In my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many smart, talented, caring, and wonderful people. In a blogging slump, I casually tweeted that perhaps I could start interviewing some of those people, and Josh Fennessy replied that he’d had the same thought recently. We hatched a plan to interview each other and blog it!

Josh (website| twitter | linkedin)  is a friend who lives across Lake Michigan. He’s a Solution Architect at Blue Granite, president of the West MI SQL Server User Group, speaker, and dad. I asked him a few questions about work and life recently!

Josh, you’ve moved away from straight-up SQL Server BI in the last year or so. Why the change? What do you love about the new stuff you’re doing?

Great question! For the last couple of years or so, I’ve been pretty focused in the Hadoop space. It’s been a fun experience, so far. I really love how fast the technology moves in the open source community. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with changes and new projects. It’s really interesting to watch it all happen.

From a technology space, I really enjoy working with clients that are looking to get more out of their information. I like to use the term ‘dark data’, which I didn’t make up by the way, to describe the kind of analysis that Hadoop is capable of. Dark data can be describe as data that you own in your organization, but aren’t using to make decisions. Things like documents, email, call center transcriptions. These types of information are all over the place, but it’s often difficult to pull any real meaning out of them. Hadoop gives me a platform to work on that opens up possibilities with this data.

I also like working at the Hadoop scale. I’ve always had a fascination with distributed systems, Hadoop lets me play with technology that I’ve considered a hobby (and get paid for it!).

Let’s talk about working from home. You’ve done it successfully – what are your secrets?

Oh man, this is one of things I really love about my job. Working from home really is great, except when it isn’t. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s lonely. But there are some really easy tips that I use to make sure that things are running smoothly.

1.) Get dressed for work. Now, I don’t wear a shirt and tie everyday, but I do get ready in the morning. Contrary to popular belief, I wear pants every day…never sweat pants. Always nice jeans or slacks. T-shirts are ok, but nothing ratty. I have to feel like I’m in working mode, or it just doesn’t happen.

2.). Working hours. I don’t mean that I only work between 8 and 5, but generally, during the day, I’m working. Sometimes I take some time off in the afternoon, and work in the late evening, but I try to not make it a habit. When I start breaking this schedule, I notice my productivity really suffers. It’s really important for my own personal schedule to separate work time and personal time.

3.) Working space. This one is really important. If you are working at home full time, you need to have an office space. It needs to be a room, or portion of a room that isn’t used for anything else. When I first started working from home 7 years ago, I thought I would be working on the couch, in bed, all of the comfy spots at home. That just doesn’t work. Working from home is a distraction enough just by itself, don’t add to it by working in a common area.

4.). Comfort. This one is really subjective. For me, I’m most comfortable in darker rooms, with natural light. When I moved into our new house last October, I painted my office a dark grey, with white trim. It looks great, and helps me focus.

Do you clearly remember the first time you did something cool with technology and thought, “This is what I want to do for a living!”?

I do! When I was 6 years old we moved to a new school district. I was in 2nd grade. My old school had a really good advanced program, but the new one didn’t. Therefore, it ended up that during reading, math, and science time in class, I was excused for self study in the computer lab.

I knew then that I wanted to work with computers. I wrote a couple of small programs that didn’t do much of anything interesting. I didn’t have a computer at home, but I would use my dad’s when I went with him to his office on the weekends. I was always entranced with it.

When I was in college, I started in the business program, and hated it. I quickly switched to Information Systems and fell in love with it. I’ve been hooked on technology all my life, but finally I had found a place where I could apply my passion to becoming an adult.

Everyone loves (or should!) PASS Summit. But what other great conferences are out there?

Well, there are too many to list! But, if we stay focused on data conferences, there are a couple that stand out. I attended Strata+Hadoop World this past February and it was really great. It, of course, is focused on Hadoop and Advanced Analytics, but it really had a lot of business use cases. I liked the strategic approach of the conference. I think the deep technical sessions are great too, but seeing how to apply the technology really helped me to understand how to apply it to my clients needs.

You’ll also be able to find me this year at NoSQLNow! this August in San Jose. This is my first time speaking at a Dataversity event and I’m really excited. This is a vendor neutral conference, and I’m really looking forward to learning about new technologies, and how to apply them to real work scenarios. I’ll be presenting a half-day workshop covering real world use cases for Hadoop and SQL working together in modern data warehouse implementations.

PASS Summit will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m so honored to be selected to speak again this year, and really happy that I’ll be attending! I can’t wait to see everyone again.

If you weren’t in technology, what completely different career would you choose, regardless of schooling required or salary earned?

Lumberjack. Seriously. Chainsaws, flannel, beards…who could ask for more? Ok, maybe that’s too much work.

Oh I know, you know those guys that drive RVs across then country to deliver them to dealerships? I’ll be one of those. Camping, driving, sightseeing, and getting paid. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY APPLICATION!!!


Josh, thanks for taking the time to update me on what you’ve been doing in the technology world, and sharing some work-from-home secrets. I’ll see you at PASS Summit, if not before. And if I hear of any camper-delivery job openings, I’ll let you know!