Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shortcut to expertise?

I received this request today:

"I want to learn PL/SQL but doubt I can; I want to understand,write and fix other's code, but where do I begin? I do not like sticking to code for hours; my head hurts. But I would like to go from complete ignorance to be like you!"

That set back in my Swopper chair for a moment. He wants to go from complete ignorance to being "just like Steven" without sticking his head deep inside code for hours.


Well, first of all, to anyone wanting to learn PL/SQL: do not doubt yourself! You can do it. PL/SQL is a relatively easy language to learn, especially compared to Java.

Second, I don't think are a whole lot of shortcuts you can take. That is, if you want to be an expert programmer, you will stick your head into code for hours. But:

1. Take lots of breaks! You don't have to get headaches.

2. Certainly learning from obsessive people like me can accelerate you along that learning curve to expertise.

In fact, you may want to consider attending one (or more) of my Fast Track PL/SQL webinars, sponsored by Quest. There is one more this month, and then we will likely plan another series soon.

Beyond that, I offer the following advice to "newbies" and others seeking assistance on PL/SQL:

http://tahiti.oracle.com - Oracle documentation available online
http://www.oracle.com/technology/tech/pl_sql/index.html - OTN PL/SQL information
http://www.oracle.com/technology/pub/columns/plsql/index.html - links to articles on OTN
http://oracle-developer.net - detailed explorations into various PL/SQL topics by Adrian Billington
http://forums.oracle.com/forums/forum.jsp?forum=75 - the PL/SQL forum at Oracle
http://asktom.oracle.com - the amazing Ask Tom column

In addition, there are a number of "beginner books", including:
Learning Oracle PL/SQL http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596001803 (I am a co-author on this one)
Oracle PL/SQL for Dummies http://www.amazon.com/Oracle-SQL-Dummies-Michael-Rosenblum/dp/0764599577

Finally, I also encourage you to play the PL/SQL Challenge ( www.plsqlchallenge.com ) - a daily PL/SQL quiz with cash and other prizes!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Challenging myself and others

I am a compulsive workaholic. That is the only explanation for my inability to stop coming up with new ideas and trying new things. My latest "little project" is the PL/SQL Challenge, a daily PL/SQL quiz that culminates quarterly in a championship playoff. Top prize: $1000 USD. Not a bad prize, simply for knowing PL/SQL, right?

Ah, so easy to come up with ideas, so challenging to deliver them as functional products or websites.

First, I had to design a database to hold all my content and serve it up to consumers. Then I needed to create the content for the quiz: hundreds (and hopefully eventually thousands) of questions and answers (and have an application built to allow me to do that). My friend, Joel Finkel, was instrumental in enabling this earliest phase of the PL/SQL Challenge.

Next, more or less, I needed to have the public site built in which people could take the quizzes, see their rankings, and so on. Chris Shaw of Shaw Marketing came up with the logo and overall web design. From there, my fine friends at Apex Evangelists (Sumneva), most especially John Scott and Paul Broughton, committed many, many hours of their lives to building, tweaking and then deploying the website. Gentlemen, I am forever in your debt.

Recognizing the limitations of my incredibly narrow specialization in PL/SQL (and thus not even having a solid grasp of the total Oracle technology stack), I also decided to partner on this whole initiative with Finn Ellebaek Nielsen. Finn is an outstanding Oracle generalist, who has also decided to focus on and promote automated testing solutions for PL/SQL and Oracle. We'd been working together on Quest Code Tester for awhile, and he was a natural choice to work with me on the PL/SQL Challenge.

And this is how I have managed to drag several more human beings into the endless, mad and ever-expanding churn of activity that defines my professional life. Sorry about that, Finn and Apex Evangelists! I hope there are not major regrets (yet).

And now what I need are players, lots of players. During the first two days of the Challenge, we had over 400 people visit and answer the quiz each day. That's a fine start, but just a start.

If you are a PL/SQL developer or work with PL/SQL in any way, you owe it to yourself (and me, that's right. You owe me - it's the least you can do after I sacrificed so much of my life to help PL/SQL developers. Aw, just kidding. I didn't sacrifice. I benefited!) to visit PLSQLChallenge.com and give it a try.

Win prizes, see your name "up in lights" on the website demonstrating your proficiency in PL/SQL. Show same to your manager. Get a promotion and a raise. Succeed professionally beyond your wildest dreams - all by playing the PL/SQL Challenge.

Well, maybe not. But it's certainly a possibility.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The PL/SQL Challenge is open for business

At 00:01 UTC 8 April 2010 (7 PM Chicago time, 7 April), the PL/SQL Challenge will be open for business - which means that PL/SQL developers can now register or login and then take their first ever daily PL/SQL quiz.

Why would someone do that? Because, among other things, you could win $1000 in our quarterly championship. Not bad for knowing some stuff about PL/SQL, don't you think?

You might also want to play the PL/SQL Challenge to demonstrate your expertise to the world. User accounts are ranked publicly (don't worry, you don't have to use your real name if you don't want to).

Give it a try. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes of your day. Why not have a bit of fun as you wrestle with - and solve - serious and complex application challenges?

So welcome to the PL/SQL Challenge and best of luck in the competition!