Give Me a Coconut and Six Months


Tim Ford (TwitterBlog) posed an excellent question in a blog entry called “Give Me a Coconut and Six Months“:

Hold All My Calls
Hold All My Calls

“So You’re On A Deserted Island With WiFi and you’re still on the clock at work.  Okay, so not a very good situational exercise here, but let’s roll with it; we’ll call it a virtual deserted island.  Perhaps what I should simply ask is if you had a month without any walk-up work, no projects due, no performance issues that require you to devote time from anything other than a wishlist of items you’ve been wanting to get accomplished at work but keep getting pulled away from I ask this question: what would be the top items that would get your attention?”

I’ve had the same goal for the last couple of years: I want to learn more about data mining. The fact that it’s still a goal of mine tells you that I’m not quite as good at accomplishing goals as I’d like to be, but there it is anyway.

As a DBA, I hold the keys to all kinds of unbelievably powerful data.  I can point at the server that stores what products are hot, which customers aren’t buying from us lately, and which salespeople are effective.  I know exactly where all this stuff is, and how it could make the company millions more in revenue.  The key is being able to extract hidden trends and predict them before they happen.

If I had more time (and skills), I could tell executives things like:

  • These are the top five customers who are about to leave us.
  • These are the top five products that are about to go viral, and we need to stock more ASAP.
  • These are the top five salespeople who need coaching to produce more revenue.

Walk into an executive’s office with this kind of information, and you’re a hero.

I kick the PowerShell horse a lot, and here it comes again. If you’re in IT, listen up: you’re either cutting costs, or making money.  Guess which one has more upside.  If you truly bust your hump, become an amazing scripting deity, and save 99% of your time, you just saved 99% of your salary.  If you’re really good, you might save 10 people 99% of their time.

Or you can go into data mining and make 100 salespeople twice as effective at selling product and bringing money in the door.  Think about it: your company has more salespeople than IT people, right?  Put the scripting book down and pick the sales books up.  Figure out how to move the revenue needle using data mining, and the executives will remember your name.  The guys who cut costs are forgettable and replaceable, but the guys who increase revenue make the headlines.

Okay, enough preaching.  Time to tag three people who are probably going to completely disagree with me, and I wanna give them that chance:

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15 Comments. Leave new

  • You can be part of a cost center or a profit center. Guess which one gets cut in a down turn? I’ve never seen a company cut profit.

    I don’t advocate not doing your job, and if that is database administration then learning powershell whether you like it or not, is becoming part of your job. I wasn’t thrilled when the CLR was added in but I made an effort to learn and understand it.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to go above and beyond to produce stuff like you advocate Brent, but I’ve seen smart people get laid off because they had quit doing their core job and were trying to do other things to impress management. If you haven’t established your self as the go to answer guy for this kind of info then you should continue doing your day job, and well.


  • Wes – I agree 100%. I’ve been itching to learn more about data mining for years, but I haven’t been able to do it because like you noted, you don’t want to stray too far from your core job description without making sure the trains run on time first. Tim’s question was so cool because it asked what you would do if you had six months to do what YOU wanted, not new projects from others, and for me, that’s the perfect time for data mining.

    Funny enough, my manager read this blog entry and decided to start clearing off my calendar. My list of “top five” answers was too interesting for the business to pass up. Data mining, here I come!

  • Brent, I’m in the same position. I just wish there were resources for this kind of information on the net. I’m getting more and more about pursuing data mining as a specialty.

  • Your “top five” list are exactly the kind of answers (and now the exact answers) I will give to people when they ask me about data mining and why they should be doing it! Great post.

  • Now Brent, if you had picked up PowerShell a year ago, you’d have time to learn about data mining now! 🙂

  • Steven – hahaha, now THAT is a good comeback!

  • I like these data mining related posts since this area interests me a lot, but my day job doesn’t require me to do this kind of stuff… yet! Hope to hear more from you on this topic!

  • Ha! Yes, I like to use PowerShell a great deal to help me do my work. I think that’s one part of the post. The other part of the day is helping others do their work, and data mining can certainly do that. So like any good politician, I’ll agree with your overall concept while defending my own.

    Actually, Steven isn’t far off the mark – I use PowerShell to do my work more quickly, and then I can devote even more time to adding business value like data mining.

    I still love you, though. Even when we fight. 🙂

  • Brent, I am late reading this one and it is near and dear to my heart as I love Powershell and I think it is a very valuable tool. I use it daily to make my job easier on me and to make me more productive. Now that I can be more productive, it will be easier for me to find the time to do more new and perhaps things that make the company more profitable. I also think, that a Master like you, would be able to pick it up in a short time frame. Well anyway good post, Like always, and I think you have inspired me, after our twitter Powershell Debate, to present at SQL Saturday 47 about why a Production DBA should learn Powershell. So thanks for the inspiration.

  • Aren’t real Data Miners people with high math skills and advanced academic degrees anyway?

    After a year I dropped from an Msc degree in Statistics and data science, but I saw this world from the inside in order to call crap on most of the people who claim to be a Data Minor or Scientist. Learning to run several algorithms in Python/R and to do a MOOC statistic course is absolutely not enough, unless your goal is to be a “data scientist” in a bogus marketing company for a low salary.

    This is the reason I stack to DBA / SQL development – I don’t have the required skills for the former.

    • Mark B – yeah, that’s a really good question. I think it’s kinda like the dot-com rush during the late 90s/early 2000s – there was a serious shortage of qualified developers, so a lot of folks got in the door by way of boot camps. They weren’t the developers that companies really wanted, but the companies needed to get development done, so they accepted people who weren’t really qualified because it was better than nobody.

      • WOW! The unlimited Brent Ozar himself! I feel honored!

        Well, if to put the matter under the “lesser evil” light, than it makes a perfect sense. Maybe I’ll even try data mining again. . .

        In a couple of words: have you planned using R or Python (or other tools?) for learning data mining?

        • Mark – heh, no, I don’t do data mining. Did a brief experiment with it and then went back to the core engine functionality. Nothing against data mining, just wasn’t where I wanted to go with my career.

          • Oh, silly me – only now I noticed that this article is from 2009! I have the feeling that since then, “data mining” became quite a common skill in many jobs. I even saw a vlog of two journalists who learned to use R and Python to mine data for their articles.

            I actually managed to be on that “six month island”, when I quite my job and waited for my Msc to begin, and used it to get myself familiar with machine learning and refresh my knowledge in statistics. However, I got kicked out of the degree, for I’m not good nor excited about either math or programming, so I find SQL and databases to be a comfortable place in the middle.

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