(scottish) sql bob blog

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Some thoughts of your typical data shepard / data groomer / data dance teacher sort of person.


We all make mistakes
It happens to us all.  Speaking personally, I do not want to admit to them, or in some cases, I keep making the same ones.  Yes, we all make mistakes its part of life.  In my experience, these can become war stories.  When you talk about the time you <insert horror story here>.  Yes, and I am putting up my hand to say that like anyone else I have made mistakes, some days it feels like that I have made more mistakes than done things right!

What's so hard about making mistakes for me?  The embarrassment of it, maybe I did not know something, or yes that thing that I did well, yes, I did know better.  It's not easy for me to admit mistakes.  Just ask my long-suffering partner (thank goodness, she does not read my blog!).  Yes, I do like to be right and do it the right way.  Admitting that I was wrong, or did something stupid, takes it out of me, it's not easy. 

Hopefully, in my professional life, I am a little better at dealing with my mistakes.  A few years ago, one of my jobs was with a large consultancy company.  I was the person responsible for producing reports for the service desk.  From time to time there were errors with the reports that I was responsible for producing.  During that time, I developed a strategy which I still use to deal with mistakes. 

1) Take responsibility 
It's not easy to put your hand to say you have made a mistake.  On the other hand, how to do you learn from mistakes?  For me, part of growing is learning to take the bad with the good.  Also personally speaking I have more respect for someone who has what it takes to say when they have made a mistake.  Even if you have not made the mistake you find, then take make it your responsibility to fix that mistake.   If I do this then my primary focus is to get the issue resolved and move on.  Finger pointing or the blaming someone is not part of this.
 
2) Find the challenge  
What when wrong?  How did it happen?  Be able to explain what happened, in simple non-technical language that anyone can understand.   Also be confident that you can explain in technical terms to your peers.

3) Fix it 
Get your hands dirty, get involved in fixing the issue.   Help find a solution to rectify the challenge or work with the people fixing the challenge if you can.  For me, I have and do still learn so much just from fixing mistakes. 

4) Prevent it! 
Better to have a fence at the cliff edge than a hospital at the bottom.  What will stop it happening the mistake happening again?  An extra check of something, a checklist of things to do in the same situation. 

Is there something I missed, do you have a different strategy.  Maybe you disagree? Let me know, every day is school day for me :-)


Power BI no more

I've been working with my current company for over two years now.  During that time, on my own initiative, I decided to review the BI market to see what tool(s) that the company should be looking at adopting.  There are quite a few restrictions, data privacy, our clients are very cautious about their data.  So must be an on-premise server and yes I have asked lots of questions about this.  Also, our clients are mostly non-profit or charities, the budget is a massive consideration.  

PowerBI has been my tool of choice for reporting.  It is used for a POC (proof of concept) project reporting service desk incidents to our clients.  It is fantastic we had a Pro account, we shared the reports with our clients.  We loved it, the clients loved it. During the next two years, I invested time, energy, effort, working on other POC projects.  At the same time showing the relevant directors why we should look at Power BI for future development.  The deal breaker was an on-prem server, no negotiation on that point.  The start of 2017 exciting news, on-premise server was coming  Which version would get it, how much would it cost, could we use it.  Answers from Microsoft, zero, zilch, nada, nothing, brick wall impression.

So we waited and waited and waited.  Then, Power BI premium.  By the time I had digested the news, it felt like someone had kicked me black and blue.  There is no point in even approaching our Managing Director with a minimum of £3k per month for this project.  Our budget is not even in the same country, let alone same ballpark.  Next, our sharing reports with other free accounts using Power BI Pro, at least for some of our client has gone. Now have it, now you don't.

Your company might be a large enterprise, then these costs are reasonable, we are not a large enterprise.  So in essence over two years investment of my time down the drain, time to start again.  Now I am in the process of contacting clients for the POC project to show them how to access the reports, as the can no longer use their own Power BI accounts.  Disappointed would be a mild word to use to describe my feelings.

Very recently Tableau announced a price change.  Long story short, my line manager saw the new pricing structure, complete with on-premise server, per user cost of $35 per month, PowerBI cannot compete with that deal.  What will happen now is my company most likely to become a Tableau customer, Microsoft's loss.  The tools released at the data summit (June 2017) now places PowerBI toe to toe with Tableau.  Sadly I believe that Power BI will likely loose in the long run due to the pricing currently in place.  Whilst I understand the business logic and reasoning pursuing this model.  Microsoft has also demonstrated very clearly they do not understand the market in the way that Tableau seems to, which is reflected in their pricing structure.  Great for me, another toolset to add to my CV.  As I see it, Tableau leaves PowerBI dead in the water for customers like my company.  There is NO competition, Tableau has this market to themselves.  Which is bad news for me as a customer. 

Microsoft has got it right before, yes I will stand up, shout, cheerlead, and applaud when they do get it right.  As my tweet to James Phillps / Power BI team expressed.  When Microsoft get it wrong I need to be just as vocal, and I believe they have got it wrong, with the pricing in a big way, at least from where I am standing.  Yes I will continue to let people know about PowerBI, it not be with the same enthusiasm, that makes me sad :-(

Last but not least a more personal public apology to Chris Web (@Technitrain) was on the end of my rant via Twitter regarding pricing, sorry Chris, my bad.


Speaking the same language

We all communicate with each other, some more than most, in our house if my partner is not talking to me there is something wrong.  It's not usual for the misunderstanding to be something I might have said (or done).  Communicating with each other verbally is something that we learn to do from an early age.  We learn what words mean, their power, what they can do for us, what to say, and what not to say.


There have been times I have had the pleasure of going to the local garage and speaking to the mechanic regarding whatever challenge is with the car.  The mechanic would explain the issue to me, using words which I have to say that wished I understood. It is entirely possible that there is a "big end" in our car just do not ask me where it is or what it does.  Or that the timing belt is very important to make the engine run properly.


Every industry, profession, hobby, has their own language.  This often makes it easy for professionals to communicate with each other often in a form of shorthand which can sound foreign to someone else even if they speak the same language.  Working in the IT industry this is something I am very aware of.  If someone asks me what I do for a job what do I say?  I might say that I am a BI professional, working primarily with the MS SQL server stack, sometimes using SSIS, and SSRS.  I write a variety of CRUD scripts in TSQL and I do some query optimisation.  If the person asking is not an IT professional who works in my specific area of expertise, most of my explanation would have sounded like I had spoken in a different language.

What I now say is my job involves three things, data shepherding, data grooming, and data dressage.  I might expand a little on these to explain that l move data from one place to another ensuring none of the data gets lost as we move it.  Some of the data might need to be polished or groomed to fit in its new home.  Then I train data to perform and dance in a way that others can understand it better.  What I try to do is use words which people who are do not work with databases can understand and relate to.


When I speak to clients one thing I try to remember is to use words that anyone can understand.  If I introduce technical concepts or acronyms in the conversation I will try to make time to explain them.  Or use analogies that are simple and easy to understand.  This is not an easy thing to do, it is our job to make IT simple and easy to use.  There might be lots of complicated moving parts behind the scenes.  Like a car, we have a simple dashboard, underneath are lots of complicated moving parts that just work.  The hard work of maintaining and fixing those parts I happily leave to the experts.


Personally, I see our job is to make our customers task as simple as it can be.  We should present challenges, technical details in a language our customers can easily understand.  As Einstein is quoted as saying “make everything as simple as possible but no simpler”.  One excellent example of this is by Brent Ozar when explaining implications of RTO & RPO here -> https://www.brentozar.com/archive/2014/05/new-high-availability-planning-worksheet/.  The worksheet sets out the terms in language everyone can understand, even better by drawing attention to the targets, so everyone knows what to expect.

Is this easy, or simple?  No, it is not.  Having said that which expert do you feel most comfortable with? would happily go back to time and again?  The one that speaks to you in words and terms you can easily understand.  Or one that uses language and words that are sometimes not easy to follow or understand?  The choice for me is easy and simple, which is why I work that little bit hard to make it as easy as possible for my customers to understand me.