Happy Birthday, Power BI!

July 24, 2016
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Today Power BI… the application as a service available at PowerBI.com … is a year old and the Power BI community is celebrating with a very special video produced by Adam Saxton and Paul Turley. I’d like to contribute to the bestowment of birthday wishes with a few thoughts of my own today.

For much of my BI career, most of the Microsoft BI stack has been packaged with SQL Server and has changed only with a new release of SQL Server—sometimes subtly, sometimes hugely. However, Power BI is unique in the Microsoft BI stack with its frequency of updates. Each month brings something new and it’s exciting to see new features extending the capabilities of Power BI at such a rapid pace! (You can find a complete list of monthly updates here.)

The past year’s success for Power BI is built on a foundation of many years of work and dedication from a variety of teams at Microsoft, all of whom deserve big congratulations on this achievement! As part of my latest Pluralsight course, Getting Started with Power BI (released last month), I included a high-level review of the evolution of Power BI as shown below. Creating this timeline brought back a lot of memories ranging from my first experiences with PowerPivot in Excel 2010 to my recent work with a client to embed Power BI into an application.


My earliest memory happens to be my fondest memory. I was attending a Birds of a Feather session at TechEd 2010 led by Andrew Brust in which there was a lively discussion among the participants. Many of those present were DBAs who were horrified by the thought of people gaining access to data with few controls and little oversight. I mentioned that although DBAs understandably want to control access to data, they could go to the extreme by only allowing them to view data in a PDF. Even then, people will still go to the trouble to manually input it into a spreadsheet to do the analysis they need. Therefore, we need to find ways to support responsible data usage, and PowerPivot was a great first step.


But that’s not the fond memory. I’m only setting the scene. The best part of that session was a comment made by a guy sitting in a corner of the room. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and (probably) Birkenstocks. He reminded me of a surfer dude. Actually, he wasn’t so much sitting as he was draped across a couple of chairs, looking very relaxed and very bemused by the conversation. He finally piped up and said, “Hey man, let the data be free!”.

I love that memory and share it often when introducing my students to Power BI in its current form. (Of course, we need to remain mindful of internal policies and regulatory requirements when allowing users to get their data. But that needs to be managed at the database level anyway, so carry on.)


Fast forward to 2016 and the current incarnation of Power BI, the DBAs that I know personally are more supportive of Power BI models and my clients are super excited about enhancing their applications to finally truly support self-service BI. As I work on a variety of projects, I am adding several new memories to my repertoire to share in the future. Thanks, Power BI, and may we share many more happy birthdays to come!



Photo credits:

FreeImages.com/goodmorph-50365 – hawaiian fabric

FreeImages.com/melodi2 – cake



All (too) Quiet on the (South)Western Front

May 14, 2016

Well, sort of…. This blog has been quiet for nearly a year ever since I announced my name change, but my life has been less than quiet meanwhile. I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of activities:

During this past year, I’ve been teaching @mr_stacia how to help me get things done at Data Inspirations and I’m happy to say I am now reaping the benefits! One of those benefits is gaining some time to start blogging more than once a year. There are so many exciting developments in SQL Server coming soon… where should I begin?


A New Chapter…

June 4, 2015

It’s going to take some getting used to. For you and for me, but it’s worth it.

Introducing the New Me

I changed my name to Stacia Varga last month because (drumroll) on May 18 I was part of a fabulous #sqlwedding in Las Vegas in which @mr_stacia and I said some special words to each other and at which @mr_denny officiated.


It’s official!

I promised @mr_stacia some time ago that I would be Mrs. Varga if he would be @mr_stacia. He did, so I did, and here we are! I admit I’m still mangling my name when I try to say it or spell it, only because I was Stacia Misner for a very long time and I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I just need more practice with the new name!

Something borrowed, something blue.

Something borrowed, something blue.

I’m hopeful that people can pronounce Varga more easily than Misner (which 50% of the time was mispronounced). The name Stacia is challenging enough for some people (and for those who don’t know yet, it’s Stay-sha).  As for name recognition at conferences and on my books, I’ll just take my chances. I don’t know of any Stacia’s in the BI space at this time, so I expect everyone will figure out that Stacia Misner and Stacia Varga are one and the same at some point!

@mr_stacia has been a wonderful addition not only to my personal life, but also to my business life. He helps me manage Data Inspirations, edits my Pluralsight videos, and assists with so many other tasks that now I cannot fathom how I functioned without him previously. If you ever attend a conference, you’re likely to see him with me and perhaps one day you’ll even see him speak with me. (We have some clever ideas for some joint presentations in the future!)

What Else is New?

Oh my, 2015 has been such a busy year for me which is why I’ve been relatively quiet on the blog. I’ve been working with several clients on their data warehouse projects and really fallen head over heels in love with BIML (… @mr_stacia understands how I feel about technology, so it’s ok). I have praised its virtues in conference sessions previously, but I rarely have time to get into any depth about the benefits I’ve experienced first-hand and a full set of code to demonstrate a complete solution. To fix that, I’ve decided that my next Pluralsight course will give you a gentle introduction to BIML and show you how to approach an end-to-end data warehouse ETL solution and how easy to implement schema changes or even add new subject areas to the data warehouse after the first phase of development. I’m excited to work on this course because although there are a lot of great online BIML resources, there’s nothing comprehensive to show an end-to-end design. Expect to see this course available online this summer!

And More BI Love!

Every year there seems to be something new in the Microsoft BI stack. Most recently, much attention was given to cloud and Power BI. Just when we get our arms around a particular feature set, new features get added! But I get asked a lot why we haven’t seen a lot of love given to the on-premises BI components of SQL Server. I’m happy to say the love is coming back around. Jen Underwood (b|t)has a great overview in her post Microsoft Breathes Life Back into SQL Server BI On-Prem.

You can bet I’ll be doing some writing this year myself about all this good stuff in the Microsoft BI space, including SQL Server 2016. Probably more than one new chapter!


Getting Some Learnin’ On

March 26, 2015

With apologies to The Beatles, the theme song that’s been stuck in my head this month goes something like this,

Learn, learn, learn

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can build that can’t be built

Nothing you can learn that can’t be learnt

It’s easy…

I spend a lot of my time helping people learn about business intelligence and I do that in many different ways. I’ve been doing this type of work for a long time, but each year I try to learn how to do a better job of helping the people around me learn more about BI. As I review my plans for the first half of the year, I see a whole lotta learnin’ going on! Maybe you can join me…?

In the Classroom

First, there’s the traditional route that involves teaching in the classroom. For a multi-day experience, I will be providing an intense dive into BI at the Immersion Event – Business Intelligence (IEBI) in Chicago, May 4-8. I love this class because we get to cover a lot of BI ground with some really practical stuff, and I had a burst of inspiration this month on how to make it even better based on an experience I recently had working with a client and fixing up some problems they were having. I really like practical, and so do my IEBI students, one of whom said:

Any presenter can teach someone how to use a tool, but how best to use that tool to interact with the business in order to have a successful implementation that you’re confident business can adopt is what set this apart.

On the Road for SQLSaturday

SQLSaturdays are great events where you see local speakers and speakers from the national and international conferences present on our favorite subject, SQL Server, FOR FREE!!! I don’t have a complete schedule yet for 2015, but so far I am committed to speak at:

In fact, in Boston, I am also presenting a full-day preconference workshop, SQL Server Reporting Services Rookie to Rockstar for a nominal charge on Thursday, April 16. This is another class that is getting a makeover this year based on some new ideas I’ve been exploring, so I’m really excited to get Boston to see it come to life!

Oh, and I’m putting together our second SQLSaturday in Las Vegas. The location and date are still in the works, but we’re aiming for September!

On a Ship

Yes, that’s right! It’s a classroom on a ship! Specifically, SQLCruise Meditarranean, June 14-21, sailing from Barcelona with an amazing group of technical leads: Grant Fitchey , Aaron Bertrand, Andrew Kelly, and Argenis Fernandez. It’s a conference, it’s a classroom, it’s a classroom-conference! But it’s better because we get to spend time together talking SQL-ly things in a relaxed environment. But don’t think that cruising thing gets in the way of learning. In fact, it’s pretty conducive because there are a lot less work/life distractions to steal your attention away.

In Video

I’ve been a Plurasight author for several years now, and I really appreciate hearing from viewers from time to time about how much they learn from the material available. I’m very pleased to announce the release of my 10th video, Advanced Integration Services Part 2. Because apparently the first Advanced Integration Services wasn’t enough! After teaching Integration Services in the classroom for clients a few times, I was asked some questions that led me to develop the content for this newest course. A Twitter follower said “thanks, you’ve just made my ‘Todo’ list longer :)”. I think that’s a compliment, right?

I love working with Pluralsight. Creating courses for video has really forced me to rethink how I approach the education process. Earlier this month, I went to Utah for Author Summit 2015 and learned a lot of amazing things that I’m still trying to digest, but I’ll work these ideas into future content – whether live or recorded. It’s been amazing to see how Plurasight has evolved over the years and I’m excited to see the direction they want to go in the future. I am also very pleased to be part of a Women in Technology discussion that was recorded and published on YouTube.


Park City Ski Lesson

Pluralsight sponsored a snow day at Park City after the summit where this girl got to learn (or at least attempt to learn) how to ski for the first time ever. Apart from my partner, I was old enough to be the other students’ mom … I guess what they say (sort of) is true: there’s… Nothing you can learn that can’t be learnt, at any age!




PASS Summit 2014… 10 Year Milestone!

November 1, 2014

This year I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary of both attending and speaking at PASS Summit, and therefore it seems appropriate to mark this milestone with a reflection of what PASS Summit means to me. My ten years have not been consecutive. My very first Summit was in 2002. At the time, I worked for a boutique consulting firm in Seattle. I was encouraged by my manager to get engaged with the SQL community and submit a session to speak and… it happened! At the time, I knew no one. Or practically no one. I didn’t go to sessions, I didn’t participate in after hours events. I simply showed up for my session, I spoke, and… I got heckled!!! By none other than Dan Bulos, who has turned out to be a very dear friend. (I’ll save the point of dispute for another day as I can envision an entire blog post dedicated to the topic.) We still agree to disagree about the particular point of heckling, but we have been conference pals ever since and he even hired my daughter, Erika, away from me in 2012 (with my blessing). Dan happens to be presenting two sessions this year:

I have many sessions that I want to attend, but for Dan’s sessions…. I plan to be there front and center…and perhaps heckle (with love). It seems only fair.

Because I worked for a consulting firm back in 2002, I couldn’t plan on attending PASS Summit every year thereafter. It was only when I went independent in 2006 that I had my next opportunity to participate. I was incredibly honored to be selected to speak that year and have continued to be honored to speak every year since then. But more importantly, I became engaged with the community. I attended other people’s sessions. I talked to people at coffee breaks and lunch. I went to after hours events. I met people. (You would probably be shocked to know that I was incredibly shy once upon a time and this “breaking out” was a very big deal for me!) The circle of people that I knew grew exponentially. So much so that every passing year becomes a greater challenge to spend time with everyone that I have come to know over the years. But it’s a challenge I embrace!

I have been to many technical conferences in my career, but none compare to the experiences I’ve had since I began participating at PASS Summit. Whether you’re a speaker or an attendee, your experience will be enhanced exponentially by participating. First timer? No problem! This community welcomes you and wants you to have a positive experience. How cool is that? All you have to do is engage with other people. Smile. Ask a question. Offer up something from your experience when you hear people discussing a problem. The interpersonal exchanges at PASS Summit enhance the value of session attendance. And who knows… you might even make a life-long friend. There’s a reason we refer to our friends from PASS Summit as #sqlfamily.