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Apprenticeship update: eager for the SQL

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My last apprenticeship update wasn’t a very positive one.

The pressure had begun to build after being asked by my department’s head to analyse a data set at short notice as part of a complaint investigation. I’d managed to scrape through and complete the task but was then assigned to work on another, bigger IT Service Management (ITSM) problem.

This was in addition to my operational role and the data apprenticeship, so I effectively ended up trying to manage three positions at the same time. Looking back on it now, it was obvious it wasn’t going to last for very long. After working 15-hour days without pause and still being unable to keep on top of the requirements, a breakdown forced me to see that something had to change otherwise I was risking my mental health.

So where am I now? Admitting you’re not doing well and are struggling to cope is difficult for someone who’s a perfectionist and never likes to not be in control. But I think I’m slowly getting better. I keep having to remind myself there’s only so much I can do and that it’s good to disconnect at the end of the working day. The guilt at not finishing more tasks remains but I’m learning not to listen to it.

When it comes to work itself however, things haven’t changed much since last month. The plan to trial spending alternative weeks with different teams so I have space for both my day-job and the problem mentioned opposite never really got off the ground. There’s just too much firefighting to constantly take care of and not enough people to look after it. I can block out a day to concentrate on a single task, but that idea goes out the window completely when something breaks or a colleague must take emergency leave.

If I can make it through the Data Fellowship and get as good a grade as possible, more opportunities are available when it comes to figuring out what to do next.

The directors are still investigating the possibility of getting in a contractor to look after certain jobs while I focus more on ITSM. I’m still not overly hopeful of this happening because of the amount of money involved, but it’s nice to know they’re considering it. In fact, this and the change in my mindset have been just what I need to start getting back on track. Spending several days’ annual leave throughout July with good story-based games has also been a welcome distraction.

It’s meant I’ve had the energy to put more effort into the projects for my apprenticeship portfolio over the past few weeks. I still haven’t hit on the right format for these just yet and am still trialling report layouts, but it feels like I’m much closer to actually producing something I can be proud of now. I’ve realised this needs to be my priority. If I can make it through to the end of Data Fellowship and get as good a grade as possible, more opportunities are available when it comes to figuring out what to do next.

Thankfully, July’s training sessions are all about SQL basics so I’ve got some extra breathing space. I’ve been working with the language for the past several years now so I’m more than comfortable with the topics being covered this week and don’t need to pay such close attention. This has meant I’ve been able to listen to our coaches talking about select statements and table joins with one ear, while continuing with the planning for my portfolio projects in the background.

I do feel kind of sorry for the other apprentices though. It can be daunting picking up a new language when you’ve not done much coding before, but it’s made even more difficult by the questions being posed during practical exercises. They’re so horribly worded and far too long-winded that it’s often difficult to decipher them or know where to start. I mean, does anyone honestly care how many users born on the same day as Taylor Swift listened to her music on a particular date last year?

It’ll be the first time we’ve touched on subjects I know nothing about and I’m keen to learn something new to feel like I’m challenging myself.

I hope they’re not put off because SQL is a good language to get started with if you’re interested in data. It’s easy to read, has a structure which is easy to remember, and can do a far lot more than many people realise. I’ve pointed a few colleagues in the direction of the tutorials on W3Schools. I’ve heard a few negative things about the website in the past but a lot of the points seem to be historical, and it really helped me when I was first getting started in my database role without any experience.

We’re due look at subqueries today and I’m hoping the vibe throughout the session is a little more positive than yesterday. The real fun starts tomorrow though when we’ll be getting started on an introduction to Power Query and PowerBI. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be the first time we’ve touched on subjects I know nothing about during the apprenticeship and I’m keen to learn something new to feel like I’m challenging myself. I guess you could say that – wait for it – I’m eager for the SQL.

I know, I know, but I had to get a pun in there somewhere. Hopefully by the time I share my next apprenticeship update, you’ll have gotten over that poor joke and I’ll have finally finished the report for my first project.

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