Tag Archives: Professional Development

No Silver BI Bullet: Tableau Edition (It’s a good thing!)

For complex work, a very simple app requires a very smart user. That point was driven home to me in Tableau Fundamentals class this week. I don’t see that as bad news at all.

Not so long ago I wrote a piece that attempted to inject a bit of reality into the claims then made by some data visualization tool vendors. I cited unexpected challenges that those adopting such tools for their obvious and compelling data presentation abilities might face. The challenges included unexpectedly complex data integration, establishing solid reporting standards and practices, scaling report distribution as demand for the visualizations expands, and the conversion work that can result from version upgrades.

Although a Fundamentals class, the experienced and enthusiastic instructor and the small, intelligent student group combined to make the two days immensely valuable, going far beyond the basics on the program (more on specific lessons learned will appear in an upcoming post). The instructor’s focus on principles rather than recipes drove home this point: in order to effectively use Tableau you have to understand not only how to operate Tableau itself but also the underlying data management, usability, and statistics principles.

Could it be that adopting easy-to-use Tableau in place of, say, SSRS, Cognos, or SAS requires an upgrade in staff knowledge and expertise? Continue reading

Assumptions: A Key to Technical Leadership

DonkeyThere’s an unfortunate and rather rude saying about assumptions that I’ve found popular among IT folks I’ve worked with. I say unfortunate because, to me, assumptions that are recognized early and handled the right way are a key to successful projects. Technical players who use assumptions well can help set projects on the right path long before they go astray.

Sometimes on waterfall and hybrid projects technical players are asked to estimate work early, before requirements are complete. My instinctive reaction is not to provide an ungrounded estimate, but that’s not helpful. The way to handle this uncomfortable uncertainty is to fill out the unknowns with assumptions: detailed, realistic statements that provide grounding for your estimate. Continue reading

A Short List of Accessible Big Data Training Options

As you’ve read on this site and many others, the database world is well into a transition from a relational focus to a focus on non-relational tools. While the relational approach underpins most organizations’ data management cycles, I’d venture to say that all have a big chunk of big data, NoSQL, unstructured data, and more in their five-year plans, and that chunk is what’s getting most of the executive “mind share”, to use the vernacular.

Some are well along the way in their big data learning adventure, but others haven’t started yet. One thing about this IT revolution is that there’s no shortage of highly accessible training options. But several people have complained to me about the sheer quantity of options, not to mention the sheer number of new words the novice needs to learn in order to figure out what the heck big data is.

So here’s a very short list of training options accessible to the IT professional who is a rank big data beginner, starting with a very brief classification of the tools that I hope provides a some context. Continue reading

What is Big Data Creativity and How Do You Get It?

Thomas EdisonIn a recent Smart Data Collective post, Bernard Marr cites creativity as a top big data skill, but what is creativity?

His point is, since big data applications are often off the beaten IT path, big data professionals must solve “problems that companies don’t even know they have – as their insights highlight bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the production, marketing or delivery processes,” often with “data which does not fit comfortably into tables and charts, such as human speech and writing.” Continue reading

Technical Interviewers: Seek Opinions Not Facts

Asking fact questions in technical interviews is like eating a donut, feels great at the time but not so satisfying later.

Let’s say the interview consists of facts like this “softball question”: “What is the default port number for SQL Server?” The linked list of questions is a really good high level study guide for a SQL Server student. If a SQL Server developer candidate answers all correctly, then the interviewer can be confident that the candidate knows a lot about SQL Server. 

However, few development jobs require only technical fact knowledge. Typically, developers must apply creativity when working with unclear or poorly expressed requirements under tight schedules. They must be versatile so that they can take on unforeseen roles in case of resignations or transfers of team members. If you make an investment in an individual by hiring her or him, you’ll look for a return in the form of professional development as the individual grows their skills.

So how do you test creativity, versatility, and ability to learn, while still gauging raw technical talent? My method is to ask opinion rather than fact questions.  Continue reading

How To Do Well in Your Next Job Interview

Recently I read an editorial about job interviews. It was breezy and funny, but not very helpful. Given that millions are out there looking for work, I want to help by giving my perspective on how to “win” the interview.

I do a lot of interviewing, from both sides of the desk. As a consultant I am interviewed by clients. As one of many technical and behavioral interviewers for my employer, I talk with candidates about their skills, goals, and fit with our business.

Of course, winning the interview may not get you the job. An interview is just one part of a many step process. Getting a job involves showing you have the skills, establishing mutual fit, coming to terms on salary, and standing out versus the competition. This post is only about how to do well in the interview.

Assuming you’re qualified for the job, you can set up a good interview experience by applying the right mental model, preparing well, and interacting effectively during the conversation. Continue reading

Jürgen Klinsmann’s Waterfall to Agile Transition

KlinsmannAndDonovan

How does this sound as advice for an app dev manager leading his or her team from waterfall to Agile?

  • Clearly articulate a compelling end-state vision
  • Work from a position of authority
  • Weather the storms
  • Reward creativity while fostering improvement

A post at scrumsource.com lists leadership, organizational culture, and people as three of the five key factors in making the transition. Another at the Scrum Alliance site describes the transition as a migration from externally-organized to self-organizing teams. In my experience the transition requires leadership by a strong advocate who shows the way to willing, empowered team members.

The US men’s national soccer team (USMNT) is playing out a strikingly similar transition. Continue reading

Followership IV: How to criticize your boss

ObamaAndMcChrystalThis is the latest entry in an occasional series on followership. The premise, as stated here, is that not everyone gets to be a leader, and most leaders are also followers in their own right. The project manager follows instructions from the project sponsor, the CEO from the board, the politicians from the polls, and so on. Whoever you are, you spend a lot more time following than leading. As Bob Dylan put it so well, “you gotta serve somebody.”

The good follower is not a “yes man“. In the professional world I inhabit those who move “up” the hierarchy tend to retire technical skills in favor of architecture, proposal writing, and management. The relationship of manager to employee becomes more like agent to actor or musician, where the supervised employee is the “talent”.

In these conditions the old concept of top-down decision making seems quaint. Important choices require information from all perspectives, and organizations shut out those with knowledge of the details at their peril. The best decision makers search out diverse ideas before choosing a direction. Continue reading

Relational DB Pros: The Times They Are A-Changin’

Recently I read a thoughtful post DBQuestion
at the PASS Business Analytics Conference site discussing how different the world is now for database professionals. Author Chris Webb focuses on the data science side in this post. His analysis made me think of the challenges and opportunities “big data” serves up to relational database designers.

To me these challenges are fundamental. Big Data and NoSQL bring lots of what we know about data elements, inherent data design, and data management into question. I think considering these elements closely leads to a sensible to-do list for relational database professionals. Continue reading

What Driving Dogs Tell Us About Learning

Recently the BBC posted this video. On first view it is just funny, but watching those dogs learn to drive really reminded me of personal experiences with IT teams making big learning transitions. To represent those real situations let’s consider a fictional team of SQL developers facing the daunting task of deploying a functional Hadoop-based analytics prototype in two months. The video parallels their critical learning success factors: (1) set audacious goals, (2) learn bit by bit, and (3) know your limits.

Continue reading