Personal, Power BI

End of the Power BI Updates List

I just finished updating my Power BI updates list for the last time.  I started the list in November as a way to keep track of all the changes. When I first started it, they weren’t posting the updates to the blog or the What’s New sections in the documentation. Now that Microsoft is on a steady cadence of monthly releases and doing a great job of communicating updates, there isn’t much need for this except as a fun data source. It’s also been about a year since Power BI V2 became generally available, so it seems like a good stopping point.

I removed the link to my updates page, but I left the page available for anyone who has it bookmarked and put a note on the page that the list is no longer being updated. I want to leave it in place because I appreciated the comments and the Power BI visuals people made using the list as a data source.

If you would like a copy of it to continue your own list or to use as a data source, you can access the file at http://1drv.ms/21Kjk3f.

PASS Summit, Personal

My PASS Summit Abstract Feedback

I wasn’t selected to speak at the PASS Summit this year. One of my talks was selected as an alternate, but I’m not holding out hope it will move up. Update: My session got bumped from alternate to scheduled. See here for more information. 

While I am a bit disappointed, I’m ok with it.  I delivered a general session and a lightning talk at PASS Summit 2014, then took a year off and didn’t submit anything in 2015. But I was on the abstract review committee last year and this year.  It’s interesting to see how abstracts are ranked and feedback is provided. I have a few quick thoughts on not being chosen:

  1. Congrats to everyone who was chosen! I am happy for you, and I hope you enjoy the experience.
  2. My career and my confidence as a speaker are just fine. If my perception of my career/speaking success rested solely/mostly on being selected to a single conference, I would probably need to re-evaluate my goals and priorities. I have learned a lot this year, and I’ve had some fun speaking opportunities so I’m satisfied with my accomplishments in the first half of 2016.
  3. Although my attendance at PASS Summit 2016 is TBD, part of me is happy that if I do get to attend, I will do so without having to worry about speaking. It’s nice to enjoy the company of others and stay out late without stressing over last-minute tweaks to demos or being tired while speaking.

I think it’s helpful for me to see others’ abstracts that were submitted and the feedback they received, so I’m sharing mine. It can be difficult to tell sometimes if you are missing something or if it was just luck/circumstances (there happened to be an abnormal amount of good abstracts on your same topic, etc.). While I can’t talk about the program committee or the criteria we used for judging abstracts, I will point out that if you look at the feedback you will see some common themes that may provide guidance for future abstract submissions.

I’ve listed the abstracts I submitted below along with the feedback they received as well as my thoughts.

Help! Someone Got Slowly Changing Dimensions in my Tabular Model! (Not Chosen)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: SSAS – Advanced Tips and Tricks
Level: 300
Session Abstract: Many developers shy away from slowly changing dimensions that capture history because they seem complicated, but they can be useful and worth the effort. We often need to see what an entity looked like at the time of an event rather than its current attributes; e.g., a customer’s marital status, address, and age at the time of purchase is useful for analyzing buying patterns. Having this historical view makes our analytics more accurate and useful. Many people can figure out how to add slowly changing dimensions to our SQL Server database. But what do we do when we get to our SSAS Tabular Model? It’s not quite as easy as trading the surrogate key for the natural key in your formulas. We’ll examine the mechanics of Type 2/6 slowly changing dimensions implemented in SQL Server. Then we’ll discuss good practices for adding slowly changing dimensions to the tabular model. Finally, we’ll review common DAX formulas and see how we should alter them to accommodate slowly changing dimensions.
Prerequisites: Basic familiarity with the idea of slowly changing dimensions, understanding of Tabular SSAS) and common DAX calculations.
Goals:

  • Define and explain the types of slowly changing dimensions
  • Provide tips on how to optimize loading of a type 2 or 6 slowly changing dimension
  • Demonstrate common calculations and how to change them to make them work with a type 2 or 6 slowly changing dimension
Comments
  • Sounds like it could be a good session but the abstract seemed all over the place. Hard to follow.
  • abstract seems to ramble. grammatical anomalies. punctuation misuse.
  • Fantastic topic, and extremely well-constructed abstract!
  • Well written abstract, sold me in easily. Seems to be on level. Clear goals.
  • Nice abstract with clear goals and outlines.
  • Abstract OK. Learning goals a bit roughly defined – could be more precise in this narrow topic.
  • Good abstract. Could be an interesting session to attendees.

My thoughts: There are some conflicting reviews, which is to be expected from a diverse group of reviewers. One of the reviewers seems to be extremely picky about grammar. I have reviewed the abstract, and I still do not see any grammatical issues. I am rather picky about grammar myself, but I think the goal of reviewing grammar in abstracts is to ensure that the abstract will be easily understood by attendees. As long as the abstract sounds professional and appropriately communicates what the session is about, tiny grammar issues and preferences don’t matter.

How to Care for Your Type 2 Slowly Changing Dimension (Not Chosen)

Category: Lightning Talk
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: SSIS – Building and Deploying Solutions
Level: 200
Session Abstract: Your type 2 slowly changing dimension (SCD2) needs love and proper care. Don’t over complicate your relationship with your SCD2, but also don’t let it feel unappreciated. Be straightforward and set ETL expectations appropriately. Be accepting if your type 2 slowly changing dimension decides he wants to be a type 6. This talk will help you understand your SCD2 and how to provide for him using SQL Server Data Tools and SSIS.
Prerequisites: High-level grasp of type 2 dimensions used to capture effective dated historical attributes. SSIS dev expertise to understand design patterns.
Goals:

  • Define a type 2 slowly changing dimension and how it works
  • Show example table DDL for a Type 2 slowly changing dimension
  • Show an example SSIS package with a good design pattern for loading a type 2 slowly changing dimension
Comments
  • can this really be covered in 10 minutes?
  • Misalignment in abstract, learning goals and level
  • Cute abstract. Title matches the abstract well; goals well defined and aligned. Would be a good lightning talk; level might be better suited for level 100
  • Really good abstract for a lightning talk. Sounds like a topic that a good amount of people and sounds like something I would enjoy attending.
  • Abstract is well written and easy to understand.
  • Good topic but not sure about whether the subject matter can effectively be presented in the time allotted.
  • Very focused topic – great for a lightning talk. Very good prerequisites and goals. The abstract is entertaining yet clear.
  • Well written abstract, on level
  • Well written and to the point.

My thoughts: I had fun writing this abstract, and I look forward to delivering this talk somewhere else. There seems to be some debate about whether slowly changing dimensions are a 100-level topic for SSIS. I think they are not. Whoever wrote that probably underestimates their own knowledge and has forgotten what SSIS basics at the 100 level are like. I think it would be a challenge to deliver in 10 minutes, and that is very valid feedback. I would have liked to try it though. Lightning talks are tough. They require a lot of editing and practice to pack useful, interesting, and coherent info into 10 minutes.

Overcoming Chartaphobia with Power BI (Alternate)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Information Delivery
Topic: Power BI
Level: 100
Session Abstract: Do reports in your organization consist mostly of giant tables of data? Perhaps you have gotten as far as adding KPI indicators or conditional highlighting to the tables. Maybe you have charts, but they are hideous and distracting. Although tables of data presented as reports are commonly found in many organizations, they may be doing you and your users a disservice. We’ll discuss why cognitive psychological studies tell us that graphs and pictures are more effective at communicating trends and comparisons and how to prepare to create good data visualizations. Then we’ll explore how to employ purposeful data viz designs to help users achieve their goal of making informed decisions, using a fun and useful Power BI dashboard. You’ll leave with guidance on how to take boring or unreadable tables of data and turn them into useful and visually appealing reports.
Prerequisites: Interest in data viz and/or Power BI
Goals:

  • Understand the right questions to ask when preparing to create a data viz solution
  • Explain 4 tips for effective data viz design
  • Demonstrate effective data viz design in a Power BI report and dashboard
Comments
  • Well written abstract and concise goals. I’m not sure if this will be of great interest
  • Don’t care for the data “viz” usage. This should be spelled out to visualization.
  • Whilst I get why the title might have chartaphobia in it – it still didn’t sound right. It’s not an actual word. The abstract is good, it does tell me that I may have charts but they’re “hideous and disgusting”. This didn’t sound nice and might turn some audience members away. The topic of Power BI is a good topic, the delivery just needs some work for a 100 level – explain earlier in the abstract how Power BI will make the charts better or exist at all.
  • Abstract: The level would be 200 Objective: I would like to attend this session.
  • I would’ve liked the goals to be a little more thorough.

My thoughts: I can’t imagine anyone being confused by the use of the word viz, but it can be a good rule of thumb not to include abbreviations or at least explain them. The comment about “chartaphobia” not being a real word made me laugh, but perhaps it doesn’t work well with an international audience. I would have put it in quotes, but I knew Orator tool we use doesn’t display those characters correctly. We all use different tactics to create catchy titles. I didn’t coin that phrase, but I think we all understand it isn’t a “real” word. I give this talk at SQL Saturdays and user groups and it goes over very well, so I’m not worried about the content of the session.

Building an Effective ETL Framework in SQL Server (Not Chosen)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: BIML
Level: 300
Session Abstract: An effective ETL framework helps you start and complete SSIS projects faster, employ reusable design patterns, and be consistent across packages and projects, lowering the learning curve for junior developers and your support team. Biml (Business Intelligence Markup Language) automates your SSIS design patterns and eliminates the manual repetition of solving familiar problems and making the same update over and over in similar packages. In this session, we’ll discuss and identify SSIS design patterns, learn how to create and automate them using BIML, and then see a demo of a package execution framework built using BIML.
Prerequisites: Basic proficiency in SSIS. Ability to read/understand XML and C# is helpful but not at all required.
Goals:

  • Provide a basic overview of BimlScript, how it works, and syntax for creating SSIS packages
  • Understand the usefulness of SSIS design patterns, identify common patterns, and practice abstracting details from a package to understand the pattern
  • Create a master package with an easily extensible execution framework, using BIML
Comments
  • Sounds like a good session.
  • Basic and 300 don’t coincide. Need to decide is it an advanced topic or not.
  • nice abstract
  • Good topic. More detail in the abstract about what will be covered would be helpful – include more of what was listed in the goals. Based on the abstract, the level seems too high, but it seems right based on the goals.
  • Seems like a lvl 200 session. Not the most interesting BIML abstract I’ve read.
  • Not sure I can identify the level 300 material in the abstract. Would recommend as level 200. Great story line and an important topic to teach; design patterns.
  • Well-developed outline and goals with details. The title may be clearer by adding BIML in it.
  • Good but average abstract. Could be an interesting session to some attendees.

My thoughts: This wasn’t my most inspired abstract writing. I agree it probably was more of a 200-level session than 300. I marked it as such because this session requires you to put all the pieces together and understand architecture more than just how to write Biml to make it do stuff.  In previous years there was no Biml track, so this year’s chosen abstracts will help me gauge how to write for this topic next year. I’m sure this session will continue to evolve as I deliver it more, and maybe I’ll come up with a better title and description.

Who needs SSAS when you have SQL? (Not Chosen)

Category: General Session
Track: BI Platform Architecture, Development & Administration
Topic: SSAS – Building and Deploying Solutions
Level: 200
Session Abstract: Analysis Services may seem foreign or unnecessary for SQL and .NET developers. However, it can offer many advantages for reporting and data exploration, even with the SQL engine’s latest indexing and in-memory analytics capabilities. In this session, we will cover useful features of SSAS and discuss conditions where it is beneficial. Next we’ll compare the two types of Analysis Services databases (Multidimensional and Tabular) and identify requirements that should influence your decision of which type is right for your solution. Then we will explore common ways to retrieve data and browse your SSAS database, such as Power BI and Excel, reporting tools like SSRS, and custom .NET applications.
Prerequisites: Basic familiarity with data warehousing, interest in learning more about SSAS
Goals:

  • Identify the conditions in which SSAS is preferable to using just the SQL Engine
  • Explain the differences between SSAS multidimensional and tabular
  • Demonstrate various ways of browsing and querying an SSAS model
Comments
  • Title a bit misleading. Was expecting a SSAS bashing, but pleasantly surprised with the meat of the abstract. Learning goals in line with level and abstract.
  • concise engaging abstract
  • Demo percentage seems low for such a topic but, overall, looks like a good session.
  • Good abstract. Sounds like a good session.
  • The idea presented in the introduction would be a good session, but it seems like the abstract strays from that path and into a general discussion of how to use SSAS. The abstract is well-constructed otherwise, and it effectively conveys the goals stated. The title seems to present the opposite viewpoint of the introduction to the abstract.
  • Well outlined abstract but if it had more demo, it would sound more interesting and persuasive.
  • Interesting and descriptive abstract. Seems to match level and topic.

My thoughts: This was some of the most helpful feedback I received. I don’t remember exactly what percent I said was demo, but the session could probably be redesigned to include more demos. And I have given this session before and received feedback that they felt the title was misleading. I will consider renaming the session in the future.

Personal, Telecommuting

Eight Things I’ve Learned in My First 3 Months of Telecommuting

A few months ago, I started a new job in which I telecommute. I was worried about whether I would enjoy it and whether I would be productive, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I began my job by being as prepared as I could be and just going with the flow to get everything (laptop, online accounts, office furniture and equipment) set up with few expectations of how things would work. Now three months in, I can tell you that I love working from home. I can see why it wouldn’t be for everyone, but it’s great for me at this point in my life and career.

I will note that my company is a virtual company, which might make things easier than having some remote employees while others work together in a physical office. Almost everyone works from home (and many of us travel a bit).  Since we are all telecommuting, we don’t have the problem of some remote workers feeling like they are left out of office activities and banter with employees who are physically in the office. It feels like we are all in this together, communicating online and by phone as needed. Occasionally we meet up in person if we are in the same city or working together on a project.

Another advantage for my situation is that no one except my bulldog is in my house during the day to distract me. I can understand that it would be more difficult to work from home with a spouse, a roommate, or a child at home. Luckily, my office mate mostly sleeps all day.

 

So now that I have explained how things are going,  I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned thus far, working from home for a virtual company.

1.  I love the productivity and ability to concentrate that comes with working from home and having a flexible schedule.

I love that I frequently get 2 – 3 continuous hours in a day without interruptions where I am able to concentrate and make a lot of progress or delve deeply into learning a new technology.  My previous job was in a physical office that had the “cool” open floor plan, and my schedule had many meetings and several developers and project managers needing my help throughout the day. So this uninterrupted work time was a welcome change for me. On top of that, my company allows us to have flexible work hours as long as we are delivering good results and are generally available during common work hours when coworkers or clients need us. This may not be true for all remote workers, but my company trusts employees to set our own schedule.  This means I can go to the gym over lunch or take my office mate (bulldog) out for a walk in the afternoon and not feel guilty about it.  Ultimately, I have been able to arrange my schedule to achieve better work/life balance and increased productivity.

2.  Docking Stations are worth it.

I worked for a month just plugging everything into my laptop and unplugging when I needed to travel or just move to a different room. I finally picked up a HooToo Universal Docking Station for a decent price on Amazon, and it was well worth the money. Now my monitors, mouse, keyboard, camera, and headset all plug into the docking station, so it’s quite easy to unplug the one USB cord and wander off somewhere else with my laptop. The model I have works well with my Win 8.1 laptop so it quickly recognizes my connection and all peripherals when I plug back in.

3.  Ensure the dog has his supplies available in the office, too.

Each morning before I start work, I make sure I have my breakfast and coffee and any supplies I need for work that are not already in my office. I also do the same for the dog. I think my dog is cute, but not cute enough to get a starring role in my conference calls. My dog has a bed, some treats, and a toy in my office at all times. If he wakes up and decides he is bored or hungry or whiny while I’m on a call, I am prepared to quickly remedy the situation, at least until I can get off the call and let him out or figure out what he wants.

4. Amazon Prime has lots of good free music.

My office is a relatively quiet place, and sometimes I need some music to add a bit of background noise to work to when I’m taking care of tedious tasks (or when I have an earworm I just can’t get out of my head).  I already had a Amazon Prime subscription because I like free shipping, so the music was free for me to explore. Prime Music allows me to add certain songs, albums, or playlists to my library for free. I can then listen to them online or download them to a device for offline listening.  In addition, Prime Music also offers stations that allow you to rate the songs to customize the content (similar to Pandora). I like the selection offered, and new music is frequently added. Your mileage may vary based upon musical taste.

5.  Invest the time to become proficient in the use of your online meeting software.

When most of your meetings are online, and most people spend anywhere from a few minutes to half of every online meeting fumbling with settings in Lync or Webex (or whatever application you use), you can imagine how much of your time is spent just trying to get the meeting started and the appropriate content shared. I’m still working on this one, but things definitely go better when you are more prepared and knowledgeable in this area.  Once you’ve got it down you can help others learn the settings and help meetings around the world be more productive (or at least end sooner).

6.  It takes more effort to communicate with people when you rarely see them in person.

This may not be true for you, but it definitely is for me: I naturally interact better with people when I’m face to face with them. I was also used to getting a lot of information and context in informal conversations that occurred in the hallways in the office. Since there are no hallway conversations with people now, I have to make more of an effort to communicate with others. I had to get over any concern about bothering them and ask questions via Lync, phone, or email when I needed to do so (but not to the point of disregarding a busy status). My communication style over Lync has also changed. Where I was somewhat lax about spelling and grammar and was very brief/to the point, I now try to pay more attention to how I type and make sure I provide enough context for the conversation (which many times means switching from instant message to a Lync call). For many coworkers, their only interaction with me is our Lync or Yammer conversations, so I try to be friendly, make a good impression, and show a little of my personality while respecting their time and making sure they get what they need from me in the conversation. I’ve been at companies that had online message boards and used Lync a lot, but things change when these are your main methods of communication.

7.  Some (but not all) UPS stores will verify I-9 forms.

Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. In order to complete the form, the employer must physically review and verify the information and documents provided by the employee. This is very standard and something we all do when we start a new job in the United States. It gets interesting when you start a new job as a virtual employee that does not live close (within a 5 hour drive) to any other employees, and the company’s lawyer has provided guidance that this verification should not be done over video chat. This is how I learned that some UPS stores offer a service where they have a notary do the physical review and verification and sign off on it. Then you can send the form back to your company with the notary’s signature indicating the review is complete. Not all notaries will do this, and not all UPS stores that employ notaries offer the service.  I was warned in advance to call ahead and check, so I did and found one not too far from me that got the job done. This was more just an interesting intricacy of telecommuting with a geographically distributed company, but maybe it will be helpful to you.

 8.  I’m not lonely, and I didn’t become a hermit.

This is what I worried about most before starting my job. Although I am an introvert, I’m a fairly social person. If you aren’t aware, introverts are not always shy; they tend to prefer to spend more time alone or interact with small groups of familiar people rather than larger crowds or new people. I wondered if I would really like a job where I didn’t physically interact with people on a daily basis. I wondered if I would just never leave my house because of lack of work/life balance or laziness. So far none of those fears have been realized. If anything, because I have a flexible schedule and better work/life balance, the activities I do outside of my house feel more meaningful. I leave the house to be productive or enjoy time with friends and family rather than just because it’s Wednesday and I have to go to the office to work. I don’t have to worry about running home at lunch or after work to let the dog out because he was with me all day and I let him out right before I left the house. I have 30-45 minutes back in my day that I used to spend on my commute that I can now spend on something more enjoyable. And because I’ve been home all day, I’m a bit more motivated to go out and do things. On top of that, I have friends and coworkers that I can chat with during the day. So if I just need some interaction, I know who to turn to that will gladly chat for a few minutes.

 

Further Reading

Here are some good materials to read if you are considering telecommuting:
The 10 Best Articles on Managing a Remote Team
Telecommuting, Month 9
Why I Don’t Look for a Telecommuting Job
Eight Things I Have Learned While Telecommuting
A Desk Too Far?: The Case for Remote Working
How to Telecommute: Staying Motivated
How to Telecommute: Getting Things Done
What I Know For Sure…After One Year at SQLskills

Personal

2014 in Review

2014 was a wonderful, challenging, exhausting, exciting year. I grew a lot as a person and as a BI professional. This blog grew in content and in popularity.  I’d like to take a moment (and several paragraphs) to celebrate the great opportunities and great people who made my year special.

Speaking engagements

I gained more experience as a speaker/presenter in 2014 and marked a number of firsts in this part of my career. In addition, I got to travel and see many lovely places and meet good people.

Along the way, I met several people who deserve some recognition for their efforts as event organizers, coordinators, and volunteers:

  • I met Paras Doshi (t|b) at SQL Saturday #305 in Dallas, and he gave me the opportunity and encouragement to speak at the PASS BA Virtual Chapter. He gave a great presentation at SQL Saturday about How To Train Your Business Users To Create Their Own BI reports.
  • Miguel Escobar (t|b) and Diana Betancourt(t) put on a successful inaugural SQL Saturday Panama. They were so friendly and welcoming. Miguel got on a Skype call before the event to make sure I had all the information I needed, and he provided recommendations of fun things to do while visiting. Diana Betancourt is congenial, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She was a great representative for Panama tourism (as a native with great travel tips), SQL Saturday (as a speaker and volunteer), and the PASS community (as a friendly face) at the event.
  • Marc Beacom (t|b) organized the first Mile High Tech Con in Denver. He (and his team) went out of their way to make sure all of the speakers felt appreciated and comfortable throughout the conference. I hope I get to speak at MHTC next year! I also had some great conversations with him that I truly appreciate about BI and career topics.
  • Lance Harra (t) helped us organize SQL Saturday Kansas City this year. He brought lots of great experience and ideas and helped us be better organized and less stressed. We couldn’t have done it (or at least wouldn’t have wanted to do it) without him! He also supported his fellow Kansas Citians by attending my presentation at PASS Summit. It was nice to have a friendly face in the room.
  • SQL Saturday #332 (Minnesota) was the best organized SQL Saturday I’ve attended to date. They had plenty of volunteers and great support from sponsors. Congrats to Rick Krueger(t|b), Mike Donnelly (t) and the rest of the team.

I also had the opportunity to be in the audience to experience some impressive and inspiring presentations from other speakers:

Blog

I made a goal to blog at least once a month in 2014. Although I didn’t get a blog post in exactly every month, I did end up with 12 blog posts by the end of the year. Other interesting statistics from my blog include:

  • My blog is less than 2 years old and has been viewed over 14,000 times.
  • The blog post with the most views in 2014 was Retrieving Lowest Level Hierarchy Members and Leaves in MDX.
  • The most common search term (of those available) that led people to my blog was “ssrs 2014 visualization”.
  • The most popular links from my blog to other resources go to Stephen Few’s Perceptual Edge.

New Job

In December, I joined BlueGranite, a business analytics consulting firm with an excellent reputation and many interesting projects and opportunities for a BI developer like me to enhance my skills. I’m still settling in, but I have to say that it is a pleasure to work with some of the nicest and most talented people I’ve ever met. My new career opportunity is due in large part to the PASS community. Many SQL People helped me make new connections, gave me great advice and encouragement, acted as a sounding board, listened to me vent my fears and frustrations during the job hunt and transition, and then celebrated my new opportunity with me. A few that stand out are David Klee, Bill Fellows, Tim Ford, John Morehouse, Marc Beacom, and Hope Foley. My former job and speaking experience prepared me well for this new opportunity, but networking in the SQL Community made it happen. I went to PASS Summit and told my friends and colleagues that I was interested in new opportunities. They gave me great leads and good contacts, and less than 3 weeks later I had a new job.

2015 Goals

I’m taking Q1 off from speaking so I can rest up and settle into my new job. I probably won’t speak quite as much as I did last year, but I will definitely submit to speak at some SQL Saturdays and other conferences.

I plan to publish 18 blog posts this year. While most posts will be technical in nature, I’d like to write a couple posts about my experience as a virtual employee who works from home.

I’ve become a mentor to a college student who thinks he might be interested in BI and process improvement. I’d also like to get more involved with my local PASS chapter. And I’d still like to try to make a SQL BI Cruise happen.

I’m looking forward to new friends, colleagues, opportunities and adventures in 2015.