Interview with BI Expert Tim Mitchell

Tim Mitchell will be speaking at the track at SQL Server Connections, October 31-November 3, 2011, in Las Vegas, NV.


tim mitchellTell us about yourself.

I’m a practitioner of business intelligence, primarily focusing on SQL Server. I’ve been in the IT field for over a decade, and have worked with SQL Server in various capacities for about 8 years. By day, I work as a BI consultant. I’m proud to be a part of Artis Consulting in Dallas, where I help deliver BI solutions across the entire SQL Server stack. During my spare time, I serve on the board of directors for the North Texas SQL Server User Group in Dallas (Irving), and I blog and speak at community events as much as I am able.

What have you had published?

I occasionally write articles and editorial pieces for I have also recorded a number of training videos over at I am also contributing to a couple of SQL Server-related books that will be published later this year or early next year.

Where do you blog?

My blog can be found at, which is also mirrored at My blog is a mix of SQL Server and career-related information.

What advice can you give to DBAs about writing?

Very simply, writing will help your career, period. I can’t say enough about the benefits of writing as a career development platform. Writing helps to hone your writing skills, which are essential to the long-term success of any database professional. By publishing what you write, you also help to boost your street cred among peers as well as creating a highly visible body of work for review by potential employers or clients. You also get the opportunity to share your ideas and open them up for scrutiny by others. Yes, this is a little scary at times, and sometimes requires thick skin. However, by sharing your insights with others, you can help to identify any flaws or potential improvements that you can make in your methods. There’s also good feedback, too. If you do something well and blog about it, the SQL Server community is very gracious in acknowledging good content.

Tell us a little about your speaking experience?

As professional speakers go, I’m a relative newcomer. Until about three years ago, I had never spoken professionally to a group of any significant size, apart from a few training sessions I’d hosted for internal employees at companies where I’d worked. I took a chance and submitted a session for one of the very first SQL Saturday events (#3, in Jacksonville) and to my surprise I was selected to speak. I was hooked from that very first presentation, and since then I’ve been very active on the speaking circuit.

These days, I frequently speak at events such as SQL Saturday, tech fest events, and local user groups. I recently spoke at the first ever SQL Rally event in Orlando, and this fall I’ll be presenting at two upcoming national events: SQL Server Connections and the SQL PASS Summit.

What advice do you have for DBAs who want to begin making public presentations?

Speaking in public is problematic for some people. I can say that with authority because I used to be one of those people.

Admittedly, it’s much more difficult to deliver presentations than it is to sit down and write an article, a blog post, or answer a question on a forum. Presenting is usually done in real-time, and doesn’t have a lot of room to pause or reset if things go wrong. Still, there’s something incredibly satisfying about delivering a presentation to your peers and leaving with the realization that they learned something from you. Much like writing, developing presentation skills can bring career rewards that surpass the personal satisfaction you receive.

My advice would be to try it out once or twice to see if you like it. Schedule a presentation for a local user group (most user groups I know of are starved for speakers, so you probably won’t have a hard time finding an audience). If it’s something you enjoy, there are countless resources to help you refine your technique, and the rewards are many.

How do you keep up with your SQL Server continuing education?

Two key things: I learn from the mistakes of others, and I learn from my own mistakes.

I enjoy reading blogs. Sometimes blog posts offer instruction on how to do something, but the really interesting ones start like, “Let me tell you how I screwed up, and how I fixed it.” On my own, I like to try things. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. If it does, I have a new method I might be able to use in the future. If it doesn’t work, I’ve learned a way NOT to do it – and it’s often those lessons that stick the best.

What are your favorite SQL Server events to attend, and why?

I really like the big national events like SQL Server Connections and the SQL PASS Summit. I know a lot of people at those events, and it’s always great to hang out and learn with folks you know. But I’d say that my favorite events are still the smaller, regional events – SQL Saturday, code camps, local tech fests, and the like. These venues typically offer more of an opportunity to talk to people, and to really get to know them.

Why should DBAs consider taking part in the SQL Server community?

A better question would be, why wouldn’t you? Being a part of any community, and especially such a welcoming and friendly group like the SQL Server community, is an investment that pays back many times more than you put into it. By getting involved, you get to know people – people who may someday be clients, bosses, or even friends. If you’re looking for a job, would it be easier to send out resumes to 100 companies that have never heard of you, or to reach out to a dozen people who know you well and are interested in your professional development? If your company needs a rock star consultant, wouldn’t it be easier to reach out to someone you’ve personally met than calling names in a phone book?

Community is about people. Being a part of a community is simply getting to know people, and letting them know you. Sharing, collaboration, business relationships, and mentorship can all result from these relationships. Everybody wins.

What are some of the key characteristics that you feel differentiate between “good” and “exceptional” DBAs?

Good DBAs know their stuff. They show up for work every day and do what is required, and their systems are almost always running well.

Exceptional DBAs make investments. They invest in themselves to stay at the top of their game through education and peer collaboration. They invest extra effort to make sure that not only is the job done, but that it is done as well as possible. They invest in the community by contributing to the body of work at large, and perhaps even serve as mentors for individuals within their circles.

What are some of the biggest challenges for DBAs in
the immediate future?

I think the cloud will present some changes to the role of the DBA. While I don’t agree with the popular opinion that the cloud will spell the end of the job of the DBA as we know it, I think smart DBAs are already looking ahead for ways to adapt what they do to fit into the cloud computing model.

What advice would you give to a person who is considering becoming a DBA?

SQL Server is a great place to be right now, but it’s also a very big field. For anyone considering getting in to this field, I would say that you need to find an area in which to focus. Explore the roles of DBA, database developer, BI practitioner, etc., to see which fits you best, but make it a goal to specialize in just one area.

What you are not working, what do you do for fun?

When I’m not working or writing, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, reading, and photography. I enjoy snow skiing, but given the absence of mountains here in Texas, this is a rare treat for me.

If you were not a DBA, and could choose the perfect job, what would it be?

I think I’d want to fly something. If the Army ever decides that Apache helicopter pilots must also have business intelligence skills, I’m in.

Briefly describe the sessions that you will be presenting at the Track at SQL Server Connections.

I’ll be delivering two sessions at this event. In the first session, I’ll talk about the Top 10 (ish) Best Practices for SSIS, during which we’ll identify a handful of quick wins that will help you improve the performance, reliability, and maintainability of your SSIS packages. The second session is entitled Defensive ETL, where we will assume that all data is bad, and handle it accordingly.