Today I’d like to introduce Barbara Raney, Power BI Architect at Slalom Consulting and owner/author of GirlsWithPowerTools.com! We had a wonderful discussion together a few evenings ago, and she had some great stories to tell. Read on to learn more!
Give a brief rundown of your career so far - where you've worked and/or what kind of job roles you've served in.
I started off at Arthur Anderson as part of their Audit team, where we referred to ourselves as “the Androids” because people thought of us as merciless robots! Next I spent seven years working within Accounting & Budgeting at Toyota's National headquarters in Torrance CA. Toyota was a mainframe shop at the time, so in order to get a report sorted we had to run queries against a print job to get a text version of the data. We had a rudimentary SAS querying tool to then query against that text version of the print job. When Excel came out with automatic subtotaling it was an absolute revolution for us!
I left Toyota start at Getty Images in Seattle, where I spent four years as a Budget Director. The development team at Getty was putting in a brand new system, so I had to learn SELECT statements and how to query cubes if I was ever going to be able to validate what they were doing.
My last ten years have with Slalom Consulting, doing all manner of work related to Excel and most recently with the Power BI Tools. I’ve never been a DBA, but rather a “Power Front-End User”.
What drew you to working with SQL Server?
Sheer necessity! I was working at Getty Images as a budget director and my analyst quit, so I just had to pull up my sleeves and dig in to make sure what we were doing was right. I became an “Accidental Analyst” instead of an “Accidental DBA”, and I’m eagerly awaiting the day when all the Power BI Tools speak to each other. Nirvana will be when we can combine Power Query, DAX, and Dashboards into one cohesive production solution!
I’ve loved working with DAX for the last four years, but now it’s taking a back seat to Power Query. The biggest problem I’ve had with modeling data in Power Pivot is that most data sources I work with ARE NOT SQL Server! Usually it’s some data that needs to be cleaned up before it can be useful, and now it’s Power Query to the rescue (cue the halleluiah chorus)!
What's your current favorite data product to work on?
Power Query by far!
What's your current least-favorite data product to work on?
Essbase it’s OK for data retrieval, but does not always play nicely with others. Basically it’s only good for retrieval, because there’s no way to connect to it otherwise – not via ODBC even! With data in Essbase, “None shall pass”. This makes me so frustrated, because I firmly believe that data should never be locked in a box!
What problem or error do you love to solve?
This sounds like a cliché, but "unsolvable ones". The Power Tools have allowed me to solve a bunch of them. I just love it when people say "you can't do that!" and I get to prove them wrong. A favorite quote of mine (which is attributed to many people because it’s so good): “Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way of those that are already doing it.”
What problem or error do you hate having to deal with?
It’s one of the original errors I encountered in Power Pivot and still see from time to time today: “Object reference is not set to an instance of the object” It tells you NOTHING! I saw this error recently in something I was beta testing and felt physical pain when it popped up.
I also grind my teeth when I see the "End of input has been reached…” error in Power Pivot. I’ve asked if error could just say "Or you may have forgotten a parentheses" because that's why you see that error 90% of the time!
What music do you listen to when you want to concentrate?
Classical, Swing or Jazz –it must be music without lyrics. If there are lyrics in the music, my brain says “SQUIRREL!” and I lose my train of thought.
What office sounds are most distracting for you?
Laughter! I MUST know what they are laughing about.
What is your favorite quick & dirty SQL hack (to just get the job done)?
Common Table Expressions (CTEs) – I love them! When certain varieties of temp tables aren't allowed in Power Pivot queries, CTE's come to my rescue. I’ve even broken the character barrier in Power Pivot with them and lived to tell about it. Of course nowadays I could probably do the same work in four easy Power Query queries, but CTE’s sure helped me before Power Query!
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Restaurant owner - oh, yeah, I already do that with my husband (Raney Brothers BBQ is our food truck) - Shameless plug!
What profession would you not like to do?
Project Management. DO NOT MAKE ME DO PMO. I hate it! I'm not that organized! It’s the cruelest torture for me – scrum, waterfall, agile, oh my!
If you won the lottery today, what would you like your colleagues to remember most about you?
She loved to teach - all knowledge is to be shared!
I haven’t been able to be involved in PASS chapter, but my Slalom team hosts a quarterly public Microsoft BI Stack forum. Our forum focuses on what's cool & what's possible with Power BI, and caters to small to medium-large clients that could be really empowered with these tools. We’ve hosted nine events so far and plan to keep hosting them. We hold a one hour training session on tool basics before the hands-on portion starts, then host two spotlight sessions afterward to focus on a project case study. We gather SharePoint people, server people, SQL people, and business people together to talk about how they're solving their problems, from small to elaborate.
If you won the lottery today, what would you do?
If I win the lottery, you will find me on a boat going around the world to meet new people and see new things. My husband and I already plan to do that for our retirement, so we’d just get an early start on our world tour.
If you could give your newly-graduated-self one piece of advice about your career, what would it be?
Find what you love about any job you have, and you will always love your job! For example, if you’re on a brutal three week consulting engagement, finding one thing you like will fix your attitude and might even lead to a better outcome!
Once I started focusing on the positives of today, I enjoyed all aspects of my life so much more.
That concludes my interview with the amazing Barbara Raney! I hope you enjoyed meeting her as much as I did, and be sure to check out GirlsWithPowerTools.com!