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Why I Chose to Become a Business Intelligence DBA

Recently I’ve received several emails with the same basic theme. I was sought out because I am a Business Intelligence Consultant and they want to know whether the career would be good for them. Well, it’s hard to read a short synopsis of someone’s experience and recommend a life altering directional change. So, I decided to explain a bit about my history and why I made that decision.

My History

Teaching PowerPivot to M2M Admins
Five years ago, I had a very comfortable position working with a software product called Made2Manage, which utilizes SQL Server, hence the name of my blog. I was an expert at it and became able to solve problems very quickly. This left me with some idle time and I got comfortable. However, over time I got bored and needed challenge in my work life and realized that my procrastination to grow was costing me dearly in opportunities and money. Once you reach a point where you are comfortable, your value levels off. Also, I lived in Michigan, which was an economic black hole, so I was unlikely to earn a good living.

The first step I took was to move to a better economic area, Dallas Texas, and work for a much larger company as their Made2Manage expert. I got more involved with SQL Server and reporting and this led me to Brent Ozar. After asking some technical questions, I asked him a similar question that I’m addressing in this article. Basically, what should I do with my career? He put me in contact with experts in various disciplines, some not involving SQL Server, so I could decide my future direction. He convinced me to blog, get involved in the SQL community, and I became hooked.

Why did I choose Business Intelligence?

  • Fascination. I love working with data, cleaning it up, and creating systems to report on it. I enjoy showing a user their data in a meaningful way and watching them get excited. Data analysis is both a science and an art. Also, I enjoy practicing a skill that many don’t understand and cannot perform.
  • Variety. I don’t do well with repetitive boring tasks. As a Business Intelligence Consultant, most areas of SQL Server are involved so there are many different tasks to accomplish. This staves off boredom and insures that you are always learning.
  • Challenge. Because the Business Intelligence discipline involves so many aspects of SQL Server, it’s a real challenge to gain a level of mastery. Do you think that BI is just about reporting? Think again. I have to understand data modeling, both OLTP and OLAP. I need to have a level of mastery in SSRS, SSIS, and SSAS; not to mention the new and evolving tools such as SQL Server 2012 Power View and PowerPivot. Further, you need to know how to set up SQL Servers, disaster recovery procedures, and performance tuning. In other words, my work at some point or another touches almost every aspect of SQL Server.
  • Competition. Well, really the lack of competition as compared to other areas of technology. For example, I enjoy .NET software development, but I did not want to compete with outsourced labor or kids just coming out of college. Why try to compete with people who will do quality work for very low wages. Database Administration is not a topic that is typically taught in college so the practitioners tend to be more mature, by that I mean older but not necessarily in temperament. One reason why I didn’t take the Production DBA path is that it’s just too easy to outsource. Someone in a foreign land can check your backups, perform maintenance such as index and query tuning, etc. Also, Microsoft is pushing everything toward the Cloud, and this may cause issues for those with primary functions like disaster recovery, administration, and performance tuning.
  • Demand. To quote Paris Hilton, “Its hot!” Microsoft is continuing to invest boatloads of money into Business Intelligence and more and more companies are investing in their BI infrastructure. In the world of SQL Server, Business Intelligence skills seem to be in the highest demand to me.
  • Compensation. It’s basic supply and demand. Being a BI Professional is difficult so many people can’t do it. The demand is increasing. This disparity causes salaries to rise.
  • Freedom. My skill set allows me considerable freedom as to where I work and for whom. Ideally, I would work for a company which relies on SQL Server, which is almost everyone. However, even if a company doesn’t have SQL server databases, dimensional modeling skills and the flexibility of Integration Services to connect to nearly any data source means that BI professionals are still valuable.
  • Interactivity. “I’m a people person damnit!” I enjoy talking to people which is one of the reasons I’m so active in the SQL community. Business Intelligence lends itself to more interaction because you are developing your projects for users. Also, this is one of the reasons why BI is resistant to outsourcing. Does your CEO want to spend hours talking with someone he can’t understand or someone he can meet face to face and feel confident that his/her needs are being addressed?

  • Community - The SQL Server Community is the best technical community I’ve ever seen or heard of. One of the primary reasons I went the SQL Server route is because our community is so much better than that of competing products. When I have a question and Google it, someone I know has already blogged about it. They’re friendly, helpful, generous, exceedingly knowledgeable, and make it easier to learn SQL Server than other technologies.

On Monday, I’ll answer the other question posed to me in those emails. Should you pursue a Business Intelligence Career?

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4 comments to Why I Chose to Become a Business Intelligence DBA

  • I’m really glad I could help get you started on your way to finding what you really wanted to do, and being able to make a living doing it. That’s the coolest thing that can happen to any of us.

  • Cody Fuse

    Very Nice Information thank’s for Share with us

  • I had a similar epiphany about 5 years ago as well. I got hired as a Software Engineer for a large genealogical company. The marketing department needed a datamart to feed their email campaigns. The project was basically dumped on my lap. I already knew DTS, and I learned SSIS 2005. Found that I have a natural knack for this sort of database work. Ended up creating a 2 billion row monstrosity in the Entity-Attribute-Value style. I fell in love with SSIS. I got friendly with the Lead DBA there, and he showed me all kinds of tricks.

    The email campaign system that we were integrating to repeatedly fell down on its face. None of their integration points could handle the amount of data we were trying to push. The least error prone solution was to export to text files. The text files were still too big (100 gig+). In the end, I created a utility to split files on the command-line. The tests I did told me that SSIS script component would take over an hour to split a single text file. The C# utility I wrote averaged 12 minutes per file. The most satisfying thing about this utility, is that it is widely used around the world. Google for “text file splitter” and you’ll see my utility there.

    I decided to take a slightly different title. I went with BI Developer instead of DBA. Your points closely match mine except for Freedom and Interactivity. The freedom part is because I’m a relative unknown in the database field. I’ve been reaching out to database professionals across Utah. I met Pat Wright for lunch yesterday. Had a similar experience you had with Brent Ozar. It was extremely cool to meet him! As for the interactivity part, I’m just starting to come out of my shell. I’ve done presentations at the local .NET user group. I’m looking to branch out and meet people in person.

    I’m pivoting into business intelligence from software development. Should be interesting!

    My handle on Twitter is @Datasome. :)

  • Chuck

    Hello!

    Great article! Any tips on the learning path to take to sharpen up BI skills? Besides just hardcore experience, can you recommend a path? Certs? Training? Hands-on examples?

    Thanks,

    Chuck

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