.

I’m finding that some of the material is very easy for me, and other parts aren’t. That’s good because I can’t get cocky about what I know.

I’m also using Joes2Pros SQL Server 2012 book 1

I’m going to use the blog to put “notes” from what I’m learning.

*All learning materials related to exams, including Microsoft training and Microsoft Press resources, are developed independently of exam content, because the exams are intended to assess competence when using the technology, not the effectiveness of training materials or learning. Qualified candidates must have sufficient experience in working with the technology to pass the exam. Training is a great first step in preparing for a Microsoft Certification exam, but it is not required and does not guarantee that you will pass the exam. Experience is required.

Finally getting started – studying for Microsoft 70-461

The last couple of months, I’ve kind of drifted, lost sight of my goals.

I wanted to start playing with SQL Server 2008 at work, but I end up always working in Access instead. I’m also pulled in a lot of different directions as I do desktop and network support as well as reporting and still a little bit of clerical work.

The blessing and the curse of working for a small company is that you get to do a lot of different things. On the one hand, it means you’re always busy and always learning. On the other, it’s hard to concentrate on just one task.

Anyway, I studied for and took the MTA: Operating System Fundamentals test instead of studying for a SQL test. I thought, “I’ll get better at this part of my current job before I move on to the next phase of the SQL learning.”

I finally took (and passed) that test last week. I realized while studying for it that I did NOT want to go into the desktop support and/or network engineer stuff. I really do want to play with data.

Refocusing on that, I also realized that it would probably be better to go with the 2012 SQL Server stuff than the 2008, even though a lot of companies are still running on 2008, and even though the company I currently contract with uses 2008.

On Microsoft’s Virtual Academy, there’s a lot of training material for 2012, and none for 2008. That was a very influential factor in my decision. I don’t think you can use the MVA alone to pass the exams, but it is a very helpful supplement.

I’ve purchased the Training Kit and the Joes 2 Pros Volume 1 to get me started.

It took me a bit to get SQL Server 2012 installed [insert long boring story about needing to install Service Pack 1 on my Win 7 laptop before I could get started. . .] but tonight I got it all up and running.

Because of some things that have happened at work lately, I’ve been questioning whether I really want to go in this direction or not. Yeah, I’ve got the math degree and it seems like a good fit with database stuff, but can I actually do the work? [The old impostor syndrome rearing its ugly head].

There are days when I figure out something complicated and I think, “YEAH, this is it!” and there are times when I mess up on something simple and think, “Who the hell am I fooling? Myself mostly.”

Tonight, I started reading the Training Kit and Chapter 1, Lesson 1 is about mathematical relations, set theory and predicate logic. I was having flashbacks to Modern/Abstract Algebra classes and felt like it’s validation of what I’m doing. Yes, this is the right direction now.

I finally feel like I’m on my way.

MTA Exam 98-364 Prep

I took the exam on June 27 and passed with an 85%.

Probably could have done better if I’d waited another week, but, it’s a pass.

I used the MOAC (Microsoft Official Academic Course) for the exam. There were some bad reviews of it, but since I am pretty new to SQL, I found it helpful.

I watched the MVA videos and downloaded the powerpoints. I didn’t really find that as helpful. There was some information that I could use. I think the best part was when they used SQL Server Management Studio, so I could see how it’s used.

I bought a practice test from MeasureUp, and took the GMetrix one that came with the MOAC.

Some of the questions in the practice tests were very similar to about half a dozen of the test questions.

Taking the tests in study mode gave me an opportunity to do research. Lots of questions were not explicitly covered in the MOAC, so I had to search for some answers online, In study mode, though, you can check your answers (very helpful) and allowed me to add to my notes.

I took a lot of handwritten notes from the MOAC and the practice tests.

The test is only about 35 questions. The testing environment is pretty intense. You can’t take anything into the room with you, and they have a camera on you at all times to prevent cheating. You find out immediately what your score is, and get a printout to bring home. It only took a couple of days to get an official email with my credential number and then I could order a certificate.

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Too excited to be able to use this official logo in my emails!

I was so excited to get the certification and the logo.

I had intended to write stuff as I was learning it, but handwriting the notes hurt my wrist and I didn’t have the energy to also type them all up.

But I still have the handwritten notes and it won’t hurt to write them in a neater way and be able to look them up later.

Constraints and Integrity

Just sticking some notes in here on this:

PRIMARY KEY constraint enforces entity integrity. It is a type of unique constraint that does not allow NULL values.

FOREIGN KEY constraint enforces referential integrity.

UNIQUE constraint guarantees that a column contains unique values in each row (can have one NULL value).

CHECK constraint enforces domain integrity.

Learning

I feel a little like I’m drowning because I don’t have exactly the right background for what I’m trying to become. I looked into going for a Master’s degree in computer science. I don’t have the right classes to get accepted into the program at the school I graduated from.

I looked at getting a second Bachelor’s, but the local university is not accepting applications for second bachelor’s or non-degree-seeking students.

So, I decided that I should work on some certifications – I know how to think logically, but I don’t know all the fiddly little bits about SQL or even database structures. Since I don’t know where to start, I’m going to start with Microsoft certifications.

I know that there is debate about whether or not certifications are worth anything, but the best argument I’ve seen is that it can give you a focus for your individual study.

The first one I’m taking is MTA: Database Fundamentals. I know the MTA isn’t that valuable (or valuable at all in the job market), but I thought I should start with basics.

I bought the Official Study Guide. I’ve been watching the videos on Microsoft Virtual Academy.

I found some other videos on YouTube.

I bought a practice test at MeasureUp.

The test is concentrated on SQL Server and I’m working more with Access, so I’ve set up a lab environment on my home computer to work with it.

Focusing on the first test

In my post titled Learning, I talked about beginning to study for the MTA 98-364 test.

I started out trying to take the practice tests on MeasureUp.com without enough preparation. I took them in “study mode” since that I way I could see answers and take notes. I was only scoring 50-60% at first, and I knew it was because I wasn’t really prepared.

I took notes from the test questions and started to get better scores but still didn’t really feel like I have a handle on anything.

I finally actually started going through the main book I’m using and taking notes. I read the reviews for the book, and many say the book doesn’t help much, but I am finding it fairly helpful.

It’s filling in some gaps in my knowledge, especially because I’m such a beginner. But there are some frustrations.  There are questions at the end of each chapter. But I have no way of knowing if my answers are correct. I could not get access to any materials from the publisher because I’m not in school or an instructor.

I found two fairly decent study sources online that have the same questions, but the answers on both sites don’t always agree with each other and on a couple questions, I’m pretty sure they’re just plain wrong.

Just beginning

Within the last few months, my career plans have radically changed. I’ve been working on Changing Tracks away from my AweSum Math and moving back into technology.

I was reading some blogs written by Database Administrators, and one of them, Pinal Dave, wrote that when he started learning SQL, he wanted a place to catalog what he was learning and used his blog for that. I love that idea, which is why I’m starting this. I’m not making it private, but I will not publicize it, either. If you happen upon this little corner of the internet, welcome.

As this is my first post here, I’ll put a little bit about what led me here.

The US Navy trained me to be an electronics technician, working on communications and cryptographic equipment.

I don’t know if I was ever really excited to be a tech. At 18, it wasn’t what I thought I wanted to do. But the school was supposedly hard (there was a high failure rate) and I did well. I took pride in being a woman in a field thought of as “traditionally male”.

Electronics is a useful job skill and when I left the Navy, I used it.

I had started working on computers and networks at my last duty station, so I tried to work in that field for a few months. But I was also trying to take classes at the local community college and was single parent to a toddler. I couldn’t compete with the guys I was working with. They were going home and reading books and magazines on networks and computers and building their own networks at home and customizing their computers. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to put into continuous learning like that. I again always felt like I was a step behind my coworkers.

I retreated to being a test technician for a place that made microwave and RF oscillators.

The pay at this job was lower than I expected at a time when my daycare cost more than my rent. It was a good a job for a while, though. In the beginning, there was a lot to learn and no one had written any training material, each tech had only his own notes. That was very different from the Navy, where there was always a manual and usually instructions at least where to start.

Then I fell in love and moved across the country. In San Diego, I found a job doing exactly what I had been doing in Tampa, but on only 1 type of oscillator instead of a dozen or so. I was bored so quickly & I didn’t last long.

I worked a few temp jobs, one I really enjoyed at a DSL equipment manufacturer. After about a year of temp work, I landed a dream job at Intel.

I was making decent money for the first time in my life. I mostly enjoyed my work. I moved to another city to stay with the company when they closed my department.

And then a year later, I was laid off. At that time (2002), ALL the tech companies were laying off. Around my city, HP, Apple, Intel, they were all laying off. It wasn’t easy to find another job, especially if I didn’t want to move again so soon.

I decided to change careers and become a math teacher (more info is on AweSum Math).

It took me much longer to complete school than I thought it would, and I struggled financially along the way, but ultimately, I finished my math degree in the fall semester of 2009. I then went to grad school to get my teaching credential.

But after my student teaching experience, I decided that teaching was not the right path for me.

While I was going to school, I had started working for a small company doing clerical and research tasks.

They had a need for someone to help out maintaining the network and implementing some back-end changes to a new website.

I have been thinking for some time now that I might be able to use my background and math degree to work with databases. I’d also been reading for some time about how the future is in Big Data. The logic of writing queries and having my hands on critical data are appealing to me.

I’m doing work I’ve never done before and, in some cases, have no real background in. I need a place to write out what I’m learning.