From Programmer to Business Intelligence Expert

By University Alliance
From Programmer to Business Intelligence Expert

James Serra, Business Intelligence Architect and Developer, discusses his career and consulting experiences and shares insight into upcoming changes to the industry.

Serra started his career as a programmer before becoming a Database Analyst (DBA). As a DBA, he worked on a proof-of-concept BI project using SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) and SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and became hooked on BI. From there, he took a full-time BI job and has been a leader and advocate in the industry ever since.

Tell us a little about yourself

I spend a lot of free time keeping my business intelligence skills sharp by constantly learning. There is always something new to learn because the BI space is so big and constantly changing. But I still spend much time on other interests and hobbies such as coaching soccer and working on my family tree.

How do Business Intelligence skills transfer among industries?

BI is essentially the same across any industry. There may be specific metrics unique to a business, but in the end, building a BI solution is basically the same no matter what industry. That is the great thing about BI – any industry can use it and benefit from it.

What are some of your biggest successes as a Business Intelligence consultant?

I have had numerous successful projects but the ones I’ve felt the best about were the projects where I was involved in the total end-to-end solution: from gathering the business requirements, building the data warehouse and building the SSAS cube, to creating the reports, and all the steps in-between. The best feeling is generating an end-user dashboard and having a first time user of it exclaim “this is so cool!”

Who has influenced you professionally throughout your Business Intelligence career?

For most of my career, I was on my own and did not have a mentor, which would have been a big help. I owe the start of my blogging career to Brent Ozar, whose own blog was my inspiration and who was nice enough to answer my emails and offer encouragement about blogging.

If you could recommend a blog or publication related to Business Intelligence, what would it be?

Can I recommend my blog at I also follow Chris Webb, Marco Russo, Alberto Ferrari, James Beresford, Boyan Penev, Devin Knight, Thomas Kejser, and Dan English.

Why are Business Intelligence professionals critical to an organization?

In short, they turn data into valuable information that can be used to make informed business decisions. Here in Houston, I have worked for numerous oil and gas companies and have seen firsthand how BI can result in decisions that save companies tens of millions of dollars.

What qualities do you think are essential for Business Intelligence professionals?

Obviously having the technical skills is key; knowing not just the products but how to architect an end-to-end solution. Also, people skills are very important as many projects require you to interact with high-level management.

What are some of the common challenges facing a Business Intelligence professional? How do you overcome those challenges?

Getting exposure to all the different tools in the Microsoft BI stack is difficult, and then trying to become proficient in all those tools makes things even more difficult.  The best way to overcome that is to take different projects that make use of those tools. Don’t just take projects where you are using the same tool over and over. Also, you need to develop your people skills, and the best way to do that is to take on new projects so you meet more people. And try to do a number of presentations to polish your presentation skills.

How will cloud computing affect Business Intelligence?

It will have a large effect, especially for smaller projects. It will drastically reduce the time to purchase and configure servers that need all the BI tools as you can instead turn to a cloud with it all setup. Very similar to all the benefits you get now with SQL Server Azure, and then some.

What changes do you foresee for the Business Intelligence industry in 2013 and beyond?

I see Microsoft coming out with cloud versions of its tools, such as SSAS. I see more improvements to self-services tools, such as Power View. And I see Microsoft coming out with tools and products for mobile BI.

For more information about pursuing a Business Intelligence career, you can request more information below.


Category: Business Intelligence