Every year, the Wisconsin SQL Server user groups combine forces to host a SQL Saturday in Madison. It’s always a great day to learn things, but it’s also fun to have presenters come from all over the U.S. This year, Meagan Longoria (blog | twitter | linkedin) – who I knew from Twitter – came to our SQL Saturday from Kansas City, MO. She and I share a love of SQL Server, good beer, and dogs. I sent her to my favorite WI brewery, New Glarus Brewing, for a road trip on Friday, and I hear she enjoyed it. She’s my next pick for my 5 Questions series!
Meagan, what is your job title, and what do you do every day (or week)?
I am a Senior Solutions Consultant with BlueGranite. I lead and participate in projects to design, build, and implement analytics solutions. The details change based upon the client’s needs and the project scope. In the last year, I’ve built Power Pivot models with Excel and Power View reports to analyze sales for a manufacturing company, used Tableau to pull data from Hadoop for automated sales and marketing reporting for car dealerships, and created a data warehouse and tabular model to facilitate a self-service BI program for a packaged goods distribution company. A typical week includes the weekly company meeting, project management and communication of status with clients and team members, solution design/architecture for the current development iteration, development, and testing.
You do a lot of presentations on Microsoft BI. What is the best Microsoft BI product out there right now?
There is a lot going on in MSBI right now, which makes it hard to choose just one product. I think Azure Machine Learning is exciting because it makes predictive analytics accessible to many organizations for whom it had previously been out of reach. All kinds of organizations and industries have opportunities to use predictive models to improve profitability or effectiveness of operations. Azure ML allows you to import training data, build and train a predictive model, and deploy the model all from a web browser. You still need to understand your data and business goals, prep your data, and validate your findings to get good results. But you don’t have to keep a statistician on hand to create common predictive models, and you only pay for what you use in Azure ML. I want people to make good, data-informed decisions, and advanced analytics solutions using Azure ML can provide a great step toward that goal.
I’m also a big fan of Biml (Business Intelligence Markup Language). It’s not a Microsoft product, but it’s a third-party product/language made by Varigence that greatly enhances SSIS development (it also supports database and SSAS objects, but SSIS is the sweet spot). BimlScript allows you to combine XML and C# to speed up SSIS development, free yourself from the drag-and-drop SSDT interface, and help enforce consistent design patterns. The resulting SSIS artifacts are no different than if I had created them individually by hand in SSDT, so there is no need to install anything on your SSIS server to run the resulting packages. It’s a life/sanity saver when you have lots of tedious repetitive SSIS work or when you work a project with team members that aren’t familiar with your design patterns.
I think having public speaking skills and experiences is one of the best things you can do for your career. What got you started, and what have you learned from it?
I volunteered to help organize Kansas City SQL Saturday in 2012 after meeting Bill Graziano at SQL Rally Dallas. I noticed that no one had submitted any talks about Reporting Services or data viz. The night that the call for speakers was set to close, I wrote and submitted an abstract on data viz best practices in SSRS. I sent an email to the other organizers to say that I had noticed a gap in the topics and thought I would give it a try but that I was still happy to help organize even if they didn’t pick my session. They did end up picking my session, and I found that I enjoyed presenting. From that point on, I was hooked. I have presented at about 30 conferences and user groups since then.
The biggest thing I have learned from public speaking it is to shape my content and present for my audience, not at them. I speak about topics that I find interesting and exciting, but I won’t be an effective presenter if I just try to include all the cool things I’ve learned. I have to rearrange and update content to tell an effective story and give the audience enough information to get interested, get the major points, and then know where to go to learn more. This may mean leaving out some ancillary information that I think is interesting because it distracts from the focus of my presentation.
How many SQL Saturdays have you organized? What have you learned from that experience?
I just finished organizing my fourth SQL Saturday. My inner perfectionist cringes a little every year because I can never make everything perfect. But I’ve learned that most of the things we miss don’t matter to anyone else. We will always review how things went and solicit feedback to make the next year better. Once all the major components are in place, I consider the event a success if the speakers and attendees walk away feeling like we took good care of them, they had an enjoyable time, and they met new and interesting people. As long as nothing horrible happens, people are fairly forgiving of small issues.
We both love dogs! Tell me a little bit about your adorable office mate.
Buster is my 5-year-old English bulldog. He keeps me company in my office while I work from home. He mostly sleeps while I work, but occasionally he decides he should participate in some of my conference calls. He’s so lovable and easy going. It’s nearly impossible to look at his face and remain stressed or unhappy. And he makes sure I get up and take a break for lunch, mostly so I can take him for a walk. He seems to be unaware that he is a short, 60-pound drool machine, which gets him into ridiculous situations. He is constantly doing adorable things and therefore constantly tolerating me taking pictures of him being adorable. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll see the occasional photo, but I try to show some restraint and only tweet a small fraction of my pictures of life with a bulldog.