Jeff Pries

Business Intelligence, SQL Server, and other assorted IT miscellany

Month: March 2013

A Day of Data Warehousing…and Pie!

A Day of Data Warehousing…and Pie!  

What better way to celebrate Pi day than by learning data warehousing fundamentals from two experts in the field?  I can’t think of one!

Audrey Hammonds (B | T) and Julie Smith (B | T) of DataChix.com very generously decided to host a standalone day long class on the subject of Data Warehousing.  As if getting to participate in a day of training for such a low price weren’t great enough, on top of all that they dedicated all proceeds from the class to The Cloverleaf School.

The event was modeled after a SQL Saturday pre-con, however, it was a standalone event not attached to a SQL Saturday.  Even without having a SQL Saturday to bring in the crowds, the attendance was great and far better than I expected!  Just about the right balance of having enough people to form a true class, but not too many people that you’re lost in a sea of faces.

The logistics of the event were very well organized.  The venue (the American Legion Post) was easy to find with easy parking.  Upon arriving, check-in was quick and easy and a nice breakfast was available.  The volunteers from The Cloverleaf School did a great job coordinating everything.

Audrey and Julie basically worked the scenario of a pie business with no infrastructure moving through the process of growth and implementing a data warehouse with regular ETL.  They essentially divided the material into two sections:  database concepts and data warehouse design (Audrey) and ETL/SSIS (Julie).  This format worked out well as a representation of what happens with job roles in the real world and they had great and entertaining banter between the two of them.  I particularly enjoyed Audrey’s exercise in data modeling.

For lunch, what would be more appropriate on Pi Day (3/14) than of course, Pizza Pie and various dessert pies?  They were a hit!

After lunch, we took a moment to pose for a group photo by the tank, because hey, there’s a tank, why not pose for a group photo on it?

All in all, I felt the class was a great experience and I was very happy with the time spent.  Not only was it for a great cause, but I got to meet some new people in the community and of course learned a lot.  While I’ve learned about the various components in a full BI system, this is one of the first resources that has done a good job of tying them together from start to finish and painting a complete picture.

As an organization that currently runs the majority of business functions from an OLTP database with SSRS pulling data directly from the OLTP database, I am very interested in learning how to properly design and implement a data warehouse, ETL data into it, and leverage the data in interesting ways with SSAS and the variety of other tools that can illuminate an OLAP data source (SSRS, PerformancePoint, Power View, etc).  Stay tuned for more as I kick off that adventure!

SQL Saturday Roundup: #187 – Richmond, VA

SQL Saturday #187 – Richmond, VA:  

Continuing my back-to-back SQL Saturday extravaganza, this past Saturday I attended SQL Saturday #187 in Richmond, VA.

After a fairly impromptu trip to Tampa last weekend to attend SQL Saturday 192, this weekend it was off about the same distance in the other direction to visit Richmond, VA.  As my first visit to Richmond, right away I wished I had more time to explore as the city looked extremely interesting.  Next time!

For whatever reason, no pre-con sessions were offered before this SQL Saturday.  Considering my brain was still a bit full from last weekend I was OK with this.  I checked into my hotel room Friday evening for a nice rest before the whirlwind of learning that would be Saturday.

Continuing in a string of firsts, SQL Saturday 187 was held on the campus of the University of Richmond, which as I understand it was the first time the university hosted a SQL Saturday.  The venue was very nice and the historic buildings provided a great atmosphere.  The entire conference was held within a single building with both classrooms and auditoriums which allowed for plenty of room.  About the only snag in the setup was a surprise soccer tournament on Saturday morning which gobbled up most of the parking that had been allotted causing a need for a bit of improvisation.

Once again, I was able to attend all six sessions during the day.  And again, I was very pleased with the selections I made and the quality of the content.  Every session that I attended was top notch and I believe I learned something new in each one.

A new event for me at this SQL Saturday was the WIT Luncheon.  During the provided lunch, there were a number of options for presentations to take part in.  Of these options, was a Women in Technology luncheon and panel discussion.  As I have a co-worker who is very active in WIT in Atlanta and additionally I mentor women in IT, I decided to sit in.  Kevin Kline (B | T) mediated a panel discussion with Melissa Coates (B | T), Karen Lopez (B | T), and Stacia Misner (B | T).  Members of the panel each provided background and answered questions based on their experiences asked by Kevin and the audience.

In addition to the WIT Luncheon, a few of the sessions which really stood out to me were:

  • Dashboards…How to Choose Which MSBI Tool” by Melissa Coates (B | T)  – Melissa gave a very detailed analysis of the major Microsoft Business Intelligence tools and the various strengths, weaknesses, pros, and cons of each.  She included some great charts which will make great references for the future.
  • Branding Yourself for a Dream Job” by Steve Jones (B | T) — Steve gave a fun and energetic presentation about personal branding, social networking, and other aspects of the modern professional world.  Some great tips on managing your online persona!
  • So You Want to Be a Rockstar Report Developer?” by Melissa Coates (B | T) — This session is brand new and has great potential.  Melissa covers various aspects of SSRS reporting and lists some of the big decision points we run into, such as stored procedures vs. queries in reports.  Plenty of audience participation was encouraged and as this session is given many times, I can see it eventually holding a great wealth of best practices, tips, and tricks.
With that, SQL Saturday wrapped up with the traditional gathering for words of thanks and raffle of prizes.  Sadly, I didn’t win anything this time, but all the great networking and knowledge was more than enough.  I had a great time and look forward to visiting Richmond again in the future.  Thanks to the Richmond SQL Server User Group and all the speakers for the great event!

SQL Saturday Roundup: #192 – Tampa, FL

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending SQL Saturday #192 in Tampa, FL, put on by the Tampa Bay SQL Server User Group.This being the first SQL Saturday of the year for my southeastern region, I was pretty excited to pop in the car and make the trek on down to Tampa.
Originally, I hadn’t planned on attending the event — Blissfully unaware, I’d already booked myself for the Richmond, Virginia SQL Saturday the following weekend.  Fortunately, though, I happened upon a tweet mentioning the great pre-con sessions being offered and I was sold.About a year prior, I’d been really getting into reporting services and had been Googling for local classes for some additional in person SSRS training.  I didn’t find much, but I did find a class being advertised as something called a “pre-con” preceding something called a “SQL Saturday” being given by somebody named Jessica Moss.  Sadly, this was about a week before the class so it was already very sold out with a full wait list.  “Maybe next time!” I said to myself, and filed away the idea of a SQL Saturday in my head for the future.  Now, a year and 5 SQL Saturdays for me later, it appeared that a second chance for a SSRS class with Jessica Moss had appeared.  Back-to-back SQL Saturdays in opposite directions from Atlanta for me then!

Friday morning, I attended Jessica Moss’s (B | T) “Taking the Next Steps with Reporting Services” pre-con session.  A pre-conference session is a full day class on a single topic given by a single presenter.  They’re typically given the day before a SQL Saturday and typically fairly small class sizes.  Additionally, they’re incredibly affordable.  We had a very small class size for the pre-con, which was great — it was very easy to learn, ask questions, and chit-chat.  Jessica did a great job of covering a large array of SSRS topics, many of which I was familiar with and many that I hadn’t yet worked with.  For anybody serious about SSRS, I highly recommend it!

Saturday morning kicked off the main SQL Saturday event.  This year, for the first time, the event was held at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City.  Generally speaking, this was a great venue and provided far more space than the previous venue at K-Force.  My only complaints were that parking was a little bit confusing if you weren’t in the main lot (not too bad) and the event was actually spread out between two non-adjacent buildings — which made finding the second building a bit confusing.  Other than a little confusion though, the venue was very nice and provided plenty of room in each session I attended.

Rather than simply dropping off raffle tickets at vendor booths, the SQL Saturday Tampa crew had a sort of bingo card /scavenger hunt to fill out.  Each square on the card represented a vendor or person and it was necessary to find people to check off all the boxes to be turned in for a raffle at the end.  This was the first time I’d seen this idea used at a SQL Saturday event and I felt it did a very good job of getting me to walk up to and talk to people I otherwise may not have.

Throughout the day, I attended all six sessions and was very pleased with all my selections.  I felt all of the material was interesting and top notch and all the speakers did a great job.  A couple of sessions really stood out to me in particular:

  • A Big Data Primer” by Stacia Misner (B | T) — I’m constantly hearing about Big Data, but not in an industry that has any use or real exposure to it.  Stacia did a great job giving an overview of the industry, technology, and terminology involved.  I left the session having a much better understanding of the concept of Big Data and a working explanation of how Big Data differs from regular? data.
  • Way Too Much Fun with Reporting Services” by Stacia Misner (B | T) — Another great session by Stacia!  In a nutshell, Stacia has put together a Words with Friends online game using SSRS as the engine.  While the game itself has its flaws (I think anyone would agree that SSRS is probably not the best tool for the job of creating a game) it was incredibly eye opening seeing SSRS used as a platform that actually changed data rather than just showing a read only view of data.
  • Exploring Your Data with Power View” by Jessica Moss (B | T) — Power View is a technology big on my want list that most likely I’ll explore on this blog.  But that’s a story for another day.  Jessica gave a great overview of Power View relying heavily on Microsoft’s online Sales Demos to show us a variety of the Power View functionality.  I’m definitely looking forward to doing some implementation with this!
  • Becoming a Data Professional – Taking it to the Next Level” by Buck Woody (B | T) — for my last session of the day, I visited Buck Woody for an overview on the current state of data professionals.  Hands down, Buck is one of the most interesting speakers I’ve ever listened to.  He has a great mix of humor and fact that creates a very compelling presentation.  It didn’t hurt that all of his information was great, either!
With the conclusion of the day’s session, we gathered for the traditional closing words and raffle.  There was a great turnout even until the end and everybody was very appreciative of the hard work in putting on the event.  Additionally, I won a copy of “Visualizing Data with Microsoft Power View” by Brian Larson to add to my reading list.  A great event all around and thanks to everyone for your hard work in organizing it!
On my way out of Tampa the following morning, I decided to hit up a couple of local geocaches in the area.  For anybody who hasn’t, I highly recommend you hit up some of the caches by CacheMedics — they’re world class!

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