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T-SQL Tuesday #89 – The times they are a-changing

t-sql tuesdayThis month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by yours truly! The topic this month: how do you keep up with the fast changing world of data management? Does this impact your job? Or do you feel there’s no impact at all for your position? Do you fear the cloud? And so on ??

Everything changes fast nowadays, and the same is true for us working in data management (although I’m happy I’m not a web/app developer). The cloud is becoming more and more important and so is automatization. I read the blog post Will the Cloud Eat My DBA Job? by Kendra Little, where she states that the job of DBA is not disappearing (although maybe the job of old school DBA is: setting up servers, taking backups etc). I believe the same is true for business intelligence developers. The cloud and self-service BI hasn’t made us obsolete. On the contrary, BI is more popular than ever and the job is a lot more interesting than 10 years ago. Take Power BI for example, a tool that in theory could be 100% self-service BI (and thus eliminate my job). In my current job, Power BI gives me the following opportunities:

  • Give Power BI training or workshops. People need to learn how the tool works. It’s an easy tool for most stuff, but not for everything. DAX is one of those features where people will always need training in. The new Quick Measures will help new users, but probably won’t cover all possible scenarios, especially advanced DAX.
  • Give data visualizations workshops. Mo’ self-service BI, mo’ pie charts to get rid off.
  • Set-up and configure Power BI. Install the gateway, configure Azure tenants, set-up row-level security and so on.
  • Build the data model / data warehouse. This can either be in Analysis Services or in Power BI Desktop itself. Not all business users know how to make a decent star schema, so sometimes I help them to create effective models. If the source is corporate data, it is even more important to have a decent data warehouse. Otherwise it’s just data quality issues and miscalculations everywhere. Typically the CFO wants financial data he/she can trust.

OK, so we won’t be out of a job soon. Hooray. But how do we keep up? Some tricks I use:

  • Read lots of blog posts. I use feedly to capture the RSS feeds of a lot of blogs. Blog posts are usually short enough to read them in a couple of minutes so they are great to keep you up to date. This really doesn’t need to take up much of your time.
  • Go to events. This can be your local SQLSaturday or a big event such as SQLBits or PASS. I typically go to 2 or 3 events a year.
  • Watch online training videos. These are typically more current and up-to-date. Any book about Power BI for example will be out-of-date by the time it is published. It’s also less intensive than reading a book. You can have formal training videos, such as Pluralsight or just free recordings of events such as PASS marathons or virtual chapters. Also check out Channel9, where sessions from events are broadcasted or can be viewed on-demand. Books are great though for reference or for more technical deep-dive.
  • Don’t jump on every fad. There are a lot of trends in the world of data and business intelligence. Big data is one of the most notorious one. Big Data was suddenly everywhere (along with NoSQL) and you had to learn it and use it or your company wouldn’t be able to keep up with the competition and you’d be out of business within a year. But of course Big Data was quite a vague term (still is) and a couple of years ago it was really immature (still is?). When I was in my first Big Data workshop a few years back, my initial reaction was: “Yeah right, I’m not going through dozens of command line tools and half-finished products, and write MapReduce jobs in Java while there are a gazillion different vendors and next month half of them will be replaced. I’ll wait a bit till the market is more mature.” The market is a bit more mature now (although still very fragmented in my opinion) and there are now a lot of tools that hide a lot of the complexity. That’s why I followed a Cortana Intelligence Suite course last month, just to get me up to speed with this Big Data thing in the cloud. I’m very glad I waited. Long story short: don’t try to learn every new shiny tool. Unless you might need it for your current job soon, or you really think it’s going to get traction in the market.

Anyway, I really think these are very exciting times to be working with data. Yes, the landscape is more complex (10 years ago you just had to learn SSIS-SSAS-SSRS), but I think that’s part of the fun.

Koen Verbeeck

Koen Verbeeck is a Microsoft Business Intelligence consultant at element61, helping clients to get insight in their data. Koen has a comprehensive knowledge of the SQL Server BI stack, with a particular love for Integration Services. He's also a speaker at various conferences.


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