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Should you Pursue a Business Intelligence Career?

The best way to answer that question is with other questions. Answer them honestly. Let me preface the questions by saying that I fully expect the majority of people who take the time to read this will answer yes to most of them.

  • Are you intelligent in general? You don’t have to be a Rocket Surgeon to be a good BI specialist, but it isn’t for everyone. Many aspects of this job involve solving puzzles, but some of them don’t have clear solutions. It’s always easier to solve a problem that is known to have a good answer, than one that is unknown.
  • Do you love to learn new things? Notice that I did NOT say like, or are you willing, but are you really passionate about learning? This career path requires constant learning of several very different skills to achieve mastery. Also, keep in mind that your job is to understand the user’s jobs and therefore their data needs. Consequently, you spend a lot of time learning vs actually doing. Which leads us to..
  • Do you have a business mindset? You need not have a Masters Degree in Business Administration, but you have to understand, or quickly learn, how disparate business models work. It’s not enough to write excellent T-SQL, or have mad skills in SSRS, you have to understand what the user needs even if they can’t articulate it.
  • Are you well-spoken? Do you enjoy working with people? Working as a member of a team? What about public speaking? These are all valuable traits for a BI Specialist. A great deal of your time is likely to dedicated to client interviews. If you’re socially awkward, this may not be the career for you.
  • How well do you write? Proposals, project plans, etc. are all written and how well you write influences others’ opinion of you. Those opinions determine the opportunities that will come your way.
  • Do you have the mind of the teacher? When sitting in front of a CEO, there is a fine line between boring them with deep technical details and simplifying things too much and which insults their intelligence. Executive buy in is critical and you must be savvy enough to get it.
  • How’s your attitude? Are you generally an upbeat person? The epitome of this is Jes Borland (Blog/Twitter), who has the most enthusiastic personality I’ve ever seen. This attitude helps with all of the other attributes. People will be more interested in talking with you, helping you, etc. This is something I struggle with as my attitude can be closer to Eeyore than Tigger sometimes.
  • Are you self-managed and organized? Often the BI DBA works alone on a specific aspect of a project with little to no supervision. Will you be productive in this situation?
  • Are you detail oriented? How meticulous are you in your work habits? With experience you will learn certain patterns which increase efficiency in data modeling, ETL, and report creation. However, even more importantly is how meticulously you check your work and notice details. You are not the business expert, but the person requesting the work is. The first time you deliver a report which isn’t right, users will mistrust your figures for a long time. In our business, trust is everything, and it’s just too easy to miss something. Also, documentation for BI project is crucial and I find that only the most meticulous people are disciplined enough to do it.
  • Are you driven? Striving for BI mastery and staying on top of new products and techniques can be exhausting. It’s not a sprint, it’s a long distance run. Are you up for that?

Please don’t misunderstand me. You don’t need to be excellent in all of those categories, none of us are. However, if you want to excel in Business Intelligence, you’d better have a good grasp of the majority of them and diligently be working toward mastery.

What do you think? Have I missed anything?

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