Mind maps and SQL

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn, I mentioned that I use Mind-mapping. I generally prefer pen and paper or pen and white-board, because I don’t like to be constrained by what the tool wants to do. I do use Freemind sometimes, and I said in the discussion that I what I sometimes do is:

  1. Create the mindmap freehand
  2. Transfer that into Freemind – which consolidates the thinking and gives me something with is tidy and easier to maintain, and then
  3. “Print” the map to pdf – which is easy to distribute and can form the basis of discussion at a distance.

I thought I would illustrate this with an example:

A recent project of mine has been creating an introductory course titled “SQL and Relational Databases for analysts”.

The objective of the course was to give a basic understanding of SQL to Business and Technical Analysts.
It was intended to use MS SQL Server, but not be a course on SQL Server. The reason for this was to make the skills learned as portable as reasonably possible.

As it was intended to be an introduction, certain things I would like to have included (like UNION, HAVING and the database catalogue) didn’t make the cut on grounds of keeping the size of the course down.

Anyway, the content of the course was documented in a mind-map which was then discussed with people in different places over a short period. I’ve attached the final version of the mind-map.
Everything in the mind-map (with the exception of the “title block” in the middle) was produced in Freemind.

The mind-map proved to be useful for agreeing what the content and structure of the course was going to be and then as a reminder of scope during the development of the course.

Here’s mind-map (it was intended to be printed, if that ever happened, on A3 paper).


Practice makes…?

One of the issues with working from a home office, as I do a great deal of the time, is “education” or “training”. I need to keep up to date. I need to learn about new things. The problem is that very few opportunities come and knock on my door. Of course, the internet is a wonderful thing, but it is like a good public library. If you like reading, you can get lost or even lose yourself in there. That’s where personal recommendation comes in.
Quite recently I found a education site called Udemy. Maybe you knew about it already, I didn’t. I decided to take a couple of courses to find out if I liked the experience: I did, and I do.
One of the courses I took was called “Performance of Speaking” by a man called Tom j Dolan (he writes it like that, so I will as well). I confess, that one of the reasons I took the course was that I was curious about how effective a course in such a subject could be as distance learning. All I can say is “it worked for me”.
I consider myself a reasonable public speaker. I am comfortable addressing a room containing tens or maybe even a hundred people. I haven’t tried addressing a stadium full yet but maybe that will come. Never-the-less I felt there was room for improvement.
Tom’s credentials are excellent and his approach is quite simple: public speaking is a practical skill. It is something which can be learned. He makes an important point: many of us are too critical of ourselves. We demand “perfection” (whatever that is). That is really an unreasonable demand we are making. Instead we should aim for improvement “Kaizen” as the Japanese would have it. Continuous improvement is a better goal than perfection. We can usually improve. The best musicians practice constantly.
There are many skills like this. We can learn the facts, we can answer questions and give the “right” answers, but to become really good at them, we have to practice. We (or at the very least, I) are creatures of habit. When we first learn a new behaviour it takes a great deal of effort. As we practice we get better at the execution of the behaviour, but not only that, we also find that we have more capacity to think about how and why we are doing it. Experience is a valuable thing.
As part of something I am doing at the moment, I need to record and then edit my own voice. Tom’s course has helped me get used to the awkwardness I felt. It hasn’t changed the content at all but it has improved the delivery and also how I feel about the delivery.

Oracle and Courses

My personal development time last week was spent completing an online course “Oracle DBA for absolute beginners”.

I wouldn’t have described myself as an “absolute beginner”, but I found plenty to enjoy in the course and came away having learned quite a bit about what is going on inside Oracle, and I assume most other database managers.

Circumstances influence what we do in life and so far I have had much more exposure to DB/2 and MS SQL Server than to Oracle. That hasn’t been a decision on my part, simply the choices that had been made for the projects I was involved in.

In a similar way, I’ve spent much more time “dealing with users” as a Business Analyst, than I have working out how to manage the space requirements and performance of a database. It does me good to learn just a little about the things a DBA has to consider. I don’t have to let those considerations govern what I consider the requirements to be, but at least I can understand where other people are coming from.

Taking the course led me to what you might consider “meta” thinking: thinking about not the content of the course, but the way it was presented and the platform Udemy on which it was presented.

I find Udemy interesting. It seems to work well. It certainly worked for me.

Udemy seem to be aiming to be a “neutral marketplace”. The courses belong to the course instructors. Of course Udemy have standards for courses, but beyond the usual “fit to print” conditions, they are mostly technical standards (quality of video and sound) rather than subject matter related. In a similar spirit, Udemy promote the platform, but the promotion I have seen seems to be fairly neutral with regard to individual courses. On the other hand, instructors or course owners are completely free to advertise their wares elsewhere and direct potential customers into Udemy. It’s a simple model which I think I will investigate further.