Jeff Pries

Business Intelligence, SQL Server, and other assorted IT miscellany

Month: April 2013

Choosing the Right Chart Type

Choosing the Right Chart Type:  

On Monday night, I attended our monthly Atlanta Business Intelligence user group meeting.  The speaker this month was the amazing Jen Underwood  (B | T) presenting on the topic of Data Visualization Best Practices.

As anybody who is familiar with building the presentation layer for a set of data knows, choosing the right method to represent that data can be the most challenging and important part of the entire process.

Whenever I am designing a new report, I will list my requirements and brainstorm a list of what I want to convey with the report.  Once I’ve determined what message is to be conveyed, I’ll sketch out mock reports on paper until I’ve gone through a few iterations and gotten an idea of what I’m going to implement.

During the process of sketching out a mock report, the topic of deciding what types of charts to use comes up.  In Jen’s presentation on Data Visualization Best Practices, she pointed out a very handy resource — a chart of charts by Andrew Abela, to help determine which type of chart to use and when:

A great resource to print out and decorate your office wall!

Another great resource is the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods by Ralph Lengler and Martin J. Eppler which is an interactive resource which shows an example of each visualization method by hovering the mouse over the “element.”

There are many more great resources out there, including many by “the Moses of Data Visualization,” Stephen Few which I’ll cover in future posts.  Happy charting!

Jen Underwood presenting Data Visualization Best Practices at the Atlanta Business Intelligence April Users Group.

SQL Saturday Roundup: #215 – Jacksonville, FL

SQL Saturday #215 – Jacksonville, FL:  

I’d been looking forward to this event for a few months now and it had arrived at last — SQL Saturday Jacksonville!

Part of the reason I’d been looking forward to this event (in addition to the great lineup of speakers and sessions) is the pre-con session for which I attended:   “Building a SQL Server 2012 BI Platform” by Brian Knight (B | T) and Devin Knight (B | T).

Now, a day long session which goes through the entire SQL Server 2012 / Sharepoint 2013 Business Intelligence stack in a whirlwind is a great thing, but when its taught by both Brian and Devin Knight?  Sign me up!

The pre-conference session on Friday started with a discussion of source data — an OLTP data source.  From there, we covered the basics of data warehouse design and then dove into designing a traditional business intelligence solution — a data warehouse fed by an ETL process.  With our data in place, we followed a traditional BI approach and built a multi-dimensional SSAS cube.  To contrast, we also built a new SSAS tabular model based on a PowerPivot Excel workbook.  With our data models in place, we finished out the BI stack by exploring them with SSRS, PowerPivot, PerformancePoint, Power View, and a little bit of Geoflow.  An enormous amount of material, it was great going through the entire stack from start to finish with such knowledgeable teachers.

The next morning, after a quiet evening to rest my brain, the main SQL Saturday event was held on the University of North Florida campus.  The venue for the event provided ample space, with a couple of larger auditoriums as well as a number of standard classrooms.  The weather for the event was a sunny and beautiful spring Florida day — which was important as lunch (which was provided free for the event) as well as mid-session breaks were spent outside.

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Professional Development Tips – Start a Professional Development Plan

Starting a Professional Development Plan:  

Having attended a number of SQL Saturday events, one of their great strengths is that they contain a healthy mix of both technical and non-technical content.  Every event that I’ve attended thus far has had at least a handful of professional development sessions on various topics generally geared toward managing your professional career on a non-technical level.

While I love the technical content — often choosing sessions based on new features or topics that are somewhat new to me, some of the most energizing and motivating sessions I’ve attended have been the professional development sessions.

Of the great Professional Development sessions I’ve attended, one stands out in particular:  Andy Warren’s (B | T) “Building Your Professional Development Plan.”

In his session, Andy gives an overview of what exactly a professional development plan is all about as well as why you’d want one in the first place.  A professional development plan, or PDP, is a document in which you can record short and mid range career goals and then track activities and progress toward accomplishing those goals within a set time frame.  The goals outlined in a professional development plan should be specific to your career goals, both at your current job as well as taking into account desired future jobs along your chosen career path.  A good professional development plan will incorporate both technical goals (such as learning new skills and techniques) as well as non-technical goals (such as networking or communication skills).

Following Andy’s session, I decided to take Andy’s challenge of creating a plan and trying it for a year.  I started by brainstorming various goals which I wanted to achieve over the next year and then began documenting them.  I next looked at my collection of goals and assigned realistic time and money budgets as well as goal dates and I was on my way.  As time has progressed and I’ve participated in activities which further my goals, I recorded them on my professional development plan.

I began by using Andy’s professional development plan template, found on his blog here.

I’ve since created my own professional development plan template based on Andy’s ideas which you’re welcome to borrow or use for ideas, found here.  (It may attempt to open in Google Docs, but paginates much better in true Excel).

At this point, I’m 8 months into Andy’s year long professional development plan challenge and I can already see this is a habit I plan to maintain throughout my career.  It really is motivating looking back at the training and development tasks you’ve performed over the course of the year.

I’ve only glossed the surface on what a professional development plan is all about.  For more information, I highly recommend you seek out Andy’s presentation on Building Your Professional Development plan which he frequently presents at SQL Saturdays in the central Florida area.  Andy is a great speaker and a I guarantee you’ll leave motivated!

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