What’s been going on?

For me to fully explain what I’ve been up to, I have to go back 3+ years to the fall of 2012.  Back then, I had been working a few level under the CFO at a large real estate conglomerate. I had successfully developed many data marts/model, custom ETLs, trained/managed, etc.   I proposed a predictive analytics project that would correlate economic indicators and real estate.  I basically got laughed out of the CFO’s office because he felt the project was of no value.  I knew at that precise moment, that there was nothing more for me to learn at that company and I needed to start looking for another job.

So, I purposely focused on volunteer opportunities that would allow me transition from Microsoft SQL Server/Business Intelligence to a more diverse skillset that included Analytics, Data Mining, Big Data and Predictive Analytics.  While I continued on with my current job and running the NJ SQL Server User Group, I added running the PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter, helping with the PASS Business Analytics Conference content, presenting on data career topics, learning Microsoft Power BI and even was the technical reviewer on a Power BI book. Early in 2014, I was nominated for a Microsoft SQL MVP, but yet again my efforts didn’t mark the mark for an MVP.  Looking back, I took it very hard and within 2 months, I resigned all my volunteer positions.

I also had begun to read a lot of career books and anything I could get my hands on that included the future of data careers.  Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There grabbed my attention. I began to realize that I had been focusing on being a top notch Microsoft SQL Server professional for many years and maybe, just maybe I needed a different approach.  I worked with a career coach who helped me strip down my career aspirations to 3 simple things:

#1: I need to work in a data role alongside really smart and geeky people.

#2: I love to work with heaps of raw data, refine/model for hours to deliver insights.

#3: I want to use my technical expertise, passion for data help organizations operate in more data driven ways.

In the spring of 2014, I was ready for my job search and announced to the people in my local network.  A previous co-worker and friend informed me that a new data management position in a data analytics/reporting area was about to be posted.  So as luck would have it, I entered the interview process and was hired in May, 2014.

The first full year of the new job was very unstructured, yet full of a wide range of learning opportunities that I hadn’t been exposed to.  I was engulfed in the learning of a new industry (Animal Pharma), was part of team that worked on the data integration/reporting of a new SaleForce.com launch, and then went on to assist with the downstream integration from the newly launched ERP (SAP).  I learned more in that first year than I had in the previous 5 years.  I’ve recently been part of many data strategy and visualization vendors.  For one of our initiatives, we chose Tableau Online to help deliver business value in a more agile manner.  Lately, I’ve become the accidental Tableau Administrator in addition my other data integration and liaison roles.  Life is Good!

Successful Data Insights using Less than Modern Technologies

I had the opportunity to attend a local AWC meeting that brought women and technology together for a night of networking, learning and spirits!  And with a topic like “Data in the Environment: GIS Applications for Source Water Protection”, I couldn’t pass it up!

The Speaker had responsibilities for providing decision making tools used for New Jersey source water protection and open space acquisition for the Water Supply Authority.  She provided an introduction to Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies and case studies that help in the decision making process for open space acquisition.  Her intensity for this topic and her 15 year dedication for this career was quite noticeable. As she expressed the importance of protecting source water, I couldn’t help but look down and reflect on what it took to put the simple glass of water in front of me on the table.

As the case studies ensued, we learned about the different layers that constructed the GIS visualizations of specific land parcels which supported decision making.  The layers included data attributes related to geography, roads, source water type, contaminates, owners and many other topic areas.  The attributes and their specific concentration was then related to colors in the mapping tool.

All of this leads up to the moment that any data professional/technologist waits for:  Where did the data come from, How is the data procured and What Technology is used.  So as the presenter “Pulled back the curtain”, I sheepishly tried to contain my snarky reaction and to avoid eye contact with my fellow Microsoft SQL Server pals at the table.  A 2000’s version Microsoft Access was used to store data and the inclusion of attributes was signifies by the word ‘IN’.   I took a long deep breath and went on to ask “So how long does it take to create the visualization for a parcel of land”?  The response was “About one day” and another attendee chimed in with a “That’s not bad”!  I squirm uncomfortably in my chair and attempt to come up with an elaborate reason for exiting the meeting.

Another attendee asks how often the data is refreshed and how it’s aligned with the geospatial shape files and I decide to hang in there.  The presenter indicated that some data is refreshed every 5 years.  I think I have now discovered one of the slowest moving industries ever.  Well at least I discovered an industry that had a transaction frequency slower that Real Estate (my current industry).  I start to ask a question about national open data initiatives for sharing water source and I’m abruptly censored by a friend who indicates “Melissa, your data geek is showing”!

I left this meeting with more questions than answers, but maybe that’s the point of getting out and learning about how others do their job!  I’d love to hear your feedback on the following questions:


How many businesses are still using Access?  Especially government-like organizations?

How many still think Access is adequate?

Should the successful use of old technology be applauded or shamed?

How many important decisions are being made by using antiquated technology?

How can we use this opportunity to educate and consult?

If funding for modern tools like Microsoft Power BI or Tableau were available, would these business upgrade?


Interesting GIS/MAP Resources:
NJ DEP GID: www.state.nj.us/dep/gis/
Web Soil Survey | NRCS – USDA:  www.nrcs.usda.gov/
EPA Mapper: www.epa.gov/emefdata/
Historical Aerials: www.Historicalaerials.com
Common Census Map Project: http://commoncensus.org/

PASS Board of Directors – Please vote by 9/30 at 12pm PT!!!

Please vote for the PASS Board of Directors by 9/30 at 12pm PT

Voting is now open in the PASS Board of Directors 2013 elections. Three seats are up for election for the 2014-2015 term, including two regional seats: one representing EMEA and one representing the US/Canada; the third seat is an open seat with no regional restrictions. Ballots were sent to all PASS members on 9/26 with subject line “PASS Board of Directors 2013 Elections: Your Ballot” (members as of 6/13/13).

Voting closes on 9/30 at Noon Pacific Time. Happy Voting!

More details are available from http://www.sqlpass.org/Elections.aspx

Can women in tech have it all? (Repost from SkillCrush.com)

I’m preparing a post with my response to the Sheryl Sandburg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  But, I just remembered that I already started this conversation last year on SkillCrush.com.


Business Analytics: The Next Generation

When I was growing up in the ‘70s, I desperately wanted my own rotary-style desk phone (preferably in pink) so I could call my best friend next door. Money was tight, and I was too lazy to walk over every time I wanted to chat. So I decided to raid my father’s workshop and make a pulley system out of wood and twine between our bedroom windows to pass notes attached to clothes pins. Obviously, this solution didn’t scale!

Fast forward to today, and the variety of technologies used to harness data – and the sheer volume of data – has exploded. Just a few years back, there was minimal demand for advanced business analytics to derive more business value from data, but with current trends, such analytics are imperative.

So as a data professional, what are you doing to adapt to the fast-changing world of data, which shows no sign of slowing down? As part of my career plan, I will be attending the PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago next week. Here are my top 10 reasons why.

SQLDiva’s Top 10 Reasons for Attending the PASS BA Conference

  1. To experience the new “Business Analytics Frontier” – Immersing yourself in the technology and culture of anything new is a sure-fire way to propel yourself to the next level.
  2. To be the First Kid on the Block – Many of the most innovative discussions occur between the first people who embark on a new technology path.
  3. To welcome new speakers into the PASS family – This conference will include bestselling author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics Steven Levitt and others from academia and the data science domains. The exposure to others outside your own experiences is critical for career growth.
  4. To gather real-world use cases and stories – Technology and tools can be somewhat dull, but when you add some great business use cases and stories, the technology comes alive and the creation process is kick-started.
  5. To grow with PASS – Being involved in PASS has been pivotal to my career and personal growth, and I know PASS can help me continue to grow.
  6. To experience Chicago – I’m excited to explore a new city and dive into Chicago-style deep-dish pizza!
  7. To see old friends and make new ones – When you meet someone who has the same interests and goals as you do, there is a deep bond created that can span years. Many of my more memorable moments have included PASS Friends.
  8. To expand my network – Ever search for days to find the solution to an issue? What if you knew someone you could ask who already had the answer or who knew someone else who did? This and future career opportunities are key reasons for networking. If you are looking for more business analytics professionals to add to your network, this is the place to find them.
  9. To find inspiration for the future – As I leave any PASS conference, I’m filled with a wealth of new knowledge and a sense of urgency to try out new techniques and play with new tools. Even during my most stressful days at work, I daydream back to the inspirational moments at these events.
  10. Why Not?! – I can’t think of a better way to spend a few days than connecting, sharing, and learning with fellow professionals as passionate about data as I am. I hope I see you there!

Fall 2012 – NYC SQL / BIG Data Events

9/28: RedGate SQL in the City

10/23-10/25: http://strataconf.com/stratany2012?intcmp=il-strata-stny12-st12sc-widget

10/22-10/25: TDWI New York Seminar

NYC/CT/NJ – SQL / NOSQL/ BIG Data / Cloud / Sharepoint User Groups

The number of User Groups and Meetups has grown significantly over the last few years. As a general rule, please refer to Peter Laudati’s (Microsoft Developer Evangelist’s) blog for local Microsoft User Groups. For Microsoft SQL Server User Groups, please refer to the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS)
Peter’s Blog: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/peterlau/
PASS Local Chaptershttp://www.sqlpass.org/PASSChapters/LocalChapters.aspx

BIG Data / Business Intelligence

MS Business Intelligence UG of NYC
New Jersey Hadoop Meetup
New Jersey Teradata User Group
New York Business Intelligence Meetup
NYC Cassandra User Group
NYC Data Business Meetup
NYC Hadoop Meetup
NYC HBase Meetup
NYC MongoDB Meetup
NYC MySQL Meetup
NYC Predictive Analytics Meetup


NJ Windows Azure User Group  
NYC Windows Azure User Group
New York Cloud 2.0 Meetup

Data Management/MetaData


MS SQL Server

Central NJ SQL Server User Group
Fairfield/Westchester SQL Server Group
Jersey Shore SQL Meetup   
New London, CT SQL User Group
NJ SQL Server Users Group
NY SQL Server User Group
Philly SQL Server User Group  


Central NJ SharePoint User Group
NJ SPUDD Meetup (SharePoint Users, Designers & Developers)
Princeton Area SharePoint User Group
NYC SharePoint User Group

The “OK Plateau”: Oh I am so there…

Have you ever gotten really good at something and grazed at the mountain top?  While it’s OK to recognize your own accomplishments, it’s not good to linger too long at the top of one particular mountain.  Some of the reasons why people graze (sounds gentler than become complacent) are related to work-family balance, medical issues, general stress or perhaps it just feels right at the time.

As a young working mother, my personal focus was on providing for my family financially, developing a career and raising our daughters so that they would be prepared for the world.  Once the first two were satisfied and remained in a state of maintenance, I was freed up to assure my daughters were well supported in their teen years.  At that time, I also got involved in technical communities at a local and nationally while developing organizational and leadership skills.  So, while I was moving forward professionally I was doing so cautiously with the emergency brake on.

I tried numerous tactics to lift the emergency brake which includes several areas of self-study to propel myself career wise.  But, it seems that even my best plans were foiled by self-sabotage and my great ability to lean towards other distractions (life happens).  I took lots of time and thought deeply about my passions and the parts of my job that I enjoy.  It all came down to this: I LOVE Data, Connecting Data and business’ and connecting People via Technical Communities.

I was excited that I had come to the conclusion of some plausible career paths. But, It appeared that my established strategies of writing goals, envisioning, attacking them with brute force and/or tying them to other people or commitments no longer worked.  I obviously needed a new set of tools to reach my full potential.  I reached out to friends and mentors for feedback and later decided that I needed a dynamic coach.

In my journey of finding a new set of tools to remove the brakes from my “OK Plateau”, I came across the following articles/videos/quotes that resonated with me.  I’m sharing these resources in the hopes that I help someone else or I receive some feedback that will propel me.

Break Through Your “OK Plateau” By Studying Yourself Failing ~ Joshua Foer

How to Re-Program Your Subconscious Mind to Get What You Want ~ Marie Forleo

Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders (TedWomen Dec 2010)

To Succeed, Forget Self-Esteem

#IgniteNYC: When Failing Is Cool http://nyconvergence.com/2012/09/ignitenyc-when-failing-is-cool-ignitenyc.html#prclt-R2ymbxU4

 When you become brave enough to be silent, the answers you seek will finally reveal themselves ~cherylrichardson.com

Don’t forget to create your own Personal Board of Directors (PBOD)

If you have this gut sucking gurgling urge to do something new that will shake your professional world at its core, you better be prepared.  Building a business, kicking off an entrepreneurial venture and changing career directions is not for the faint of heart!

Yes, of course there are some that appear to have some revolutionary idea and just appear to ‘rock it’ with minimal effort.

But, if you speak with these people and pull back the virtual ‘Wizard of Oz’ curtain, you’ll find that they are just like you, only they have employed a few more basic tools.

One of the things that people often omit from their bag of tools is a carefully selected personal board of directors (PBOD).  A board of directors is simply a diverse group of individuals that can be called upon to support your emotional and business needs.  Have you ever had a great product idea, started to act on it, got months into it and found yourself stressed and doubting your initial vision?  Well, this most likely isn’t a moment to pick up the phone and call your mother!!

I recently approached one of my exercise instructors that I have known for years.  She had recently announced she was leaving her current job at a local exercise franchise to start her own local franchise.  I congratulated her and told her how proud and excited I was of her for having the passion and confidence to start a business of her own.  I then asked her if she had familiarized herself with the local women owned business associations to get support.  She hadn’t and the conversation that followed wasn’t uplifting.  What was evident was that she had a deep passion and commitment level for the franchise that she had already invested 5+ years into.  What she wasn’t prepared for was the hostile response to this proposal at her current job and from owners of franchises in the surrounding areas.  She hadn’t defined a strong personal board of directors and as a result she felt alone, abandoned and even had thoughts of leaving the field all together.

I’m sure we all can relate to this situation and see it as pattern that may have happened in our own lives.  In an effort to create my own personal board of directors (in case I decide to do something really BIG), here’s my attempt at defining the cast of characters that will be at my table.

Personal Board of Directors Cast of Characters:

The World Traveler – She’s seen it all and her tolerance for stress in much higher than yours.

The Sage – The women that has known you from the beginning of time and knows when you are in a funk.  She knows when you aren’t following your heart.

“Cocktails”  – She’s the one who will open her home to you at a moment’s notice, explains the ‘maid’ hasn’t come this week, you don’t care and within minutes your babbling over a cocktail and the world is balanced again!

Energizer (think Bunny) – Have you ever met someone that instantly changes the energy level in the room and suddenly you feel energized?  You may want this person for your mentor.

The Headliner – She’s done it all in her field and ‘appears’ to be the most polished person in the room.  But, when you get to know her you uncover that she’s worked as hard as you have to.

Snarky (not Snooky) – She doesn’t hold ANYTHING back and is a HUGE walking OPINION on a stick.  Carefully plan time with this person and make sure to meet up with “Cocktails” or Energizer soon after.

Note: The cast has not been listed in any particular order.  I also have no plans of having them all sit with me at a table.  This would be disastrous and the table might implode!!

Note: Reposted from http://wp.me/p1TQAS-k on 6/28/12.

If you like to do the “Time Warp”, you just might like Temporal Data

Some noted Temporal Data Resources:








Temporal Information explained by (Mateo) temporal information retrieval