When I read this topic, so many ideas popped into my head. Where would I be without dbatools, SQL Prompt, Ola Hallengren's backup solution...? But the rest of the topic led me down a different line of thinking; Jens has raised the issue of awareness of these tools, and helping newer professionals get off to a running start. This is something dear to my own heart, and there's one resource above all of these tools that I most want to bring to those people's attention: the SQL Server community itself.
I worked with SQL Server for several years before I stumbled into the community, and it has changed so much for me. I realise that by posting this as part of T-SQL Tuesday I'll be preaching to the choir, but hopefully someone will find my blog some other way, and find this helpful!
So what is the SQL Server community? I'd define it as a bunch of people around the globe who work with SQL Server (and often other related technologies), communicating via many different methods. The critical point here is that many of those communication methods are open and available to anyone who wants to take part. I'll explain those as I discuss why you might want to take part in this community.
Ever been stuck on some SQL, experienced a weird bug in SSDT, or not been sure how best to design a table? Not had anyone at work to speak to about it, or wanted an outside opinion? You might already think to search for books or blog articles, or ask on Stack Overflow or the Database Administrators StackExchange - and in truth, you're already interacting with the community by doing this.
But sometimes you've got a tough issue that you just cannot find an existing answer for, or the SE Q&A format just isn't suitable; luckily, there are lots of knowledgeable people (sometimes the same people who wrote those books, articles, or answers) who are around and happy to help.
If you're not already on Twitter, get yourself signed up, and check out the #sqlhelp hashtag! You can also sign up for the SQL Server Community Slack, and ask for help in the #sqlhelp channel, or one of the topic-specific channels (#datawarehousing, #dbatools, and #powershellhelp are three I read regularly). I was neither a Twitter nor a Slack user before, so don't let that stand in your way.
If you're not an active part of the community it's certainly still possible to be aware of new tools, new features, and so on - but it's more difficult. Being in contact with other professionals means that you will hear about things that you otherwise would have needed to go looking for.
Following the #blogs channel in Slack will give you a constant feed of information, and just hanging out and reading the #general channel, or following a bunch of the SQL Server authors you like on Twitter will mean you see tools, upcoming features in vNext, and so on. As will attending events. This doesn't have to mean an expensive conference (although many are well worth the time and money) - have you ever checked whether there's a user group near you? How about a SQL Saturday?
Going a step past simple awareness of what's available, maybe you want to level up your skill set, or branch out into an area you're not able to do within your current role. Courses can be incredibly expensive, especially if you're self-funding, and my experience of many technical courses has been that they don't always offer value for money.
Conferences and SQL Saturdays frequently offer day-long "pre-con" sessions which are often very competitively priced. You can often get a day's training from one of the people whose technical books or blog articles you rely on day-to-day, for less than you'd pay for a day's training locally. Keeping up-to-date on what events are coming up is generally easy once you're following people (and organisations like PASS) on Twitter, but you can also join the #events channel in Slack. There are also events like Tech Outbound that offer in-depth sessions of this kind.
So let's say you've joined Slack and Twitter, you've attended some events, you've received help and learnt new things. How about giving back? You might want to do this out of altruism or to give back to the community that's helped you, but you can also gain a lot from doing this.
You could answer other people's questions on Twitter and Slack, or write up blog articles of your own (check out the #blogging channel for help, and make sure to add your channel's RSS feed to the #blogs channel). You could also decide to become a speaker - and plenty of help is available with getting started. There's a #presentingorspeaking channel in Slack, Speaking Mentors (which was created by members of the SQL Server community!), and some events specifically welcome talks from new speakers and offer support.
It's great to give back, but taking part actively will also improve your communication skills. You can improve your ability to explain technical concepts verbally or in writing, learn how to put together engaging presentations, and gain experience in public speaking. Not to mention, a blog makes a great place to store things you've learnt for your future self!
All of these communication methods include an element of networking. Earlier in my career the concept of networking terrified me; I had a vague notion it was something I was supposed to be doing, but I had no idea how, or even really why. The great thing about the SQL Server community is that you'll inevitably find some like-minded people who you enjoy knowing and interacting with - networking doesn't have to be a forced activity that you do purely for career reasons.
Being a part of the community - doing these things that help you, help others, and which are often really fun - is networking. You'll meet people who ultimately might become colleagues, mentors, or your mentees. By blogging, speaking, or even being active on Twitter or Slack people will know who you are and what you do. Attending events will help you meet potential employers or employees, and give you the chance to talk directly to people who previously you only knew via seeing their name in print.
Jens has encouraged us to explain how we became aware, and give credit. This is entirely circular, but I became aware of the community via the community! My first conference was SQLBits, which I heard about repeatedly from numerous colleagues before I got the chance to attend. Through SQLBits, I became aware of SQL Saturday, SQL Relay, and my local user group. Through talks, pre-cons, and chatting to people in person I found out about the Slack channel, the #sqlhelp hashtag on Twitter, and so on. Blog articles and tweets have highlighted authors who I now read regularly.
The important thing is to make other people aware. Just the other week, I told a new attendee of the Leeds user group about the Slack channel - she hadn't heard of it before. The more pointers we all build in to the other parts of the community, the more inclusive it becomes. Tell your co-workers about Slack, link people to useful blogs, put event stickers on everything!