How I Got my Start at Pragmatic Works

October 4th of this month was my seven year anniversary as an employee of Pragmatic Works. Things have changed a lot over the past seven years. Working with the wonderful people at Pragmatic Works has been quite an amazing journey and incredible opportunity. With that in mind I thought that I should share my story of how I ended up working in the business intelligence field with the great team at Pragmatic Works.

The Beginning

In mid 2008 I was working my way through college loading trucks at UPS. I don’t mean the little trucks that deliver to your house but the big, honking 50+ foot trailers. I was an area supervisor and had been with UPS for six years. UPS was a tough job with little thanks or support from management and I was looking for any opportunity in another job or career. It was that bad.

One day my wife, Angela, and I were hanging out with some good friends of ours, Devin and Erin Knight. We were over at the Knight house enjoying some good company when Devin asked if I wanted to do SQL. Devin pulled out his laptop and fired up SQL Server Management Studio and showed me a few select statements. He explained the concept of a database to me and how the data was stored in tables but that we could write queries against the tables to retrieve the data.

The Ryan's hanging out with the Knight'sI was very intrigued because I’ve always enjoyed working with computers. My experience with computers up to this point was limited to designing web pages with Adobe Dreamweaver and building armies in Age of Empires but I always thought I’d enjoy working with computers. I just thought that web design and graphics would be the career I would choose since it allowed me to combine my love of art and computers into one job. Devin was just starting out in his career as a SQL Server developer but I knew he was enjoying it and since I was hating life as a minion of the UPS-machine I was definitely excited about this opportunity.

Devin explained to me how his brother, Brian Knight, was starting this training program where students would learn about SQL Server and SQL Server Reporting Services in hopes that we could then find work as a SQL Server developer. It was one of Brian’s ways of giving back to the community. The training would take place over a week or so.

Inside my head I was thinking, “Man, this sounds awesome! Anything other than UPS is a win in my book but this sounds amazing!” but I made sure to play it cool. “It sounds interesting,” I told Devin, slowly nodding my head.

Devin put me in touch with Brian, who I’d met a few times before as a friend of Devin, and we scheduled the training to begin after I finished my very early shift at UPS. The sunrise shift at UPS ended at about 9:00 AM so I would head home directly after my shift was over, clean up and drive out to Green Cove Springs, FL where the Pragmatic Works office was located. There I would begin learning as much as I could about SQL Server.

Learning Begins

image In those early days of Pragmatic Works the offices were very small, unpleasantly located in a small strip mall next to a hair salon and a dog groomer. The space we used was one small room that couldn’t have been much more than 500 square feet in size with a small closet and even smaller bathroom. Inside were just a few desks, a coffee maker, printer, modem and router and that was pretty much it.

My first day of training began in September 2008. I met Mike Davis who had only just begun working for Pragmatic Works the month before as a consultant. Brian and Mike began teaching me the very basics of working with SQL Server 2005. The first couple days were spent understanding select statements, joins and aggregations. Brian and Mike white-boarded out the concepts we were discussing and showed me examples on their computers using the Adventure Works sample database.

On the third day we moved onto SQL Server Reporting Services. Mike spent time explaining how we could use Reporting Services to visually display the data within SQL Server in the format of a report. I started by creating tables and matrix type reports, but I had no idea what I was doing. I followed each step as instructed by Mike but even at the end I felt like I still didn’t know enough to be able to develop reports on my own. We continued working out examples of creating groupings, parameters and charts and it slowly began to make more sense.

Just a side note: The training program I went through with Brian would later go on to become known as the Foundation. Now the training is much more organized and is a full week of SQL Server training with an introduction to SSRS for those looking to break into a SQL Server career.

After just a few days of learning from Brian and Mike, Brian called me up stating that he thought I was ready for my first client. I was terrified! I had literally only heard of SQL Server a few weeks prior to that and definitely did not consider myself “ready” for anything! But Brian believed in me and said I was ready. The gig was a Reporting Services contract for a local company. I would be working at the client site for several weeks on my own but Mike would be there for the first day or two to provide guidance and advice.

If I’m being honest with you, I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, Mike was there the first two days to hold my hand and walk me through how to create the reports and more generally how to be a consultant and work with the client. Since I knew so little, I simply copied all of Mike’s work key stroke for key stroke until we’d written a couple stored procedures and reports.

On the third day Mike moved onto other work at Pragmatic Works so I was on my own! I was very nervous and terrified that I would fail horribly or that the client would ask me a question but I told myself that I’d do my best and no matter what happened that I would learn something.

I was required to create about 25 to 30 reports for the client and each report’s requirements were typed out onto a sheet of paper. I took the stack of requirements and organized the stack with the simpler reports at the top and the more complex reports at the bottom. Starting at the top of the stack of requirements, I began completing the work. This approach worked well for me, allowing me to complete the easier work first before I moved onto the reports with parameters, filters and other “advanced” features. By the time I began working on the more difficult reports I had already created a few reports and had some experience under my belt. To say I learned a lot would be an understatement!

On October 4th, 2008 I received another phone call from Brian. Brian said he thought I had a lot of upside and wanted to offer me a position at Pragmatic Works as a Junior Consultant. I was very excited and didn’t have to think even for a second if I should take the opportunity.

I spent most of my time consulting and helping the clients of Pragmatic Works build Reporting Services reports but I also spent a good deal of time working on the Pragmatic Works website, designing graphics for marketing and anything else that needed to be done. I learned as much as I could from Brian and Mike and grew leaps and bounds because of their willingness to invest in me.

What I’m Doing Today

image

When I started training with Brian and Mike at Pragmatic Works I had no SQL Server or IT experience. I was just a young, newly married guy working through school and hanging out with friends.

Today I’m one of the many Senior Business Intelligence Consultants at Pragmatic Works. I’ve designed and implemented BI solutions for small companies, Fortune 500 companies and everything in between across a myriad of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, retail, energy, telecommunications and more.

Since October of 2008 I’ve learned much from both technical and professional standpoints. Technically speaking, I’ve learned a great deal along the way, including SSRS, SSIS, SSAS, data warehouse design, Excel power tools, SharePoint BI and Power BI. Professionally, I’ve learned how to lead an engagement and take a project from fruition to completion.

At Pragmatic Works I also teach many of the training classes, including Intro to SSIS, Intro to SSRS, Intro to SSAS, SSAS Masters, Intro to MDX and the Power BI class.

I’ve worked as a technical editor, contributor and author on SQL Server and BI related books and have spoken at events such as PASS Summit, SQL Rally, SQL Saturday and Code Camp. I’ve also presented via online webinars for Pragmatic Works, SQLLunch.com and the PASS Excel BI Virtual Chapter.

My wife, Angela, and I have now been married for ten years and have a six year old daughter and four and one year old sons.

Shout Outs & Thank You

I don’t mention all these accomplishments and how my life has changed for the better because I wish to toot my own horn or convince you that I am awesome or exceptional because I’m not. I’m just a regular guy. I mention these accomplishments to prove to you that the people at Pragmatic Works are special. Brian Knight has a desire to make the world a better place by doing what he can to make a different in the lives of people like me who would otherwise not have much of a chance of a career in IT. If you’ve worked with the amazing people at Pragmatic Works then you know what I’m talking about. But if you haven’t then you are truly missing out.

There are so many people who have invested in me and directly contributed to any success I’ve had in my career. I’m going to attempt to list them in an effort to thank them by name but if I miss anyone I deeply beg your forgiveness!

Thank you to:

Brian Knight, for giving me my first shot and believing in me.

Devin Knight, for introducing me to SQL Server.

Mike Davis, for mentoring me along the way.

Adam Jorgensen, for mentoring me and providing me with opportunities to succeed.

Patrick Leblanc and Robert Cain, for showing me how to consult and lead a room full of people toward a common goal.

Chris Rock, for answering all my ridiculous .NET questions.

Karla Landrum, for making me get on Twitter.

Thank you to all the great people at Pragmatic Works that I see every day. You are all so amazing and wonderful to work with.

Also, thank you to the awesome SQL Server community. I’ve met so many people that are always willing to help, answer a question or provide advice. The SQL Server community is strong, growing and giving. Events like SQL Saturday make it possible for people new to the field and technology to hit the ground running! You make a difference.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the way He has worked in my life. Through this journey I’ve seen Him do amazing things and provide me with so many more blessings than I can count and that I don’t deserve.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

8 thoughts on “How I Got my Start at Pragmatic Works”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Dustin. I knew part of the story from when you were assigned to work with my team as a consultant. Your contributions were incredibly valuable and I really miss working with you. I might also add that tales of your adventures in consulting are some of the most entertaining I’ve ever heard.

    1. Thanks, buddy! I miss working you, George, Joe and the rest of the team. Those were some good times! It’s not often I get to work with a team like the Avengers. Truly one of the best engagements I’ve been on.

  2. Inspirational! Thank you for sharing. I am just getting going into Power BI. You video and this article is giving me a good place to start.

Leave a Reply