Scott Whigham is a SQL Server consultant and trainer. Recently, he started a new website called LearnSQLServer.Com. I recently met Scott at a training event and was impressed with his teaching ability, so I decided to interview him.
Give us a brief introduction to your website, LearnSQLServer.com.
LearnSqlServer.com is a place where people can go to basically get classroom quality training on their computer for only a few bucks. We have hours and hours of SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2000 video tutorials that our users can download and watch on just about any device out there; PCs, laptops, Ipods, Creative Zens, etc. And it isn’t streaming – it’s truly mobile, “Watch Anywhere” videos. We have free videos, subscriber videos, code samples, articles, and much more.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background in SQL Server and in training?
I started out many years ago doing network admin type stuff. One day, the SQL Server person was leaving so I went out, bought a book SQL Server, and read up on it. I placed the book strategically on my desk and, of course, my boss noticed it and asked if I knew SQL Server. “Why, yes I do.” I didn’t stay in that job long; I quickly worked towards getting the MCDBA (I was already an MCSE) because, back in the 90s, if you had acronyms after your name, you could get 25-50% more salary every six months just by switching companies. I kept changing jobs until I got into consulting, which lead to training opportunities.
Why did you start LearnSQLServer.com?
I had never taken a training class before I started being a trainer because all of the companies I had worked for all wanted to me to sign “payback contracts” if they sent me to training; i.e., “To attend training, you’ll have to sign this contract that says you’ll pay us back if you leave the company within the next 12 months.” I certainly couldn’t afford to pay the $2,000-per-class, but I knew that if I just kept working hard on my own towards the MCDBA/MCSE, I’d be able to get 25-50% higher salary in six months with a different company.
Later on, once I became a trainer, I talked with students who were there because they had signed that same contract. It made me think, “There should be a way that the average person can get quality training without having to sign their life away.” It took me a few years, but I eventually figured it out and now training is affordable to anyone. Look at our subscription prices: for $30-$40, you can get hours and hours of SQL Server training; that’s equivalent to taking a five-day class.
When I started working on the idea of http://www.learnsqlserver.com/, it was with the intent of just doing that one website. After talking with a few people who were very excited about the idea, I axed the idea of just a single website and created an entire company called “LearnItFirst.com” to focus on video training. Today, LearnItFirst.com has the “LearnItFirst.com Video Training Network” (http://www.learnitfirst.com/OurWebsites.aspx) which includes not only LearnSqlServer.com, but LearnExchange.com and LearnWindows2003.com, to name a few.
What is a videobook?
A videobook is simply what I think of as a website that covers the same content as a technical book and/or training class, but it’s all on video. Think of LearnSqlServer.com along the same lines as a “Learn SQL Server” book or training class; we cover it all in a downloadable video. And there’s no streaming video with us – it’s pretty much a “download once, watch anywhere” type of model.
Who produces the content for the videobooks?
To continue the analogy to the book industry, we have authors as well. I’m the author of http://www.learnsqlserver.com/, Grant Moyle, expert trainer and Windows guru, is the author of http://www.learnwindows2003.com/ for example.
Another question might be, “Who would you want to be the author of your next videobook?” We look for authors who are, first and foremost, gurus in their field. Second, having prior training experience is a must. We’ve all listened to speakers or read articles by people who confuse more than help because of their difficult examples and/or inability to convey the material. The world has enough of those people; we want people who have the ability to quickly give off-the-cuff examples and analogies that you’ll not only remember but would even be able to explain to someone else.
How do you decide what subjects to cover?
When I sit down to record videos, I usually have a log of questions/topics that have come up recently: a production problem that occurred, a student posed an interesting question in an email, a forum post produces a long discussion, I read a blog entry that talks about the latest and greatest feature, and I think to myself, “I’ve got a really good example of how to do that – I’ll shoot a video on it!” It’s pretty organic really. I also take “requests”. This last month’s release of videos included a big chunk on what’s new in SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) at the request of a subscriber. It’s really just the first set in a whole series on SSIS.
How do you go about preparing and producing a new videobook?
To bring a new site online isn’t that tough from an infrastructure standpoint; the hardest part is finding a good author and coaching them on how to work within this model. It’s not like a classroom environment – you have to learn to work without that immediate feedback from students. People who might otherwise be good classroom trainers become “stiff” or unemotional when they are just teaching to a computer screen. Once we have the author, we work on determining what the first sets of videos should be and go from there.
What have been some of the challenges of starting the website and producing videobooks?
I had some pretty big challenges when I first started working on the sites because I had to learn C# and ASP.NET! I talked to several web development companies and was quoted $50,000-$100,000 to develop the sites, which was way out of my budget. After learning C# and ASP.NET, then I had to learn all about web-based business and promoting your site. And, of course, that was an iterative process. Once I learned about search engines and how they work, I then spent a lot of time refactoring my websites.
My biggest challenge today is doing all the things that don’t require coding. I like to write code and create new things. When I have to stop that process so that I can write a press release, for example, I find excuses to procrastinate until I finally have this huge pile of work that needs to get done in one big lump. I’ve had to learn how to manage my time more efficiently.
And please excuse me while I shave during the rest of the interview. Saving time, you know.