Q&A with Zach Renwick, Business Intelligence Developer

Zach Renwick

After speaking to this week’s guest on Analysts Assemble I’m more interested than ever in finding out just how many data professionals start their journey by studying Accounting at university before jacking it in as a career choice when the bright lights and high life of the financial services data world come calling. (Just like I did).

My guest’s name is Zach Renwick and he is a Canadian BI developer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Zach tells us how he got his start in BI, pivoted away from his planned career choice and is working towards his goal of making a better world through data and analytics.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into the data space and what does your data journey look like so far?

In my first job out of university, I was working in accounting at a construction company. I found it crazy how much work revolved around copying and pasting data, and many of our reports were error-prone due to their manual nature. I knew there had to be a better way, and after doing some research I started using Microsoft’s self-service BI tools. Learning about PowerPivot and Power Query in Excel helped me automate most of my regular reporting, and I was eager to learn more.

Around this time I abandoned my plan to become a designated accountant in order to focus on analytics. I enrolled in a data analytics program instead of the Canadian CPA program. From the start of my very first course (Relational Databases and SQL), I could tell this path was a better fit for me.

Eventually I secured a job as a BI analyst, and was later promoted to a BI developer role in the same company. Along the way I kept developing my technical skills by reading books and technical blogs, and following what others were doing on Twitter.

2) What’s a typical day look like for you in your current data role? Which tools and languages do you use? Big team/small team/lone wolf? Remote/office based/co-working space?

I work on a BI team with two other BI developers, a DBA, a business analyst who plans our work, and a QA analyst who tests. Most of the time we commute to the office, but a few times a month we will work from home. On a typical day I may work on the following:

  • creating/maintaining SSRS and Power BI reports that are integrated into our company’s web application
  • mentoring internal BI analysts on SQL queries/ad-hoc reports
  • helping plan future report development
  • monitoring ETL processes
  • investigating data quality issues
  • keeping up with the latest BI/analytics updates by reading a few blog posts.

We use the Microsoft BI stack (SSRS, Power BI, SSAS, SSIS) and spend a lot of time with SQL everyday.

3) You’ve been building up a good following through your interaction with the data community on Twitter. How important do you think it is for data professionals, at all stages of their career, to share publicly what they are doing and learning?

I’ve found it extremely rewarding to engage with the data community online and in person. I’ve attended SQL Saturday and Power BI user group meetups, and I’m always impressed by how willing people are to share their ideas and experiences with each other.

There’s also a wealth of information on being shared on Twitter centred around how we can make better use of our data. I love keeping up with the the latest analytics and tech updates, and Twitter is often the first place these announcements are made.

I’ve recently started sharing some of my own experiences and learnings as a data professional and I’ve been surprised by how much feedback I’ve received from others – both inside and outside my organization. You don’t always get to implement your ideas into production, so showcasing analytics Proof Of Concepts (POC’s) in blog posts is another way to get your ideas noticed internally.

4) Where do you see your own data career going next? Building on your technical skills or moving into a more management-based role?

For now, I want to keep developing my data engineering/ETL technical skills. Eventually, I would love to lead a reporting/insights/analytics team. Becoming a BI developer has allowed me to dive deep into the back-end side of things (DevOps, Database Administration, and Cloud Architecture), which is incredibly important for delivering full-stack data solutions.

In the future, I’d like to switch gears to focus more on working directly with business leaders to deliver insights and encourage better use of the existing tools we have.

5) If you had a list of “best-kept-secrets” (websites, books, coaches) that have helped you, which would you recommend?

None of my resources are very “secretive”, or unknown. I found blogs like SQL BI and Simple Analytical really helpful when I started learning about analytics and dimensional modelling. I also purchased a Data Camp subscription which was very useful for practising SQL before I actually started working in business intelligence.

6) What is the number one piece of advice you give to aspiring data professionals?

It’s one thing to read about analytics projects online, it’s another thing to actually implement them. You should practice recreating what other’s have demonstrated in your spare time. Try building your own databases, using different analytical techniques in SQL, R or Python, and trying the latest technology you’ve read about.

If you share your experience, even better, as you’ll have a portfolio of work to show potential employers and clients!

7) Where can readers find you online?

I’m active on Twitter and recently started writing articles on LinkedIn.

Want articles like this in your inbox each week?

Straight talking, real world analytics stories, lessons and tips. Don't miss out.