Entries in SQL Community (16)


Getting Started with a Career in BI

imageIt’s unbelievable how often I get asked about where to begin with a career in Business Intelligence (BI).  So, here’s my thoughts on it.  If anyone has additional thoughts I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Are You a Fit for BI?

First, what is it about BI that appeals to you?  I think that’s really important to know yourself well enough to feel confident whether or not this it’s a good fit for you personally.  The following strikes me as important attributes:

  • Desire to solve problems
  • Willingness to understand business needs (and I mean really understand, really “get it” beyond a superficial level)
  • Ability to interact really well with both technical people and business people
  • Capable of learning quickly, and almost constantly considering the technologies are always evolving
  • Natural aptitude for learning “technical stuff”

Notice that it’s really only the last bullet where I mention “technical stuff.”  In BI technical skills are very important, but the soft skills are easily just as important.  How technical you want to go is really up to you.  Wayne Eckerson calls us Purple People and I think it’s true.  In the world of BI we vary from predominantly business users to quasi-technical folks to extremely skilled technical IT people.

Choosing an Entry Point Position for Getting Exposed to BI

I believe the entry point to doing BI work is lower (i.e., easier) than many other IT jobs out there.  The types of jobs I’ve seen most often as an entry point to BI are:

  • Report Writer.  The appeal of starting off as a report writer is that you will learn some querying, such as SQL and MDX, as well as other important things like change control, deployment, and probably even some performance tuning skills.  You’ll also get exposed to some data modeling principles as you work with the underlying data sources.  It’s also quite likely you’ll interact with the ETL team and/or Cube development team (for instance, you wouldn’t want to derive a new measure in 18 reports – you’d want to ask the downstream team if it’s possible to centralize it).
  • Data Analyst.  This term is used a lot and can mean a lot of things.  I’m thinking a role like this would usually be a business-oriented power user that does a lot of Self-Service reporting, data modeling, and data analysis.  This type of person would probably have opportunities to interact with the Corporate BI team quite a bit if they choose to.  This is basically what we usually think of when we throw around the term “power user.”
  • Business Analyst.  I always say that a good BA is hard to find!  To me this is a quasi-technical, quasi-business role.  If you are in a role like this, collecting requirements for BI and analytics type of projects, you would get exposed to all of the concepts.  You would be exposed to the business need, as well as helping to scope and define rules for the data model, ETL, Cube, and Reports.  You would probably work with a project manager to properly define and manage scope (always a huge challenge with BI work!) as well as prioritizing planned enhancements and change requests.  Basically this role could give a good end-to-end experience.

To Specialize or Generalize?

Figuring out if you want to focus on doing BI work as a business user (i.e., those analysts who do Power Pivot models and reporting are doing Self-Service BI) or evolve your skills to become a Corporate BI developer job is a decision you might find yourself considering at some point.  If you do decide to pursue a BI developer job, you’ll also want to give some thought to specializing or not.

Depth vs. breadth is a constant challenge for me personally – both are important.  Some people feel more comfortable specializing and therefore having much deeper knowledge in their area.  Sub-specialties for BI professionals could include:

  • Data Modeling and Data Warehousing
  • ETL and Data Integration
  • OLAP Models Semantic layer
  • Reporting, Dashboards, and Presentation Layer
  • Master Data Management
  • Metadata Management
  • Predictive Analytics and Data Mining
  • Big Data and Streaming Data
  • Mobile Delivery
  • System Architecture

Whatever you choose, if you don’t have a broad background or a grasp of the big picture, please try to start with the basics.  Understand what a good data model is, how data warehousing works, what all the components are.  You might read that data scientists are the hot new thing, or that big data is catching on, but I can’t imagine that starting with these more advanced niches would work for very many people (unless you’re a statistician).

To Focus on a Platform?

I have focused on Microsoft BI for the last several years.  Before that I did some work with Cognos, a bit of WebFocus, and a sprinkle of Hyperion and a couple others I don’t even remember anymore.  There’s so much to continually learn with the Microsoft BI platform that I am personally very happy with focusing on the Microsoft platform.

You’ll want to give some consideration to platform choice, especially if you’re starting an endeavor to ramp up skills.  For a lot of people I think this might happen just due to what you are exposed to in the workplace and that’s ok (that’s how it happened for me).  You might refer to the Gartner Magic Quadrant to get some familiarity with various BI software vendors.  The leaders in the top right will generally have more market share, thus more jobs available.

Suggestions for Getting Started

Here’s some thoughts regarding ramping up your skills.  These are not ordered in any particular way.  Which items make sense for you depends very much on your entry point and your particular focus.

  • Work vs. Formal Education.  Decide if you value work experience or formal education more, or what feels best to you.  There are BI programs available (such as CPCC’s Reach IT program here in Charlotte).  Or, you might feel like getting a “foot in the door” type of job suits you more.
  • Certifications.  The value of certifications is constantly debated.  I think they are immensely valuable for learning the basic concepts, and for getting introduced to a breadth of material that you may not deal with normally.  For Microsoft BI professionals, you would take this certification path to focus on BI.  There is also a certification from TDWI that is platform-agnostic.
  • Build a Solution.  There’s nothing better than real hands-on experience.  Create a virtual machine that has all of the software you need and build a solution.  Evaluation software is free.  Developer editions of SQL Server are very inexpensive.  Codeplex has many starter solutions and sample databases.  Public datasets are becoming easier and easier to find.  All you need is the initiative to go build something that you could use to demonstrate your skills to a potential employer.
  • Read the Kimball books.  The Kimball Group methodology is used significantly at many, many organizations.  Bill Inmon is also very influential in this space.
  • Attend Events.  In the Microsoft community, we are very lucky to have lots of opportunities to learn.  Many of them are free.  There are local user groups, virtual user groups, SQL Saturday events.
  • Talk to People.  Talking to people in the industry could help give you perspective and help you decide what your focus should be.  Heck, it might even help you get a job.
  • Volunteer.  Perhaps a really small organization or a nonprofit would be willing to let you learn as you build something for them.

What did I forget to mention?  Have other suggestions?  Please leave me a comment…

Good luck with your decision! 



PASS Summit Meeting Rooms at the Charlotte Convention Center

imageThe schedule for the PASS Summit in Charlotte has been released.  Since I’m lucky enough to have a session on the schedule, I looked up a map of the Charlotte Convention Center to get the lay of the land.  Having an idea of the room size ahead of time helps me to feel mentally prepared. 

The schedule for the 2013 PASS Summit can be found here:

The layout for the Charlotte Convention Center can be found here:

The rooms highlighted in yellow are the convention center rooms used per the Summit schedule.  I’m guessing the rooms will be set up theatre-style, but that's just a guess.






By the way, we would love to see you at our SQL Saturday the day after Summit concludes.  It’ll be a fun day with 50 sessions on BI, Data Warehousing, Big Data, and Database Administration -- so please join us!  Info can be found here:



Schedule for SQL Saturday 237 in Charlotte

imageThe schedule is posted for SQL Saturday 237 in Charlotte to be held on 10/19/2013 (the day after the PASS Summit concludes).  This BI Edition will have a primary focus on Business Intelligence topics, with some DBA topics as well.  There will be 10 tracks in 5 time slots for a total of 50 sessions (we actually added a track while finalizing the session schedule because we wanted to be able to select more speakers, have more content, and make sure we have enough classroom capacity to hold > 300 attendees).

The topics on the schedule break down into these categories:


What?  You caught that there’s only 48 sessions listed in the chart when I said at the beginning there would be 50?  Got me there.  That just means we might have a surprise or two coming later. 

The levels break down as follows:


The types of speakers breaks down as follows:


All session details can be found here: – Please keep in mind this is the first draft of the schedule, so a few of the time slots are likely to move around a bit before it’s finalized.

If you are able to attend, please register soon!  We already have more than 200 registrations, which is really exciting this far out…so be sure to reserve your spot soon.  If you’re attending PASS Summit, we’d love to see you one more day!  And if you’re near Charlotte and not able to attend Summit, well then, all the more reason to come and join us at SQL Saturday 237!

Any questions?  Send them to SQLSaturday237 at SQLSaturday dot com.



Tips for Getting Around Charlotte at PASS Summit

imageHeaded to Charlotte for the PASS Summit in October?  We locals are super excited to have over 4,000 pros arrive in Charlotte!  In addition to the Summit being held October 16-18, the Charlotte BI Group is hosting its 2nd annual SQL Saturday on October 19th.  Below is some information about Charlotte to get you started.

The Lay of the Land

Charlotte is considered a “hub and spoke” city, meaning the downtown area is in the middle & several major roads run outwards from the center – although it’s not actually called downtown; it’s usually referred to as Uptown, or sometimes Center City.  The convention center where the Summit will be held is in Uptown.  I’ve lived in Charlotte just over 3 years now, and I still find that Charlotte can be a bit tough to get around - it’s not a grid layout and street names change a lot (and I mean a lot!).  Here’s a high level map of the Charlotte area:


Charlotte isn’t a huge metropolis, which I actually quite like.  Population of Charlotte is just over 750,000 (with just over 2.2 million if you count the entire metro area).  There’s not too many suburbs; most of the region is referred to as Charlotte.  We are known as the “Queen City” after the British Queen Charlotte Sophia.  Although Charlotte isn't immensely large, we are large enough to have an NFL team (the Carolina Panthers) and an NBA team (the Charlotte Bobcats).  And, of course, Charlotte is well known for its Nascar presence (I even admit to having been to a race...once).

Getting from the Airport to Uptown

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is a great little airport.  Personally I’ve always gotten in and out of there very quickly. 

Driving Directions:  From the airport to the Convention Center in Uptown is about 7 miles.   

Taxi:  A taxi should be about $25 from the airport to Uptown (Center City).  Ground Transportation at the airport is just outside of Baggage Claim.

Airport Sprinter Bus:  If you are game for saving a few bucks, you could hop onto a CATS hybrid-electric Sprinter Bus and get to Uptown for $2 (this will be like a regular city bus because the light rail doesn’t run to the airport yet).  The Sprinter Bus runs every 20-30 minutes.  If your hotel is in Uptown, hopefully one of the stops along Trade Street will be fairly near your hotel.  You can transfer to the Lynx light rail at the CTC if needed.


Fun Stuff To Do Near Uptown

imageThe Green.  A small park that I just adore walking through when I’m in Uptown.  It’s a couple of blocks away from the Convention Center near 1st Street between Tryon and College.  There’s different artwork, a lot of it with literary references (I look smarter in the pic just by being there don't ya think?).

NC Music Factory.  The NC Music Factory is a hip & cool place in Uptown which has bars, restaurants, comedy, and music.  It’s in Uptown just off 12th Street (hint:  take a cab over there rather than walking since it’s on the fringes of Uptown).

EpiCentre.  The EpiCentre, located in Uptown at College and Trade, has bars, restaurants, shops, a movie theater and a bowling alley.  Definitely a fun place.  This is also where you can find Whiskey River (the restaurant owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.)

There’s also a few trendy little neighborhoods just outside of Uptown if you have some time to explore:  Noda, Dilworth, and Plaza-Midwood.  They each have their share of eclectic dining, arts, and nightlife.

For other attractions in Charlotte, check out the Charlotte’s Got A Lot site.

Links with Helpful Information

PASS Summit 2013 – Travel and Accommodations

Convention & Visitors Bureau – Charlotte’s Got A Lot

Charlotte Center City Partners – Maps

Charlotte’s Got A Lot - Map of Center City

Charlotte Convention Center – Directions and Parking

Charlotte Douglas International Airport – Ground Transportation

Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) – Routes & Schedules (Choose “5 – Airport” from the drop-down menu)

Lynx Charlotte - Lynx Light Rail



PASS Summit 2012 Recap

PASSConference (51)First, I’d like to send a HUGE thanks to the PASS organizers!  Can you believe this large of an event is organized by such a small team of people?  And that most of the presentations are delivered by community volunteers?  (I’m pretty sure the only exception is the Microsoft guys & gals who do this as part of their job…but of course we love them too!)

The highlight of PASS Summit 2012 for me has to be that I was given the opportunity to speak at two sessions. Not just one, but two! Of course I've been joking that the list of selected sessions has some data quality issues, but all jokes aside, I am as appreciative and thrilled as a human can be that I was given this chance. After my first time on the "big stage" I gained confidence & definitely learned some things to do better next time.

PASSConference (41)Second on my highlight reel is that I got to meet a lot of new people for the first time. If we rewind about five years, I really had no idea about the value of relationships in a career. I've grown to highly value the people I know in the industry. Getting to meet new friends & catch up with old friends is so much fun!

I'm also excited about all the new information I'm taking home with me. In addition to all the sessions & conversations from the week, I attended a SQL Saturday organizers meeting & a User Group organizers meeting. My OneNote is full of all kinds of new ideas & information!

PASSConference (13)Last but not least, it was just plain fun.  Since I’m an early to bed person (and kind of a wimp about it), so the time change beat me up a bit.  Although I wanted to head to bed by dinnertime every night, I managed to stay up pretty late one night to see SQL Karaoke which was super fun! 

Can’t wait until next year in Charlotte!



PASSConference (6)    PASSConference (36)  PASSConference (25)  PASSConference (39)  PASSConference (46)  PASSConference (49)   PASSConference (63)


SQL Saturday 174 is a wrap!

Whew, SQL Saturday 174 in Charlotte is in the books!  We had over 250 attendees from 8 states, over 40 speakers, 30 volunteers, and extremely generous sponsors who are the ones who really allow us to make an event like this happen. 

We owe thanks to lots of people who made this event a success, but there’s a few I’d like to mention:

Rafael Salas, Co-Organizer - Rafael was in charge of the care & feeding of our sponsors, and he did an amazing job.  As always, I learned many things from Rafael.

Javier Guillén, Co-Organizer - Javier was responsible for venue coordination and financial matters.  Javier is truly passionate about BI and he brought that same excitement to our event planning team.

Jason Thomas, Co-Organizer - Jason took ownership of scheduling sessions & speakers which is no easy task.  If you don’t know Jason, he’s a happy friendly guy who is a pleasure to be around.

Alberto Botero – Alberto took care of the CPCC coordination & pitched in far more than what was expected of him.  Alberto is deeply involved with CPCC’s Business Intelligence and Data Analysis program where they’re training students in BI.  How cool is that?

Shannon Lowder – Shannon went above & beyond as our lead volunteer coordinator.  If you saw him on Saturday, that man was a machine!

Karla Landrum & PASS – Karla is a never-ending source of advice, for which we are super appreciative. 

Paul Rizza – Paul voluntarily pitched in at the registration desk & picked up a 2nd session for us when we had a last minute speaker cancellation.  Talk about helpful!

Jose Rivera – Jose wins the award for traveling the farthest – he came all the way from Puerto Rico!

David Elliston – David will live in CBIG infamy as the first person to RSVP for our inaugural January meeting.

Roaming the hallways at SQL Saturday 174      photo3

photo2     photo1

Now that SQL Saturday is over, you can look forward to the Charlotte BI Group!