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I've a question on career direction and what to concentrate on, and would like you opinions please.

I've a question on career direction and what to concentrate on, and would like you opinions please.

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My question is more at career guidance in the data world than anything specific, but as it focuses more on analytics I am placing the post in this 'Analysis-Services' section.
I've been at the same company for many years now and have forgot what its like to work elsewhere, or how other companies operate. The company I'm at now changes direction with the wind and faith is being lost - hence not asking these questions internally. I worked on MSBI many years ago (liked it) but with the company's changed of direction I moved onto working with an ERP system (hated it) for five years. Then for the past year I've found myself working with Power BI. I like how its a full stack BI solution, self contained and simple to use. Due to the company changing direction again my days on Power BI have past (I just support ppl now) and now I found myself working with the MSBI stack again (SSIS/SSAS/SSRS). With a change of direction things take time to pick up so I find myself not actually working projects but rather learning the MSBI stack however. Just learning doesn't cut it. I need to work on projects to cut my teeth. I'm concerned the direction will (likely) change again and I'll end up doing something I dislike. Not wanting this, and now I've set the scene, I want ask protect myself by asking a few questions.

Please bear in mind I ask these questions coming from a single company for the past ten years, where there is much segregation of duties.
1) I would like to move away from being a developer within an I.T. department and move into the Business as their techie. Why? As a developer I do not get much Business interaction (the BPs do that). I find a lot of what goes on in an I.T. department is based on strategy, and with the Business and I.T. constantly clashing, I find myself twiddling my thumbs a lot. I see the role of a Data Analyst one I would like to pursue as I feel I would get business interaction (being part of the business) and get to do techie bits without any delay and there is not red tape to get through.
-What is the trend for companies - do they hire Data Analysts to ask the questions and the Developers to provide the answers, or is a Data Analyst expected to do both?
-If the Data Analyst is expected to do both then are they expected to know SSIS/SSAS/SSRS or just SSRS and maybe a tool like Power BI/Tableau/QlikView?

2) I see end-users produce Power BI reports by selecting one excel file and doing some visuals upon that. The most adventurous has been to connect a few excel files and then do the visuals. They shape the data by luck and after a while it falls down. Do you guys/gals witness the same, and if so do you do anything to intervene? Personally, I'm always requesting to help the business end-users but the red tape prevents me from helping them (we are one company but I.T. is a separate division to the Business).

3) As a Data Analyst what is the skill you need but find lacking in many Data Analysts? Do you find that DAs can ask the right questions but can't shape the data to get the answers. or visa versa?

4) I find it is the application developers (.net developers) that create the transnational databases. That's fine by me and I would rather they do the leg work on the constraints, etc... I enjoying extracting the data from the OLTP db and making so it's suitable for reporting on. Anything I've needed to do has been achieved by doing joins to create a flat table, then stick Power BI on top of that.
-Is there really any need to create OLAP schemas for reporting purposes and why? If a DA does do the techie work then is this knowledge held by a DA or do DAs tend follow the flat table approach too?

5) I learn visually rather than through reading. I like to see examples. Please can you suggest some videos that will teach/demonstrate my short comings (which you should be able to tell through my questions)? You know, everything I've been asked to do I've done well. It's just the lack of projects which is giving me the opportunity to learn properly.

That'll do for the questions now. The questions may be novice but with all I've experienced and had exposure to it is leading me to asking them.
Thank you in advance and Merry Christmas Smile
Martin Schoombee
Martin Schoombee
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Good questions, and lots of "it depends" answers...but I'll try to give my perspective.

1. As a BI & Analytics Consultant, I see many companies hire somewhat technical people (analysts) within their business units to try and bridge the gap with IT. You'd think that we would have figured out how to get IT and Business to work together in harmony by now, but that's unfortunately not the case in many organizations and the business gets frustrated with IT's lack of (and slow) response to solve real business problems. Generally speaking, it would be the Analyst who asks the questions and IT to provide the technical answers, but it varies greatly and an Analyst who can ask the right questions and bridge the gap successfully with enough technical knowledge is worth a ton. From what I've seen, most companies expect some level of reporting capability from Analysts. But the more technical knowledge you have, the more value you would bring as you would not be reliant on IT for everything.

2. Yes, I see this very often. Power BI is very intuitive and easy to use, but an end user without the necessary technical skills are just not able to develop enterprise-ready data models. That is still very much a technical skill, and a lot of my Power BI work as a consultant is to businesses create data models that can scale and be shared with many people.

3. In my experience, the ability to create a star-schema data model (which is the most effective data model for OLAP analysis) is something that very few Analysts have. Understanding the source data and systems would be another.

4. This really ties into my previous two answers. From what I've seen, most Analysts create single flat table data models. This might be ok for your one-off initiative, but doesn't scale when the model becomes complex or contains a lot of data. At least from a Microsoft perspective (Power BI), a star-schema is still a best practice. Dimensional data modelling skills would add to your value exponentially, and this is the message I give to every Analyst I ever speak to.

5. There are many resources out there, and you being on this site is a good start. Here's a few others I can recommend (some of them have video content):

Guy in a Cube
Chris Webb
Paul Turley
Power BI Blog

Jeff Moden
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My suggestion would be that, whatever you end up doing, it needs to be what you want to do. Remember also that all roads in this business lead to the data. You need to know about the data and how it's stored and how to manipulate it using the language of data (T-SQL) or end up like the poor fellow in the following post...


--Jeff Moden

RBAR is pronounced ree-bar and is a Modenism for Row-By-Agonizing-Row.
First step towards the paradigm shift of writing Set Based code:
Stop thinking about what you want to do to a row... think, instead, of what you want to do to a column.
If you think its expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur. -- Red Adair

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Thank you Martin and Jeff for your replies. I would like to ask further questions via this thread.
I think I'm at the point where I must change company to progress (develop my skills) as here I just can't see projects coming in any time soon. Some would love to sit back and get paid for not much, but not me. I find not progressing VERY frustrating.

So how can I word this...
Having not searched the job market for years, I will need to start doing so now, I am not sure what types of positions are being requested and the duties they require.
I wouldn't consider myself a typical techie (someone who loves code). I like the puzzle solving that I.T. gives you but only quick puzzles (i.e. like creating a report with some joins rather than a 3 month application project as a typical techie might like). On that note, I find 'Corporate BI' (Data Warehousing/SSIS/SSAS/SSRS) a bit 'ball and chain' due to the strategic thinking and red tape, as I've mention in my OP. The pain of getting credentials on servers, what port numbers have been configured, AD accounts, firewalls, etc.. takes all the fun out of it. Where as, my experience in Power BI (Self-Service BI) has been many quick wins. I've not had to worry about many of the technical points. I also found myself interacting more with people on Power BI.

Now looking to change jobs, I'm concerned I may make a wrong move.
1) In your experience, is there a difference between 'Corporate BI' and 'Self-Service BI'? Who (developer or analysts) do which? And which is in more demand, both now and the future?
2) Is there a difference between Data Warehousing development and Cube development? Can you suggest a good book or, preferably, videos showing the life-cycle of Data Warehousing and Cube with examples for me to follow? This will allow to piece all together and see the required skills.
3) Would I be correct in thinking that Data Warehousing projects are carried out by certain techies (what would you call them?) and the more churning of the DW data into reporting is done both other types of techies/anaylsts (and would you say these need ONLY the skills of SSAS/SSRS/PowerBI/Tableau and not so much SSIS?)
4) If I chose a career using 'Self-Service BI' tools (i.e. Power BI/Tableau/etc..) to do the ETL/creation of measures, etc.. - would this be in demand or would they be expecting me to be an expert in 'Corporate BI' (i.e. SSIS/SSAS/SSRS)? Or to put it another way, is there a career in knowing Cube concept and another career in understanding Data Warehousing concepts?

I enjoy the modeling of data for a specific reporting (i.e. quick ETL from separate sources and then creating the measures) rather than the long project of data warehousing.

I hope all this makes sense. I intend to look for jobs soon but need to be looking for the right position. I see Data Analysts are in demand but unfortunately I don't think like an Analyst right now. I just do the techie part of what I'm instructed to do.
Thank you.

ADDED: I feel like I'm a weak 'jack of all, master of none' so I would like to concentrate on a few areas, look for jobs using those areas and become good. With myself wishing to work on the reporting side of things and taking data from various systems (whether it be a db or flat files), modelling that data and sharing/analysing it with the Business. - which areas should I concentrate on? (i.e. Data Warehousing with SSIS, Data Modelling with Power Query, SSAS Cube (MDX or Tabular), DAX, Data Analysts skills, Tableau, Qlikview, etc.... the list is endless. I cannot skill up in all of them before switching jobs, and once switched that new job will dictate what I skill up on. I'm not concerned about mega bucks but more job opportunities. Thanks.
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Are you looking for a change to improve yourself, or just an opportunity to do what you are good at (or interested in)? The former is a healthy choice. The latter is not going to help you progress. You will be disappointed if you are looking for a position where you can redefine an established business process and draw up scope of work to the limit of your imagination.

Enjoy modeling? I enjoy modeling too but I don't want to make a living renovating other people's houses. If you wish to play a bigger role, improve yourself, acquire a set of hardcore skill, then bigger responsibility will find you and you will become a pillar of the house - nothing is more fulfilling than that. Since you mentioned BI, please look up U-SQL and see if it interests you. Please let me know.

Good luck with your future endeavor.
Eric M Russell
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Keep in mind that business intelligence involves a lot of interfacing with internal and possibly external end users. The choices regarding technology and implementation will be handed down from above, and if you consider yourself more of a software engineer or a creative type who likes to stay "in the zone" focusing and perfecting your work, then you will actually find BI tiresome and frustrating. Rather than a master chef focusing on the craft, your role as a BI developer will be more like a maître d' dealing with fussy high profile customers who want it all done their way and delivered today. I'm just saying that, depending on your personality, it could seem that way.

"The universe is complicated and for the most part beyond your control, but your life is only as complicated as you choose it to be."
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I am definitely looking for a change to better myself. In my current role, while the above decide on company strategy, I find myself having sod all to do (its been like this for the past year). I'm also finding what skill set I've acquired vanishing and quick. This leads to zero job satisfaction and anxiety/stress due to the feeling of losing my employable skill set. For this reason I must change jobs. I work in BI. Do I know SSIS/SSAS/SSRS?... I can complete the tasks but I wouldn't say I'm great in it as I have no work to cut my teeth. I would probably say my strongest skill right now is in Power BI and putting together an assortment of sources in Power BI. Again, I'm not working on this now and will soon forget it.
As for U-SQL... I can see Azure becoming very popular, if not already. It saves companies the hassle of setting up on-premises set-ups. Would I like to learn U-SQL?... A high requirement on what I choose to work with will be the job security. By this I mean the popularity of it. MS BI stack is very popular but maybe only medium to big companies with I.T. departments use it. With Power BI I imagine many more companies use it so it provides job security, although employing managers may not see I.T. people required to develop it (for me power-users don't know how to model data) and thus may reduce job security because of this. I see Tableau is very popular, however I've never touched the product.

I certainly don't see myself as a software engineer. I'm not cut from the same cloth. That is maybe one reason why I like Power BI and the way it can be used by non-I.T. departments and thus avoiding the ball and chain hassle. I also see many many I.T. staff who are good with the MS BI stack but cannot communicate with people, whereas I feel I can communicate and should look at a BI position that uses communication as part of the job. As a developer in my current employment I am not encourage to talk whatsoever. I've become like a drone in a way.

Clearly, I'm not happy and need to move on but it all comes down to this what this post is all about... looking for advice on what may be suit me for the type of person I am and the requirements I like my jobs to have??
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Here is my 2 cents as a data architect on a data science and data analyst team.

Most data analyst are not tech savvy. As others have mentioned, the idea that a data analyst is tasked with building a data warehouse or a data mart with tools such as SQL Server or SSAS is really not ideal mainly because most are not really taught to analyse data in the same way you are modeling it. I would say a good majority are looking at very denormalized datasets in a very flat view. Everything that happens to get to that final view is handled by the IT team with the help of the business users helping define the business requirements.

Does this mean the guys behind the scenes can't come to the front? Not at all. This really depends on you. Me personally, I got to where I'm at by inserting myself into the front-end of the conversation. I try not to let lines in the sand define my role and what I want to do inside an organization. That means, as a data architect, I've filled the role of being just a data analyst, I've had conversations with clients to help better understand and implement their business requirements while also working behind the scenes being support for the business users who are facing real business problems. Therefore, today, I have the unique opportunity to switch between both in my role, which allows me to work on all ends of the equation.

As it stands however, most developers are not the ones asking the questions of the data. This is what the data analyst or data scientist is doing. Most of us on the backend are trying our best to support those questions. The reason for that is because most of us are not the ones working with the client. We are not representing the end user -- the data analyst is. Again, that does not mean you can't, but I've found more enjoyment with being side-by-side with the data analyst with the client where we are both defining the questions and answers together as one cohesive unit versus me being out the loop until a ticket comes by my desk. Maybe shooting for similar may help you a great deal. A lot of organizations are starting to see the benefit of working side-by-side versus in silos in this area.

When it comes to the tech, this all depends. I personally don't think it's wise to get locked down to any one piece of technology if you work in BI. This means, switching between SSRS, PowerBI and Tableau should not upset you. It's going to happen because the competition is fierce right now and many companies are finding it hard to pick a tool that everyone can use. You should be about the data not the tools in this profession. This does not mean you shouldn't advocate to use the right tools for the job, it just means if you find yourself getting upset because you have to use SSRS over PowerBI, then your passion for data is likely not as big as you think it is, and passion for data and solving data problems is key in this role.

Lastly, on your Azure, USQL and BI Stack questions. This just depends. Like above, I wouldn't try to get locked into anything because the landscape in this area is constantly changing. I wouldn't stress learning either or as much as you think you need to. I have yet to meet anyone who is good at SSRS who could not pivot to Tableau or PowerBI. The same is true for T-SQL to U-SQL. There are certainly cases for people going from say PowerBI from a point-and-click interface to more hardcore SSAS and SSRS development, but the point is still the same. Most can pivot. It's going to be much harder pivoting a data analyst to a data architect than it is a data analyst pivoting from PowerBI to Tableau.
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You mention IT and Strategy vs. the Business.
The Business is using PowerBI to address from what I see as IT not being able to create insights fast enough to suit them. And you note how the more complex the isolated solution is, the more likely it will fail over time.
Is there any support from the IT side to define a true Data Warehouse that will tie things together better? And then place ideally 1 cube on top of it to expose to the users?
The 1 cube would mean that the data would be much more normalized and all many measures to easily be placed next to each other. A big plus is that if multiple users are using the same cube, they will all get the same results.

Part of what you describe is far too common - the idea that if you give all the users self service tools, it solves everything.
Reality in most enterprises is more of a mix - the bulk of data used resides in a more structured source, with business rules enforced in creation of dimensions and measures.
KPI's can be built to serve the bulk of the needs, with ad hoc filling some gaps, and some Power Users able to help give IT direction for future expansion.
What direction the company heads - a key is Business and IT being able to get together and being able to come up with a list of what is working well (and not so well) for each, and come up with a 1 or 2 year plan to present to upper management.

Both IT and Business need to be able to work together toward similar goals. Clashing and not creating solutions never works. The divide can easily become greater as IT is more measurable for time. You may stage some data for consumption, and it may have taken you a week to get it into production. From the Business side, they only count the 5 minutes to create the report. And since most in the business creating reports have other job titles, they do not separate out any development time. It could be 4 hours, but if they say it was 5 minutes, it is 5 minutes.


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