It’s unbelievable how often I get asked about where to begin with a career in Business Intelligence (BI). So, here’s my thoughts on it. If anyone has additional thoughts I’d love to hear them in the comments.
First, what is it about BI that appeals to you? I think that’s really important to know yourself well enough to feel confident whether or not this it’s a good fit for you personally. The following strikes me as important attributes:
Notice that it’s really only the last bullet where I mention “technical stuff.” In BI technical skills are very important, but the soft skills are easily just as important. How technical you want to go is really up to you. Wayne Eckerson calls us Purple People and I think it’s true. In the world of BI we vary from predominantly business users to quasi-technical folks to extremely skilled technical IT people.
I believe the entry point to doing BI work is lower (i.e., easier) than many other IT jobs out there. The types of jobs I’ve seen most often as an entry point to BI are:
Figuring out if you want to focus on doing BI work as a business user (i.e., those analysts who do Power Pivot models and reporting are doing Self-Service BI) or evolve your skills to become a Corporate BI developer job is a decision you might find yourself considering at some point. If you do decide to pursue a BI developer job, you’ll also want to give some thought to specializing or not.
Depth vs. breadth is a constant challenge for me personally – both are important. Some people feel more comfortable specializing and therefore having much deeper knowledge in their area. Sub-specialties for BI professionals could include:
Whatever you choose, if you don’t have a broad background or a grasp of the big picture, please try to start with the basics. Understand what a good data model is, how data warehousing works, what all the components are. You might read that data scientists are the hot new thing, or that big data is catching on, but I can’t imagine that starting with these more advanced niches would work for very many people (unless you’re a statistician).
I have focused on Microsoft BI for the last several years. Before that I did some work with Cognos, a bit of WebFocus, and a sprinkle of Hyperion and a couple others I don’t even remember anymore. There’s so much to continually learn with the Microsoft BI platform that I am personally very happy with focusing on the Microsoft platform.
You’ll want to give some consideration to platform choice, especially if you’re starting an endeavor to ramp up skills. For a lot of people I think this might happen just due to what you are exposed to in the workplace and that’s ok (that’s how it happened for me). You might refer to the Gartner Magic Quadrant to get some familiarity with various BI software vendors. The leaders in the top right will generally have more market share, thus more jobs available.
Here’s some thoughts regarding ramping up your skills. These are not ordered in any particular way. Which items make sense for you depends very much on your entry point and your particular focus.
What did I forget to mention? Have other suggestions? Please leave me a comment…
Good luck with your decision!