A few months back I attended the best technical training I’ve ever attended. I enjoy mentoring people, I enjoy teaching and I hope to begin doing more of it in the coming months and years now that I have my MCT and am working for a consultancy. I learned as much about teaching style and classroom management as I did about BI in this great SSAS bootcamp.

Tell Us Who, Mike…

Pragmatic Works. You probably already know them. They hire top SQL talent (Brian Knight, Devin Knight, Jorge Segarra, Patric LeBlanc, Adam Jorgensen, and more) with a strong focus on BI skills to staff their consulting and training divisions. Most of their employees speak at SQL Server events, run pre conference seminars, etc. But the way they run their in person classes is what I want to write about. I’m writing this with a clear conscience – I’m not getting paid to do it, not getting any free help for doing it, etc. I just really enjoyed the training that much.

What Was Different?

In a nutshell – I didn’t feel like I was sitting in a training class… I didn’t sit there waiting for a break, thinking about everything other than the material. I didn’t get flooded with information that I couldn’t process and store for later use. I laughed, I got excited about the material and I learned useful and practical information along the way. They got this relational engine guy/DBA/Data Developer/etc. excited about Business Intelligence.

What were some of the techniques you liked?

I’m glad you asked:

  • “No, you drive!” – They had various people in the class “drive” for them. So while Devin and Brian spoke, a random person from the class were their “hands”. We got to see the student try it, we were encouraged to follow along on our own machines (they harped on which version of SQL and what to have installed in the weeks before the training) and we saw mistakes others made and the questions they asked when having issues. This allowed us to use the “doing” part of our brains and also still learn from mistakes and miscues on the screen.
  • “Can you fix it?” They “Broke Stuff” They would purposefully hide our view of the projector and break something in the demo as they were going and then give control back to the student at their keyboard/mouse. We were then asked as a large group to figure it out and work out the problem. This let us use a different part of brains and actually solve the problems. (So much better than a course or lab format that just assumes it always works!)
  • “Let’s go off script…”They had lectures but they were choppy lectures broken up with, “let’s talk about this” or, “here is an example of that” then they would ask questions to make sure we were getting it. They had no problem going off topic and breaking out the whiteboard markers since there were varied experiences in the room.
  • “You can win something!” They kept telling us that we would need to understand this or that because the 2 day seminar ended with a big group project where we would “fight” another team. And we took all of that learning and broke up into two groups and had to roll out an SSAS solution, some cubes, reports, analysis in excel, etc. And we divided up into two sides with a student on each keyboard on screen and the rest of that side of the room helping the student with tips from Brian or Devon on either side of the room. We got to apply our knowledge right away and receive (and offer to Brian and Devin) feedback on our progress instantly.
  • “Watch this again sometime” We received links to download the content after we got home. Now in this case our session wasn’t recorded but we got the links to a similar session presented elsewhere. This was great for a review (remember, we already had the labs installed since they told us to ahead of time). Now we could sleep on the information for a while, use it at work and then hit the video again to see what else we missed.


So. If you want to learn about Business Intelligence on SQL Server and the various components in the BI stack, I can’t help but tell you to go check out their training schedule. If you want to be a trainer, I can’t help but tell you to look at some of the aspects above when planning how your courses will look. I should also mention they both have an approachable, humorous and friendly style. I’m sure that added to the training as well.

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