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MicroStrategy | Nigel Pond – IT Consultant, Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA), MicroStrategy Certified Engineer (MCE)


NP: Recently discovered this old post that was marked as ‘private’.  It’s been a long time… nice to remember how motivated I was for this new career direction.  I look back on my MSTR days with much fondness.

MicroStrategy Bootcamp.

I’m one week into the 4.5 week intense training programme that all MicroStrategy technical staff attend and this is the first time I’ve had the energy to write about it.   Flying out to Warsaw, Poland and leaving my family behind was surreal up to the point where I got to the hotel and I finally realised it was happening for real.

Getting an opportunity to spend this amount of time immersing oneself in learning a subject is something that almost never happens in IT these days, especially during a recession.  It wasn’t until I was 30 that I really started to take my career seriously and I realised that I had to put in the effort to study and learn but this bootcamp is taking it to a whole new level.  I’m having to learn, all over again, how to stay focussed and study the mass of material we have to cover.

I have read that some people think that working for MicroStrategy is something of a cult but I don’t think that’s quite right.  What I see is that staff are evangelical about the products they’re selling.  Something else that you don’t often see in IT;where all the innovative software houses are gobbled up and smothered by the corporate behemoths (the likes of Google and Facebook excluded).  Because the MSTR suite of products are so good, yes I’m probably biased, and they’re becoming so widely used gives the impression of a cult but it’s no different to that of Google or Facebook.  It’s simply that people can’t understand why technical staff and business users alike get so excited about a piece of business software.  I guess that you have to see first hand how much these products improve the productivity of said techies and business users to really see why they like them so much.

In my last job I spent nearly three years designing a Data Warehouse  (DWH) from the ground up.  I wrote all the ETL (Extraction, Transformation & Load) software, designed the DWH schema and built a PHP/JavaScript frontend that enabled users to view graphs and download spreadsheets of the data.  At a point I found myself struggling to keep up with demand for new reports and charts – all this from a system that no-one was really interested in until they realised how useful it is to have access to an abundance of data.  Unable to hand-code fast enough to meet the demand I asked my colleagues for advice; one of those colleagues (thanks Roger!) said “oh you want something that can produce graphs and reports quickly and easily?  MicroStrategy can do all that.”

After spending a few minutes on the MSTR website I was humbled.  Originally very proud of my hand-coded efforts I was more than a little deflated by what they were producing.  This was my formal introduction to the world of BI.  After some digging around I found their free solution download, Reporting Suite 9, was available for Linux  (my ETL, DWH and PHP frontend was built on a Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform).

The first few weeks were a struggle.  Getting the software installed and configured correctly wasn’t particularly easy but then what enterprise level software is easy to install on Linux?  Thankfully I got the help I needed on the MicroStrategy user forum (https://resource.microstrategy.com/Forum/).  Although there aren’t thousands of users the ones they have exhibit the aforementioned passion for the products and helped me immensely.  The bundled documentation also helped.

Getting started with the Desktop application linked in to the ‘Intelligence Server’ component also took some time but once I’d done the Poject Design Essentials course I was able to create all the required components that gave flight to my reports and graphs.

I hadn’t really designed my DWH solution.  It was a much more seat-of-the-pants development process.  Once I started working with MSTR I found out that my DWH schema wasn’t that great.  What I had created wasn’t much more than a bunch of flat files containing masses of duplicate data.  If I’m kind to myself I would call it a completely denormalised schema that was focussed on query performance 😉  Anyway; I found that MSTR could cope with my unrelated tables elegantly and reports were easy to create.  Because I’d previously been focussed on using SQL I found it useful to be able to view the SQL MSTR was creating to aggregate my data.  It’s a fundamental transition of your thinking process but MSTR helps you along the way.

Getting back to the bootcamp training; I’ve not been this motivated in years!  This may have something to do with our jobs potentially being on the line if we don’t pass the exams (I’m generally an ‘away from’ motivated person so it probably helps!) but I’m also caught up in the interest surrounding the technology.  Just yesterday I had a conversation around the negativity surrounding the terms ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ but I’m happy with these labels.  If being passionate about technology is a bad thing then so be it 😉

Being in Poland for the training obviously means that most of the students are Polish.  But they are supplemented by a few of us foriegners, one Turk, one Frenchman, a South African, a Spaniard and me (a Brit) make up the rest of the recruits.  All are either highly educated or experienced (or both) and after getting to know a few of them I’m humbled.  Most are younger than me and are straight out of university.  One thing I hope they realise is that they’ve been given a fantastic opportunity – and I’m sure they do.

The training itself is at a hectic pace.  You really have to stay focussed or you’ll miss something important.  In the first four days we’ve covered over 800 pages of material.

Rather oddly, I think, we started with the Reporting Essentials class.  I think this was done to get people into the subject as gently as possible.  Starting with the Project Design Essentials may have introduced too many new concepts too quickly.  As I sit here in my hotel room I’m surrounded by my notes written on the walls (not directly but on Magic Whiteboard: http://www.magicwhiteboard.co.uk/).  At many points during the training the more experienced people in the class have pointed out how easy everything is to do in MSTR.  These BI experts have experience in both Cognos and Business Objects but expound the ease with which reports and graphs can be created using these tools.

We had our first exam on Friday morning and I’m pleased to say that I passed.  I’m proud to say that I’m now a certified MicroStrategy Project Designer (CPD). 😀