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Looking for some advice from those in the field.. Expand / Collapse
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Posted Monday, July 16, 2012 2:36 PM
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hello all, I'm posting this as somewhat of an outsider looking for some career advice from someone who knows more about this than i do.

I'm currently managing a business (totally not tech related), and in the low six figures (which i'm obviously happy about), but i HATE the job. The last job i had was one i really enjoyed thoroughly, although the pay was a bit less, and now i'm wishing i hadn't ever left (more money is not always the best option!). At my last job I worked heavily with excel, and i would say i have advanced excel skills. I worked a lot with huge data files in the healthcare industry, and also worked for a time as a claims analyst, where I reviewed claims data for overpayments, and loved the analytical nature of the job. SQL has always interested me, as have all things tech really. I've taught myself HTML/CSS, and have taught mysyelf a SMALL amount of SQL as well. So here's my question. I'm trying to get a feel for what a career working with SQL would be like, and if i would enjoy it or not. The last thing i want to do is pursue training, switch jobs, and realize i hate that as much as i do my current job.

I know this is a tough question to answer, but I guess i'm trying to get an idea of whether or not a career with SQL would work well with my analytical mindset, and if so, are there career areas where I would be more well-suited than others? also, is there ANY chance of me making the same kind of money i'm currently making in the tech field....thanks in advance for your help!
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Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2012 3:00 PM


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masoninyourface (7/16/2012)

I know this is a tough question to answer, but I guess i'm trying to get an idea of whether or not a career with SQL would work well with my analytical mindset, and if so, are there career areas where I would be more well-suited than others? also, is there ANY chance of me making the same kind of money i'm currently making in the tech field....thanks in advance for your help!


Well, what you'd probably enjoy more is the Business Intelligence side of the house, or BI. That's where most of our analytics happen. Basically it's warehousing, Analysis Services and Cubes, RS and Reports, and lately Powerpivot and their ilk.

As to the money... it's possible, but a little over 6 figures is about where most of the market caps out, with some variation for location.



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Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 12:14 AM


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To be honest, if 6 figures is an important number, then I'd recommend a different career choice. There just aren't too many DBA's or BI Ninjas that come right out of the school yard that will get hired at that level. A lot don't make that much even after 5 years experience. Of course, some do but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Even if you're really good, most shops won't offer that kind of money for less than 5 years of experience.

Now, if the 6 figures is not important and you really do have the analytical mind you claim to have, this can be an absolutely awesome job. Shoot, it's so much fun for me that not only is it my job, but it's a hobby, as well.


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Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 5:55 AM
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Craig - thanks for the insight. I've thought perhaps that BI might be a good avenue to take, but unfortunately my problem right now is that I know very little about what any of these positions REALLY do day-to-day, so deciding which path to take has proven difficult. I've read a little about the BI job online, and it seems more people oriented than SQL oriented. I think I would prefer something more data-oriented, than people oriented, but i have very little to base this feeling on.

Jeff - thank you for the input on the salary side of things. I'm sorry I didn't communicate this better in my original post, but I'm not expecting to walk into a career as a novice and make 6 figures, and i realize i have no marketable IT skills right now. If I enjoyed the career, I'd be happy making less than 6 figures long-term, but I would like to at least be in the 80 to 90 range at some point down the road when I'm very experienced. I'm pretty much planning on taking a 50% pay cut to switch careers, but I have always known my current job wasn't for me, so I've kept my lifestyle trimmed to within half of my pay....thank God, or else I'd be really screwed;)

So, to kind of add on to my original post, I keep gravitating back to the idea of working with SQL, which is funny since i know only slightly more than my dog about it. I guess where the interest comes from is that at my last job, I had to work closely with a data analyst, and I kind of saw a little bit of what they did. Also, since I've always enjoyed using Excel formulas to manipulate large .csv files and turn them into something usable for the average user, I thought that I might enjoy SQL. I loved (and still love) being the guy that could work magic with Excel, and I enjoyed being a resource for others in my office on Excel as well. I'm going to really give away my nerdiness now, but what I REALLY loved, was needing to come up with a formula that would do x with the data, and then having the challenge of trying to figure out how to do it and make it work....I built an entire sales tracker for my current employer on excel in my free time, more or less because i just really enjoy that kind of stuff...that's how nerdy i am;). I think that's why I've enjoyed learning HTML/CSS, and I think that's why i think i might like working with SQL as a career. Does that sound like a reasonable conclusion to come to?
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Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 6:28 AM
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Based on your description of the sales application you've built in Excel, you might be in a good position to build some experience with SQL Server. You can probably get your employer to buy you a copy of SQL Server 2012 Developer Edition (pretty cheap and a worthwhile investment even if they won't pay for it) and then you'd have access to all the bells and whistles to learn with. I'd justify it by saying that you'd like to be able to have backups and see if you can work with the data in new ways. Then the first thing you do is create a database, right click on it, go to Tasks > Import Data (I assume it's the same in 2012 as 2008 R2). Then pick your Excel spreadsheets and try loading some data into your new staging database.

Once it's there, try querying it using SQL. Do some reading on dimension tables and fact tables and see if you can build processes to turn some of this sales data into a data warehouse. From there, give Reporting Services and Analysis Services a whirl. There are tutorials on Microsoft's website that use the AdventureWorks database and you should get a good idea of how SQL Server does things. Wouldn't hurt to find some books too and if you're stuck, you already know where to go for help. If you plan to actually use it at work, then you'll have to get a license for a different edition and you'll also probably want to trash the work you've done while you were learning and start over.

It sounds like you already know how data works and how to do analysis. That's not as easy to learn as learning how to use a tool like SQL Server. I think that once you start working with it, you'll find you'll be able to not only do much more than you can in Excel, but it'll take less time and be more reliable. I'm sort of understating it, but I remember the moment when I first started to get a handle on how powerful SQL Server 2000 was. It was one of those "Ah-ha!" moments. If you go a route like this, then you'd have a project under your belt that you can talk about to a potential employer when you're looking to move into a role that's more BI focused.

Good luck
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Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012 1:58 PM


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masoninyourface (7/18/2012)
I think that's why I've enjoyed learning HTML/CSS, and I think that's why i think i might like working with SQL as a career. Does that sound like a reasonable conclusion to come to?


Sounds completely reasonable, and yes, the data side of the house usually has the least contact with the mob... errr... business... errr... end users. BI definately needs to work with multiple teams to understand how the business itself works, then with the developers and DBAs to determine what data is available and how it's captured, and then meet the two in the middle. It's DEFINATELY a people type of position, at least until you get all your nuts and bolts in a row.

To complement the above recommendation, which is a good one, I'd personally start with SQL Express (free) before going on to SQL Developer. SQL Express gets you the basic engine and you can get your data into it. From there, you can start looking into normalization and getting your data more intelligently laid out. Always work with what you know first (I started by cataloging items in a game I played and watching internal market rates). From there, you can start doing those same puzzles in SQL instead of in Excel.

Now, to the BI side of things, from there you can hook a pivot table off your SQL data and hand that around to the office. It's a good way to start to get involved in things like that. With Developer, you're restricted to only personal access and things like that. Express is a bare bones install of the engine but it will allow you to share, legally, anything you build with everyone else information and results that's not in a development state with intent to move to a licensed server.

These are the topics I'd immediately look into to determine if you really want to get involved with SQL Server (and SQL/Databasing in general):
Normalization
Indexing and optimization (google keyword to get started: Clustered index)

Those two will start you down a theoretical core design principal and a first-step design component that will help you understand the nuts and bolts of what you're looking to get involved in. They'll also lend you a thousand more keywords to take yourself out on a wiki-walk. If something in particular in those strikes your fancy and you're not sure what to look up or where to go with it to find more information, let us know, we'll happily help you determine what keywords, blogs, or whatnot you'll want to do more research on. Sometimes it's just hard to find the right lingo.



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Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012 2:05 PM


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You could also talk to some of the small non-profit organizations in your area about volunteering your time to help them with database base applications. Some may already be using SQL Server and not really understand what they are doing. Good opportunity to learn, and gain experience.



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