Jeff Pries

Business Intelligence, SQL Server, and other assorted IT miscellany

Category: Atlanta

Fun Local User Group Presentations – 2017

Going through my notes, I thought I’d highlight some of the most fun or innovative local user group presentations I’ve been to so far this year.

Atlanta is fortunate to have many user groups, two specifically which I attend are the “Atlanta MDF” user group which usually meets the 2nd Monday of each month, and is typically focused more on the core SQL Server technologies and the “Atlanta BI” user group which usually meets the last Monday of each month and is focused on BI-specific topics.  There are a number of other user groups, such as .NET and Excel, but its hard to find time to visit them all on a regular basis.

It is common for each user group meeting to have a main event, which is usually a speaker speaking on a topic for 1 – 1.5 hours or so.  While it is great whenever anyone wants to volunteer their time to teach others, there have been a couple this year that really stood out to me, either for their creativity, content, or “fun” factor.

In March, a couple of the guys from Slalom, Dave Tangren and Nelson Davis, gave a talk on the benefits of Power BI vs. Tableau at the Atlanta BI meeting.  This is interesting in of itself since these two products are direct competitors which are in an active battle, but what made this presentation really fun was that they modeled it as a political debate, with each product being a candidate.  They had a moderator who would ask questions and then each candidate would give his answer.  A really creative way to present this information!

Dave Tangren and Nelson Davis presenting “Comparing Power BI to Tableau” at the Atlanta BI March Meeting.

In April, Mike Bruce and Alex Higgins from Acuity Brands presented “Using Power BI to Track Software Development Performance,” in which they talked about their experiences using Power BI to connect to Visual Studio Online’s TFS repository to track their Agile projects.  This was very interesting for a number of reasons — the integration between these sources of data, what they were trying to accomplish (and the road they’d traveled so far to get there) and their projects in general.  Completely unrelated to Power BI, the store of how Acuity had transitioned from a manufacturing company (manufacturing lighting) to a software company (developing highly intelligent lighting technology, including lights which interface with retail store apps to locate a person in a store) was very interesting.

 

In August,  Rob Collie presented “Ten Things Power BI Can Do For You” at the Atlanta MDF August Meeting.  In this talk, Rob gave a history of Power Pivot (Project Gemini) from his time at Microsoft as well as his experiences in transitioning to a consulting organization specializing in Power Pivot.  The entire presentation was non-technical and talked about the benefits of using Power Pivot (and DAX) with or without Power BI.  A very interesting topic and Rob was a very good speaker, not afraid to call things as they are.  I got a bit of an Office Space vibe from the style (in a good way!)  I highly recommend you check out one of Rob’s presentations if he ever presents again in the area!

 

Rob Collie presenting “Ten Things Power BI Can Do For You” at the Atlanta MDF August Meeting.

 

Those are a few of the presentations from local user groups which have  really stood out to me so far this year.  Here’s to hoping for many more excellent presentations to come!

SQL Saturday Roundup: #578 – Atlanta, GA (BI Edition)

Saturday, December 10th marked the 2nd annual SQL Saturday Atlanta BI Edition.  Atlanta is known for its massive SQL Saturday held every spring / summer, so I’m happy to see the smaller, more BI-focused winter event continuing on.  With such a large number of SQL Server professionals in the area, there is definitely room for multiple events.

As with last year’s event, this one was a well-run event with no flaws that I was aware of.  This year seemed to be a bit of a “back to basics” theme.  Many of the extras that are frequently seen at SQL Saturday events — lots of sponsors, attendee bags and printed materials, speaker shirts, paper session evaluations, and other extras weren’t present.  Instead, the focus was purely on providing a full day of content across multiple tracks, and you know what, that’s just fine.  (Many) free donuts were provided for breakfast and boxed lunches were purchased, and everything was adequate.  The core idea behind SQL Saturday is free training and networking, and the event delivered!  I particularly thought the session lineup for this event was a great mix of topics.

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #521 – Atlanta, GA

SQL Saturday Roundup: #521 – Atlanta, GASQL Saturday 521

This past Saturday marked the annual event that many of us look forward to all year long.  Called by some to be the “Summit of the South,” SQL Saturday Atlanta is always a large and very professionally run event which draws hordes of SQL Server Professionals nationwide.  Again, this year, the event did not disappoint.  Despite the initial overcast and rainy weather which opened up the day, a record number of 590 attendees attended this awesome event!

For the second year in a row, I volunteered my time to help make the event as great as it could be.  For the first time in the past few years, I was did not attend any of the event’s preconference sessions, which typically run all day on Friday.  That being said, the sessions that were being given were excellent topics which were presented by some truly great speakers.  I’m sure everyone who attended learned a ton and had a great time.

While I didn’t attend any preconference sessions on Friday, SQL Saturday Atlanta did still begin for me on Friday when I headed over to the site Friday afternoon to begin helping with prep.  We had a great group of organizers and volunteers onsite to perform the bag stuffing and venue setup.  Additionally, this year, the decision was made to pre-print all of the attendee admission tickets, name badges, and raffle tickets (rather than relying on attendees to pre-print their items at home prior to the event to bring them with).  This allowed for nicer name badges and perforated raffle tickets to be used, but was a very laborious process collating and assembling the packets for the morning’s registration.  I ended up spending all of my time Friday afternoon helping out with the registration packet assembly process.

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #477 – Atlanta, GA (BI Edition)

SQL Saturday Roundup: #477 – Atlanta, GA (BI Edition)

This past Saturday marked a great landmark for Atlanta — the first “BI Edition” SQL Saturday, and, for many of us, our first SQL Saturday of 2016!  Atlanta has been hosting a regular SQL Saturday event for many years now, always with tremendous attendance.  Based on the amount of interest in the regular SQL Saturday (usually around May of each year), it was great to see a BI focused edition launched.

With the regular event in the Spring, having this event in January was a great way to space out the two Atlanta events probably about as equally as they could be.  And, for a first event, it seemed to be a tremendous success with a registration wait list and around 300 in attendance.

The event was held at the local Microsoft facility in Alpharetta, GA, where the monthly Atlanta MDF user group meetings are held.  All told, the facility was a pretty good choice of venue (and definitely a convenient location), but suffered from some overcrowding.  The facility had about half the sessions in roughly classroom sized rooms and half the sessions in much smaller conference room sized rooms.  While these smaller rooms made for an interesting and more intimate setting, they ultimately filled up very quickly.

Unlike many SQL Saturdays, the event kicked off with an opening keynote and presentation in the large room (multiple rooms joined together technically).  I enjoy it when a SQL Saturday begins with some sort of all-attendee opening remarks, it provides nice symmetry to the event (which always has a final closing remarks session), so hopefully more events will adopt this.

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Dandy Weyn presenting the opening remarks at SQL Saturday Atlanta 2016, BI Edition.

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #392 – Atlanta, GA

sqlsatatl392SQL Saturday Roundup: #392 – Atlanta, GA

This past Saturday a time-honored event was held in Alpharetta, GA.  That tradition, straight out of past — or is it future? was SQL Saturday Atlanta.  Called by some the “PASS Summit of the South,” SQL Saturday Atlanta was the 392nd event in the SQL Saturday series and continues the yearly streak in Atlanta since SQL Saturday #13 in 2009.

It seems each year, the stakes are raised higher and higher as far as size, quality, and theme — and this year was no exception.  With this summer marking the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future, it seems appropriate that the event was called Back to SQL Saturday and given a full, over-the-top Back to the Future theme.  But, before we talk about Saturday, we first have to travel back in time — to Friday…

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #285 – Atlanta, GA

SQL Saturday Roundup: #285 – Atlanta, GA

It’s that time of year again!  This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the annual SQL Saturday event here in Atlanta (well, Alpharetta, really) and, as always, it was a great time.

SQL Saturday Atlanta is always a pleasure since being local means no travel necessary (hooray) and it’s always a top-notch production.  This year was no exception as the event had a great line-up of pre-cons and speakers and was very well executed.

I started off my SQL Saturday weekend by attending Teo Lachev’s (B | T) pre-con session, Deep Dive into the Microsoft BI Semantic Model (BISM).  Check-in for the pre-con was a very smooth process and we were each given a giant packet of all of the printed slides for the session.  Additionally, the pre-con sessions had what I’d call the best breakfast I’ve seen at a SQL Saturday event, which included a buffet of hot food items such as eggs, etc.

Teo Lachev presenting his BISM deep dive pre-con session at SQL Saturday Atlanta

The pre-con session itself had a great turnout and Teo did an excellent job presenting a very large amount of material in the given time.  All in all, it was a great day and time well spent!

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #220 – Atlanta, GA

SQL Saturday #220 – Atlanta, GA:  

This was my 8th SQL Saturday, yet somehow only the first one I’ve attended near my home, Atlanta.  It’s pretty strange not having to drive for hours and stay in a hotel!

For anybody who has not yet had the pleasure of attending a SQL Saturday event in Atlanta, they’re known for being pretty popular events.  As such, not one or two, but five pre-conference sessions were offered for Friday before the main event.

I had a tremendously difficult time choosing between Stacia Misner’s (B | T) “Languages of BI” pre-con session and Bill Pearson’s (B | T) “Practical Self Service BI with PowerPivot for Excel” pre-con.  With both topics being interesting to me and both speakers being extremely knowledgeable it was a pretty tough decision!

Ultimately, I opted for Bill’s session, “Practical Self Service BI with PowerPivot for Excel” as I had yet to see Bill speak in person and the session was a little bit more applicable to a project I am currently about to undertake at work.  Given the opportunity though, I’d still love to attend Stacia’s pre-con!

We had a great crowd for the pre-con session.  The rooms provided by the Georgia State University Alpharetta building were very nice with plenty of space and great audio/video.  Bill provided digital copies of the course material on some very sleek Atlanat MDF USB drives as well as printed booklets of the slides for following along.

The session began with an overview of PowerPivot with how to get it properly installed and configured and then it was off to the races.  We went through an overview of the how PowerPivot works and when its useful in organizations and then proceeded through a number of scenarios building out a PowerPivot solution.  I found the information on using linked date tables for proper “Time Intelligence” of particular use.  After a great day of going through PowerPivot from top to bottom, it was time to head home and get some rest before the big event.

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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.

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