"How I Went from" is an ongoing blog series that highlights our employees' different journeys to InterWorks. The results are pretty diverse, but each story is special in its own right.
I was one of those kids who always changed what they wanted to be when they grew up. “Architect!” I might say one day. A few days later, I might change that to Imagineer, scientist, artist, psychologist or game developer. I never wanted to pick one thing; there were too many things to learn about. I continue to be interested in knowing about everything. I’ve found that a thirst for knowledge and a diverse background are celebrated at InterWorks.
My story is part of our ongoing “How I Went from _____ to InterWorks Consultant” blog series. Check out the original “Life as an InterWorks Consultant” post for a full list of stories from other fascinating InterWorkers.
At Oklahoma State University, I followed a similar pattern by getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics. That said, I flirted with many a dual major and minor. One day might be filled with pacing in front of a white board, trying to figure out the best way to mathematically model a water pump and then heading to the local coffee shop to play a game of cribbage. The next day might include discussing the collective work of the Inklings followed by a late night of coding the WaTor simulation. During this time, I also took a job as a math tutor and realized how much I loved helping people understand new concepts.
Above: Fly fishing and representing my university, Oklahoma State
Starting a Career
In many ways, I didn’t leave college right away. My first job after graduation was in the University IT department as an Oracle and Web Developer. The job fit me well, allowing me to gain mastery in Oracle PL/SQL (laying a foundation for future data work) and to get a taste for building web pages. I’m very thankful for the time I had there to build my technical expertise, but I soon felt a pull back to my hometown of Tulsa, OK. I also desired to do something a bit more analytical.
My Journey into Business Intelligence
My next job was at a health insurance company as a Data Analyst. For someone with a love for math, I took to this new job with a lot of excitement. There was no shortage of new things to learn, from the complexity of the insurance business to the sorts of analyses our staff doctors were interested in. I did this all while conquering a new language: SAS. I spent my years there learning new things and automating a lot of previously tedious manual reports. I produced many a thick set of reports, filled to the brim with numbers organized in lovely spreadsheets.
After a while, though, I started to bump up against a lot of rigidity in solutions. I started to explore better ways to look at the data, including visualization, but it was often pushed aside as “not the way we do things.” Similarly, I was able to reduce some complex SAS code to a few simple lines of SQL. It never made it into production because it wasn’t our tool (despite being able to run within the SAS environment). I soon got a call that would change my career, but not in the way I had envisioned.
Above: My wife, Rachel and I at the Warrior Dash.
The call was from a recruiter looking for people to help start a new business intelligence (BI) department from the ground up. It sounded exciting. They used SAS, but wanted to find the best additional tools to get the job done. Plus, it was a new industry to explore, so I was sold. I took the job and began a new journey.
I spent my first few months researching business intelligence tools and formulating my recommendations. This gave me a very deep understanding of the industry and where it was heading. It was all a very exciting time for me. Sadly, I didn’t get to see any of my recommendations come to fruition. The Great Recession had hit, and a change in leadership at my company meant that business intelligence wasn’t on the agenda any more. Most of my department, including me, went out the door.
It was a strange time to be looking for a tech job, to say the least. I spent a lot of time searching through job listings, seeing the same boring list of requirements. Nothing seemed all that exciting until a random Google search led me to a growing IT company out of Stillwater, OK. Their website was different, with pictures of employees playing Guitar Hero, talk of exciting work to be done and an overall sense of both excellence and fun. I was ready to start right then. I quickly clicked my way to their job listings. As I scanned the handful of openings, I realized that I wasn’t a good match.
I’m not one to give up hope. I fired up my email and began crafting a cover letter that I hoped conveyed my excitement for this “not so average” company and what I thought I could offer. What I didn’t know was that InterWorks had begun their own journey into BI. My email happened to hit at the right time. I got a response, interviewed and was soon starting on yet another adventure.
Above: My three kids, Elena (Batgirl), Leo (Robin), Judah (Batman) and I on Halloween.
The Tableau Revelation
Like almost everyone at InterWorks, I’ve worn many hats and continue to today. The first few years at InterWorks was a mixture of data work, web development and data warehousing. My diverse interests and skills served me well as I filled in gaps wherever I could. I enjoyed work as part of a development team and learned from the best and brightest people. The most exciting thing, however, was getting my hands on Tableau for the first time.
The first time I dragged Excel data into Tableau and began to explore my data in a hands-on way was a thrill. I quickly wondered where this had been through all the years of coding and spreadsheets. It certainly would have made my previous jobs a lot easier. I’ve carried that excitement to client sites all over the nation. I never get bored of seeing a room full of eyes widen as I show them what BI can be like.
Above: Networking at the Tableau Customer Conference.
Living the Dream
As my skills and responsibilities have grown, I’ve moved from Developer to BI consultant, and now, to Principal BI Consultant. On a day-to-day basis, I’m leading a team of consultants at major clients across the country, helping set the overall strategy and direction. I also serve as a high-level technical resource throughout the organization.
It’s been a pleasure contributing to the growth of such a unique firm, bringing more people into our culture. Beyond that, architecting and leading solutions at companies I’ve long admired, ranging from local nonprofits to Fortune 100 companies, is nothing short of a dream come true.
Above: The InterWorks BI leadership team upon the release of Dan Murray’s “Tableau Your Data!”
Consulting in business intelligence and Tableau is at the intersection of so many things I love. I learn about new industries and businesses every day. I find the best ways to model business processes mathematically. I deliver artistic yet meaningful dashboards and presentations. I develop ETL scripts, I build web portals, I clean data and I craft insightful visualizations.
The thing I love best, though, is working with and leading a team of amazing people who have the freedom, drive and skills to help our clients understand their data. They help clients not just to understand a tool or some numbers, but to understand their businesses in new ways, with greater depth and context. It’s been fulfilling and exciting to see so many of my random interests come together in such a way that helps others meet their challenges. I couldn’t be happier.
Above: (Left to right) Mel Stephenson, Matthew Miller and myself.