My Journey to Data Science – Part 2 of 3

My Career Journey Over the Last 20+ Years

October 26, 2016

 

Jamey Johnston (@STATCowboy)

 

 

This is Part 2 of a 3-part Blog series on my Career Journey the Last 20+ years into my current role as a Data Scientist. Part 1 can be found here!

DBA

 

I had been working for LDEQ for three years now and was one year removed from college when a good friend called. He was working as a consultant for Oracle Corporation in Houston. Oracle had signed a big contract with a client in Houston and needed DBAs on the project. He told me to send my resume so I could join him which I did! Two weeks later I was a Senior Consultant with Oracle Corporation working and living in Houston. It was a very exciting time of my life those three years. I had one of the best DBA mentors you could have, Clement C., teaching me about Oracle and technology and was getting to travel to some cool places in the US. Most importantly, though, I found the love of my life soon after moving to Houston, my wife, Melanie!

Oracle was a great 3 years for me and I learned so much that truly set the stage for the next 10 years or so of my life as a DBA. I enjoyed Oracle but after 3 years of travelling it was time to stop traveling and get a local job in Houston so I could spend more time with my wife and dogs! My wife will tell you I only stopped traveling for the dogs (not true though)!

This little-known company at the time called Enron (Ha Ha!) was hiring and I got hired on there! It was June of 2001 and Enron couldn’t be flying any higher (at least in their make-believe world!). We were one of the 10 largest companies (at least on invisible paper) in the world and the talent coming to work there was second to none. Over the next year and half I would learn a great deal about business as well as management as I was soon promoted to manage one of the core DBA teams at Enron. Enron went bankrupt and I moved to work for UBS when they bought the North American trading division of Enron.

After a brief stent at UBS they decided to get out of Houston and I went to work for a small consulting firm, Methods Technology Solutions, out of Baton Rouge. I did some travelling again and really had a lot of freedom to learn some new things and work on a variety of database projects from very small projects to bigger ones. I worked for Methods for 4 years, the last year and half consulting at a large independent Oil and Gas company. The Oil and Gas company offered me a full-time employment job and I have been there now for over 12 years.

The first 7 years at the O&G company I was a DBA team member working on admin, upgrades and a lot of tuning. It was fun! I had some time to write a little code, too! I created an end-user web dashboard for the app owners to see what was happening in the DB with their systems in C# ASP.NET. I created a multi-threaded application in C# to rapidly put together archived emails in to a bundle and create audit trails in XML, CSV, TXT and DB tables. However, I mostly did the typical enterprise DBA tasks.

 

Tuning SQL to Enhancing Business Processes and Relationships

 

I really enjoyed tuning database systems. I was a master of 10046 traces in Oracle and SQL Profiler and Extended Events in SQL Server and was able to tune a great deal of our applications. The funny thing about tuning databases when you are a DBA is you tend to look for that magic parameter, trace flag, bad SQL, etc. and often forget about the application and business processes behind what you are trying to optimize. More importantly, you often forget about the business people using those applications and how that data is used to add business value.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not shy! I love people and I love engaging with people. This led me to have a different approach to tuning. When I would get a call that something was slow I would find the business person who was having an issue, schedule an hour of their time in their office, have them reproduce the issue in the system while I watch both what they were doing in the application and also what was happening in the database. It was funny to see their face when the “DBA” would show up in their office. It was like an endangered species had left their native habitat and ended up in their office. Many would even tell me I have never seen a DBA before! This approach created a special relationship that allowed me to start understanding the business processes behind my company and fostering relationships to do more than just “tune database systems”.

I was put on a special project to implement a new business system and was actually placed for a year within the business team to assist with implementing the application. The application is a critical one for O&G companies and so I was dedicated to just working on that project and application. For the first time in almost 15 years I wasn’t a DBA! I wasn’t on-call (I didn’t know what to do with my new-found freedom). I didn’t have to do database upgrades. It was so weird to actually be a “customer” of the DBA team! It certainly gave me insight into how it felt to be on the other side of the table. I absolutely loved the project. I spent so much time understanding all the various data pieces and how they would flow into the new system (we had several different DBs that would need to integrate into this new system) and more importantly how that data truly worked for this particular part of the business. I really loved data! I realized then that I didn’t really want to be a DBA full-time (still like the part-time idea just to keep current but not very practical) but I wanted to work with data. I wanted to build datasets and analyze them. I wanted to find ways to better connect them together. I wasn’t quite on the statistics track yet but definitely the data and business side of Data Science.

 

DBA to BI

 

As I began to understand the applications and business processes behind using the databases I supported, I also became aware of how so many of the systems were connected to one another either by ETL, database links, linked servers or virtually through various business processes. The connections of all the systems and more importantly, for me, the data led me on my next journey into BI.

I had become exposed to a tool called Spotfire while I was on the special project and learned how to use the tool and how people at work were using the tool. So, I began to work on connecting Spotfire directly and securely to the data sources and soon I was moved onto the BI team working on BI projects in Microsoft and Spotfire. I was a BI guy now!

 

Stayed tuned for Part 3 tomorrow – BI to Data Scientist!

 

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