31 January 2013

From DBA to Data Professional and back again

One of my periodic tasks in the department I lead, “IT Data Services”, is to produce summary reports on the current state of my team’s projects, as well as statistics on our SQL Server infrastructure. For efficiency, I normally just write a quick query to pull the data from my DBA repository database, throw the results into an Excel Pivot Table, and “fancy it up a bit”. In the past few weeks, however, I have been working on a Business Intelligence (BI) solution with one of our development teams, so I thought I would go an extra step, and woo my boss with an interactive PowerView report. This is how I almost lost my job.

My emotional journey into the Microsoft BI Stack began by carefully installing SQL Server 2012 and SharePoint, and marrying the happy couple, with SSRS and SSAS in attendance. I choked back tears when I finally had all of the requisite and interdependent services and authentication modes up and running. I cheered when I saw that I could deploy and schedule a SSRS report in SharePoint. I high-fived myself (I generally work in a dark and lonely office) when Silverlight spun up to show me the galleries of Excel PowerPivot workbooks. I picked up the phone and called my mom to thank her for giving birth to me, just so I could witness the elegant dance of PowerView with my tabular data. Finally, I got on my knees and prayed that at least one of my 453 Twitter followers would share my joyous tweet, on seeing my PowerView report exported to a PowerPoint slide.

I sat back and reflected on the journey as a whole. It had not been without its problems, prime among them being numerous issues with authentication, data not being recognized as being in a proper date/time format across all technologies, and PowerPoint failing to beckon me to “Click to Interact” in the desired manner.

However, problems, lead to solutions and solutions lead to knowledge. I felt I was empowered with a new BI insight. Prior to my experience of building, configuring, developing, administering and analyzing data in “The Stack”, I had been but a DBA. Now I was a Data Professional, SME extraordinaire.

I was confident. So confident, in fact, that when my boss asked for a few reports, I assumed that he’d be so elated when he saw the new, interactive report in PowerPoint that he’d probably ask me to put away my DBA hat forever and become Chief PowerPoint Officer for our company.

I breezed through the query to pull the desired data, pumped it all into PowerPivot, published it to SharePoint, dragged-dropped, sliced-diced and charted. I emailed it over and casually strolled into his office to watch his reaction. I thought of shutting the door so that his boisterous enthusiasm would not disturb the others, but ditched the idea.

“What does this mean?” he said, pointing to a column header.

“Oh, that is just a generic name. I can clean that up!” I replied airily.

“OK, so how can this be right? I mean, how is this even possible?” he continued. “We have 34 million users for one database?”

“Gah, that’s in Gigabytes instead of Terabytes…” I stammered, attempting a crazy diversion into user counts measured in bytes. He didn’t bite. “Hey, look at that chart!” I tried.

“And how many servers do we have for this process? This says we have six. Is that right?”

I abandoned all faith in the accuracy of the report and began counting on my fingers from memory. “I need to double check, but I believe it is six, yes.”

Would you bet your job on it?”

There were seven servers for that process.

Dazzled and seduced by the new world of the data professional with its ever-evolving tools and techniques to manipulate and view data, I had broken an important rule: “Never demo anything to your boss.” As a golden addendum to that rule, “never, ever, demo anything to your boss without first making sure the data is accurate.”

I heard about another new technology called Data Quality Services. That is next on my confidence re-boosting list of technologies to master.

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