Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
BI Have the Power, w/ Johnny Winter of Greyskull AnalyticsListen Now:
Hello Friends! On today’s episode, Johnny Winter of Greyskull Analytics shares his exciting story of transformation from mild-mannered bartender to human ETL engine and beyond. As is often the story, the data drudgery of manual processes triggered his data gene which in turn brought about his hidden power of BI, and Greyskull Analytics was born. Johnny speaks candidly about moving up through the ranks from fresh Excel apprentice (to in-house, grumpy Excel guru) and the side quests that inspired him to chart his own path to data mastery. His abhorrence of blindly following instructions led him to always seek a better, more logical path of data stewardship.
This episode delivers a lively commentary on pop culture references as well as opportunities to hear about the inner workings of transitioning from SSAS, T-SGL, and PL-SQL as well as at least one SAP reference. You better get your notepad out to keep up with all the letters flying around. Don’t worry, though, it is a very grounded look at all the different methods of storing, accessing, and analyzing data . . . but without the repetitive work. Buckle up and prepare for the time of your life as Rob and Tom bring us another episode with the Power of BI!
Also in this Episode:
Michael Douglas in Falling Down
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. You may know today's guest on social media as Greyskull Analytics. The man behind the curtain is named Johnny Winter. Johnny very much continues our guest tradition here on the show of people who sort of fell into the world of data. And after a while you've got to wonder, is a non-traditional data background really the traditional data background. We might have to just stop calling it non-traditional if it turns out that everyone has a winding path. Might have also met my pop culture reference equal in this conversation. I mean, we get into He-Man, which is of course the origin of the Greyskull Analytics name, and even a little bit of the logo. And if you have a technology name bingo card at home, this is the episode for you. We got your SSRS, we got your SSMS, we got your crystal reports, we even have your TM1. We have your SSA, we have MDX, DAX and SQL. We mention philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics, and in a nod to his power lifting hobby, massenomics. We had a lot of fun and we got a little bit more technical than usual. I hope you don't mind. So let's get into it.
Announcer (00:01:11): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?
Announcer (00:01:15): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast with. Your host Rob Collie, and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Row data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:01:40): Welcome to the show, Johnny winter. How are you today across the pond?
Johnny Winter (00:01:45): I am very good. Thank you very much.
Rob Collie (00:01:47): I am so glad we've finally gotten together to do this. We've been trying to schedule it for, it seems like a year.
Johnny Winter (00:01:53): I think it's been pushing six months.
Rob Collie (00:01:54): Once you get to six months, you can round it to a year.
Johnny Winter (00:01:57): Fair enough.
Rob Collie (00:01:57): This is a podcast a year in the making. So let's start with some obvious starting questions. Are you the only person in the UK who goes by Johnny? It would seem to me that Johnny is an American name. I didn't know that people were named Johnny.
Johnny Winter (00:02:12): Definitely not the only one. So full Sunday name, Jonathan. That's what my mom calls me. But yeah, no, we have lots of Johnny's. I even actually went to school with a guy called Johnny Winter. There were literally two of us in the class with the same name.
Rob Collie (00:02:23): Not even the only Johnny Winter that grew up in your neighborhood.
Johnny Winter (00:02:24): There we go.
Thomas LaRock (00:02:24): Yes, Johnny Rotten is English singer. Come on, Rob.
Rob Collie (00:02:29): All right, look, if you're a rockstar, it's different, isn't it? I just thought Johnny, that would be the cliche American name and they wouldn't do that in the UK. You're not a cliche in the UK.
Johnny Winter (00:02:38): Have you ever seen the film franchise, Johnny English?
Rob Collie (00:02:41): Nope.
Johnny Winter (00:02:41): It's a spy spoof with Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean. Pretty terrible to be honest.
Rob Collie (00:02:46): Is it, all right, never mind then, never mind. We've gotten to the bottom of that. It's just my narrow view of the world that thought this was unusual, but you did put the H in your name.
Johnny Winter (00:02:55): I've got no idea where my H came from. It just appeared one day. I'm just stuck.
Rob Collie (00:02:59): I think probably you just got tired of people spelling it that way for you. You just end up going with the flow sooner or later. That's why I don't have two Bs in Robert for instance.
Johnny Winter (00:03:10): You could start that trend, you could blaze that trail.
Rob Collie (00:03:13): Whenever my wife uses my full name, I know I'm in trouble. It's the same dynamic as when you're a little boy, right? I'm Rob, when things are good, but Robert, oh, what have I done. She does call me Robert on occasion. That's usually, that's okay, that's a term of affection, but Robert, I'm in trouble.
Johnny Winter (00:03:30): I don't think my wife's caughten onto this. She's definitely just always calls me Johnny. So maybe I'm just never in trouble. Maybe I'm just a great husband.
Rob Collie (00:03:37): Yeah, you are. You are the one. I thought you were the only Johnny in the UK, but it turns out you're the only husband in the world who never messes up.
Johnny Winter (00:03:48): Yeah. Definitely need to edit that soundbite and play it back to my wife regularly.
Rob Collie (00:03:53): All right. So Greyskull Analytics. What a cool name?
Johnny Winter (00:03:57): Thanks.
Thomas LaRock (00:03:59): Greyskull. Greyskull, like He-Man Grayskull.
Rob Collie (00:04:02): By the power of Greyskull.
Johnny Winter (00:04:02): There we go. He's got it. Greyskull Analytics is just a hobby. There's like so many people who presume that it's my business and it's not, it's just like an online persona. I used it for a Twitter handle and then basically set up a website that used it as well. I guess thinking, if I ever did have a business at some point or a product or some description, what would be a cool name. I wanted it to be power BI inspired, because I'm such a Big Power BI nerd. And it absolutely came from that Power BI t-shirt that loads of people used to have, that I've got the Power BI. And I was like, I have the power.
Rob Collie (00:04:38): Ah. That's right.
Johnny Winter (00:04:39): And then a friend of mine was like, hey, what you should also do is BI the power of Grayskull. It works on two levels.
Rob Collie (00:04:47): You got to look back on that cartoon and admire its efficiency. Right off the bat before they ever started work on any episode, they already knew that of their 22 minutes of show, four minutes was already taken up with sequences that were stuck for them. Like every time he would turn into He-Man, they just let it run on autopilot, just roll that same clip over and over again. And you know, he turned into He-Man like three or four times per episode. Not as much pressure on the writers and the animators in a show with that recurring shtick.
Johnny Winter (00:05:19): Yeah. No, there's a really good documentary about it on Netflix actually.
Rob Collie (00:05:22): Oh really?
Johnny Winter (00:05:22): Yeah, there's a huge tie in between Mattel, the toy company, and the TV series.
Thomas LaRock (00:05:26): Saw this.
Johnny Winter (00:05:26): Yeah, a hundred percent. It's a really, really good documentary. But at the same time, I'm pretty sure they referenced that, it is legit. Actually, they did just downloaded stock footage that they reuse. What's really, really funny is to pick out snippets of the exact same piece of animation, except for it appears in dozens of different storylines. And it's just like, oh, that's that action shot, they just repurposed it.
Rob Collie (00:05:47): That was not the only place they were efficient. I mean like...
Johnny Winter (00:05:52): And then there's the new one though. So there's like the whole Kevin Smith directed animated series that came out over the last couple of years or so.
Rob Collie (00:05:59): What?
Johnny Winter (00:06:00): You've missed this, Netflix relaunched He-Man. It's Kevin Smith directed. The cast is amazing. They've got like Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Teela. One of the Game of Thrones characters, he plays Man-At-Arms. They've got Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker, is Skeletor.
Rob Collie (00:06:15): Oh yeah. See Mark Hamill is a very prolific voice actor. I had no idea until recently, and he very often plays villains.
Johnny Winter (00:06:22): Yeah. He's the Joker in Batman.
Rob Collie (00:06:24): What an odd twist that is. I also, as a little kid, when Mark Hamill was in Star Wars, I thought that he was like a full grown adult. I couldn't tell the difference between him and Han Solo in terms of age. Why is one of these full grown men calling the other fully grown man kid all the time. It's very confusing to me. It's only when you watch it when you're older, oh, there is an age difference. Hey, today's, we're recording on May 4th.
Johnny Winter (00:06:47): Yes. Star Wars day.
Rob Collie (00:06:49): May the fourth be with you, even though we're talking about a cartoon from the 1980s.
Thomas LaRock (00:06:55): So, about your data origin story.
Rob Collie (00:06:57): Yeah. All right. So you say that it's your online avatar and it's your website. It's not your business.
Johnny Winter (00:07:04): No, no, not at all.
Rob Collie (00:07:05): Count me amongst the people that thought it was your business.
Johnny Winter (00:07:08): Yeah. I get it all the time, which is kind of a blessing and a curse. In some ways it's kind of flattering that some people think that, oh wow, that's somebody that runs a business and I think my branding's quite cool. and the fact that people think that my website passes as something that offers an actual service is kind of nice as well. I just did it myself, because I was a bit bored.
Rob Collie (00:07:27): So I'm going to add three words to the end of your sentence and say, it's not your business at the moment. That's the true statement. Now it might not ever be, right. But there were three years where Power Pivot Pro was not my business at the moment. And then it became the business and now it's got renamed. I didn't think to pick a cool name like Greyskull at the time. I picked a name that was tied to a technology that I didn't know Microsoft was going to abandon, and we needed to rebrand. Imagine someday being such a big operation that you'd have to reconsider whether Greyskull was the right branding for you. Is the fortune 500 going to hire us with this name, these are the questions that come later, but I salute it. It's a better name than Power Pivot Pro ever was at any point in time. It's awesome.
Johnny Winter (00:08:14): I think if I ever got to the point where it was like, ah, you can turn this into a career and it's going to earn your mega bucks, but you've got to reconsider whether or not you're going to call yourself Greyskull, I think I'd just be like, no, it's kind of a little part of me. I wanted an identity that was, I don't know, for want of a better way of describing it, a bit punk rock. I'm kind of like always been into sort of alternative lifestyles. I'm into sort of my alternative music, body piercings and tattoos and all that kind of stuff. You can't really see online, there you go. I'm quite heavily tattooed and whatnot. At first it was like Skull Analytics, Punk Analytics, what could it be. And then the He-Man sort of tie in came about and it was like, Greyskull that works.
Johnny Winter (00:08:52): And then the logo itself is actually my tattoo artist. So throughout the pandemic he couldn't work. All the shops were completely shut down. So he kind of, my way of trying to support him a little bit. I was fortunate enough that I could do my job completely remotely throughout all of this. So we commissioned him to do some artwork for us that was based on our wedding photos. He runs a tattoo shop in Southport, which is a coastal town in the UK, and I've been going to him for maybe four or five years now. And I was like, fancy designing me a logo. And then when he did it, I was like, oh my God, that's ace.
Rob Collie (00:09:23): It's really good. What a cool thing to do. I like that a lot. Trying to find ways to support the people around you, that the in person business model, doesn't matter how effectively you ran your business or how good you were, what you did, you just happened to be in the wrong industry for that point in time. It was completely beyond your control and it's terrifying.
Johnny Winter (00:09:41): I'm trying to think now whether or not there could be some amazing way to design a system that would allow remote tattooing. That could be...
Rob Collie (00:09:49): Yeah. I just need to put my arm in this robotic thing and pray that there's no software bug. That it just goes crazy. My first computer science class in college, they talked about this software for an x-ray machine. There were two kinds of x-rays that it was designed to administer. One of them was super high power, but with a filter between the emitter and you, and then the other was low power without the filter. But there was a, like a race condition sort of sequence of operations that you could perform that would unknowingly, because of the software bug, would set up the high powered x-ray without the filter in place. And people died. Today they teach probably the MCAS from Boeing as this example, but back then we had the x-ray thing. That's the only problem with the remote tattooing, is that now you've got to let a software engineer into the loop, bad things can happen, where that needle suddenly, it's penetration depth is set to four inches.
Johnny Winter (00:10:46): Yeah. It might be a nonstarter.
Rob Collie (00:10:48): Would you trust it? I mean, hey look, most things that have been really amazing, especially in the software world, were things that I would've never thought possible. Like Google.
Johnny Winter (00:10:58): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:10:58): If I was a venture capitalist and someone came to me with the idea for Google, I would've laughed them out of the room. You're not going to go store and index the internet, get out of my office you weirdo.
Thomas LaRock (00:11:08): You're never going be as good as Jeeves.
Rob Collie (00:11:11): Yeah, Yahoo is he...
Thomas LaRock (00:11:12): He answers everything.
Johnny Winter (00:11:14): We were on this at the team at work quite recently, in terms of aging yourself by your search engine of choice, everyone was like, what do you mean Google didn't exist at the dawn of the internet.
Rob Collie (00:11:24): We were in the car today. And it was a really silly problem. My wife wanted to send a text to someone that was Star Wars related because you know, today being the day, and she wanted to put in one of her Star Wars emojis that she got from having played the Disney emoji blast game. And well, she couldn't find the emojis that she's unlocked. It was a real problem. But then we go to Google, she goes to Google and searches for this problem, and of course she finds the answer to how to get to the emojis. It's like, Google isn't just an internet search engine, all it takes is one person on the planet to solve a problem and now everyone solved it. It raises all boats. Like the knowledge of having such a thing ratchets us forward in a way that's just incomprehensible to 1980s listening to Van Halen versions of ourselves.
Rob Collie (00:12:13): Is an amoeba a single celled organism or multicellular. Nope, that's just going to remain a mystery. We're going to argue about it confidently without ever checking the facts. Or we could go I guess get the A addition of the encyclopedia. I'm really all over the place today.
Thomas LaRock (00:12:34): You really are.
Rob Collie (00:12:34): When I was in third and fourth grade, I had a set of encyclopedias that were handed down by my grandparents. So these were encyclopedias that were printed in like 1950 something. And so we were in the 1980s using a 1950s version of the world book encyclopedia, and they were so funny, just so out date it was comical.
Johnny Winter (00:12:57): At what point are people not even going to know what an encyclopedia was like. I don't think if I said to my kids now, "Do you know what an encyclopedia is?" Surely they just wouldn't know. And it's like, but even the concept of Encarta now is just like, just use Google.
Rob Collie (00:13:10): Yeah. I mean, Encarta thought of itself as the asteroid, the meteorite. It was going to kill World Book and Britannica, right. I was at Microsoft when Encarta was sort of being dismantled and there were really good people who'd been over there working on that product diligently. And now they were having to job hunt within the internal Microsoft market or be laid off. And it was sobering watching that happen. And I think that partially inspired my determination to stay attached to things data related in my Microsoft career. It was just so easy to watch ideas vanish, data seemed like a relatively safe bet. Let's ignore that six month sojourn I took into fantasy football that got canceled, it ended up being important. Okay. So what is your day job?
Johnny Winter (00:13:59): So actual day job, I am a data and analytics consultant for a company called Waterstones. They describe themselves as a business and IT consultancy. We don't just do data, we're relatively small, I guess. I think we're 250 people worldwide. The head office is in Durham in the UK, which is Northeast England, and we've got an office in London and in Glasgow. And then they've got quite a large part of the company's managed services. And they decided to open up offices in Sydney, in Australia, basically so they could provide 24 hour coverage for their managed services. So they're kind of global, but still quite small. And the data team is even smaller and only emerging. So the data team is two or three years old, and there's only 10 of us. I've been there a year now. It's full data stack, so I don't just do Power BI, it's SQL server and all that jazz. And then these days I get to mess about with the sexy things like synapse and data bricks.
Rob Collie (00:14:54): Nice. Okay. So you're not afraid of the whole stack.
Johnny Winter (00:14:58): I don't like all that stack. I hate data engineering. Data engineering's just a necessary evil. I like designing dimensional models and understanding how a business fits together. And then for me I'd much prefer if somebody else could just jam that data into the [inaudible 00:15:13] and then let me build a tabular model on top of it.
Rob Collie (00:15:15): We're cut from the same cloth there. I much prefer one thing. I prefer the same thing, types of work that you do. Where we're different is that you actually will go and do the other things and learn them, and I won't. It's not that I'm lazy and I hate learning things. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. It's that I'm principled, that's my new rebranding. No, it's definitely that I hate learning things. I just don't like it.
Johnny Winter (00:15:37): Yeah. I mean, I guess I took the time to learn it and then just afterwards decided I hated it.
Rob Collie (00:15:42): Okay. Well there you go. Hey, look, I admire your opinion. You've got judgment, solid judgment. During your day job, I have to ask you, are you mostly remote?
Johnny Winter (00:15:51): Yeah. So almost exclusively. I get to do, I do the odd client visit, but if I do, it's kind of my own choice. It's sometimes nice to be face to face, but I'm contracted as a remote home worker.
Rob Collie (00:16:02): When you get up from the morning for this day job, do you dress like Prince Adam?
Johnny Winter (00:16:08): No, I definitely don't dress like He-Man. That would be quite the...
Rob Collie (00:16:12): No, that's after hours. That's when you transform into GreySkull analytics, right.
Johnny Winter (00:16:16): Okay. I need to...
Thomas LaRock (00:16:20): But who would be Skeletor?
Johnny Winter (00:16:20): Who would be Skeletor, the data engineers.
Thomas LaRock (00:16:23): Fair, accurate.
Rob Collie (00:16:26): This could be a really interesting bit, another online persona, your alter ego, not your alter, yeah, your foil. But then you're that guy on Twitter having a conversation with himself using two different accounts, which is...
Thomas LaRock (00:16:39): Is that wrong? Am I supposed to not be doing that?
Rob Collie (00:16:41): I tried it for five minutes, I had Power Pivot Yoda. I did a photo morph, it's Donald Farmer and Yoda photo morphed together and it's hilarious, but then not only did I get made fun of for being the guy having a conversation with himself on Twitter, then shortly thereafter, Donald left Microsoft and went to Click and it was no longer an appropriate avatar.
Johnny Winter (00:17:02): I think the thing we're all waiting for is for Mullet Man to have his own Twitter account. I'm there for following that. And Mullet Man and Greyskull branding mashup as well. That'd just work fantastically well, a neon green mullet on a purple skull.
Rob Collie (00:17:17): That's awesome.
Johnny Winter (00:17:18): If I try and share a screen on this, will it ruin stuff?
Rob Collie (00:17:21): I don't think so. We've never tried it, but let's do it.
Johnny Winter (00:17:23): This is my desktop wallpaper.
Rob Collie (00:17:28): That's so good.
Johnny Winter (00:17:28): Neon skull, can you imagine a neon Mullet Man and a neon skull.
Thomas LaRock (00:17:31): Our listeners are going to love not seeing this.
Rob Collie (00:17:34): You know, there are services that will take this image and turn it into an actual neon lamp, or like an LED budget version of a neon lamp. Like light wire LED is a thing.
Johnny Winter (00:17:45): That could be the business. Like forget data, I'm just going to sell lamps.
Rob Collie (00:17:48): Yeah. Screw it. Just sell merch. Yeah. That's right.
Thomas LaRock (00:17:51): Wait, so I love it. But is that really the Greyskull image? What I'm getting at is like, are you worried that Mattel is going to try to come shut you down?
Johnny Winter (00:18:01): Ah, so, Okeydoke, here we go. Maybe I've overthought this, but Greyskull and the He-Man cartoon, which was originated in America where gray is spelt with an A because that's how you spell gray in America. But in the UK you spell gray with an E. So I anglicized it, now it's got nothing to do with He-Man.
Thomas LaRock (00:18:18): That's right.
Rob Collie (00:18:18): Definitely not.
Thomas LaRock (00:18:18): And you have castles there. There's no castles here.
Johnny Winter (00:18:26): Oh yeah. There we go.
Rob Collie (00:18:33): Okay. So how did you come to the world of data in general? Did you grow up in school going, oh, I can't wait to analyze some data.
Johnny Winter (00:18:42): It's probably a pretty cliched data origin story. I went to university to study politics and philosophy. Dropped out so I could be a barman. And now I'm a data consultant.
Rob Collie (00:18:53): That's at least I think 30, 35% of the demographic.
Johnny Winter (00:18:57): After dropping out of uni and working in bars for a few years, met a girl, decided I needed a more sensible job. Did a couple of call center jobs, ended up in an admin job in the finance department through a big employer over here. So I'm Preston, which is Lancashire, which is Northwest England, and one of the biggest employers where I live is BAE Systems. So huge multinational, so it's interesting to say, arms dealer, which is the really cynical way of describing it.
Rob Collie (00:19:23): I was going to say war monger.
Johnny Winter (00:19:25): Yeah. All those kind of things, but they're a huge employer, a massive part of the economy where I am. And I just did an admin job in the finance department. At which point you're working an admin job in a finance department, it's inevitably going to start noodling about using Excel. And it just, it went from there. I think if I were to describe to you one of the jobs I did there, when I describe this back to people now they say's insane. As in now kind of doing this as a profession, my day job was going to work, we used to have a system called TM1.
Rob Collie (00:19:56): Strangely, this is the second time today in my workday that TM1 has come up. I've gone months without it coming up, and now it's twice today. So please continue.
Johnny Winter (00:20:06): Yeah. So TM1, financial forecasting system, my job was to go into work, log into business objects, download some crystal reports into Excel, follow a set of instructions that basically said, right, filter this column for these values, but delete those because we don't need them, change the column orders because we want to upload this into TM1 and the columns are in the wrong order. Format this as two decimal places, because it needs to be two decimal places, not seven. Make sure you change the date format to be the correct date format. And then save this file to this network location, go into TM1, to upload something into TM1 you had to use something called a TI, which stands for turbo integrator. And it was like, whoa, but I didn't know any better. I spent years pulling pints. I was ah, just go into Excel and follow these instructions.
Johnny Winter (00:20:55): But then ultimately I'm pretty lazy. I don't want to do that all day every day. So you just, you find a better way, and so I did. And I think at that point there was a sort of a recognition in the department I worked in that I was kind of good at shuffling numbers about and whatnot. The guys in the department who were responsible for writing all those crystal reports, who I later found out could quite easily have basically done my job for me if they'd just written the crystal report right in the first place. I was led to believe that this was almost like off the shelf type thing, oh this is what you do, you log into the system and you run this report. Didn't even realize these were custom built by a guy who literally sat three desks from me.
Rob Collie (00:21:32): Let's zoom in on that for a moment, because I think this is an interesting sociological thing. Why do you think that there was never any attempt to speak to the report designer? I'm not even talking about you, I'm talking about the grooves that were worn in this business before you even got there. Why wasn't there any attempt to ask upstream for a more convenient way even before you showed up? Why was that kind of unconsciously or consciously off limits?
Johnny Winter (00:22:01): I think different people are wired differently for starters. So as part of this same job I used to run a process every month which was to run the payroll files for the Hatfield site every single month. Having inherited this job from a guy and a couple of months in I was like, "But Hatfield shut down eight years ago didn't it? So there isn't any payroll to run. Why do we do this every month?" And he was like, "Well, because the instructions say so." And it was like, excuse me, can we not do this because all it does is it spits out this file with column headers every month and it's just blank, and then I have to upload it. What's the point. So I think some people are just bizarrely wired in a way that they will unquestioningly follow instructions. There's quite a big famous experiment on it, isn't there I think, in terms where the one way you electrocute people, have you heard of this experiment?
Rob Collie (00:22:48): I believe I have, this one sounds like fun. Let's tell it again.
Johnny Winter (00:22:52): Along the lines of basically people failing a test and every time they get a question wrong you have to electrocute them and then put the dial up by one. And the test is really not actually electrocuting the people, but it's finding out at what point, when the person who's being electrocuted is obviously under distress, and as I understand it they were just actors anyway. But at what point will somebody turn around and sort of question it and sort of say, no, no, this is wrong, we shouldn't be doing this. They sort of likened it to, this is going to get dark, like people working fascist regimes and things like that. And you know, to what extent would people follow somebody like a Hitler in terms of carrying out those kind of orders, like running a process that produces a blank spreadsheet, may be a bit more innocent than genocide.
Rob Collie (00:23:33): There's a spectrum here and they're on opposite ends. But this experiment you're talking about, it's even kind of like famous, the actor that's the person being electrocuted eventually becomes like non-responsive and the number of people who will keep shocking them and keep cranking it up past the point of them, like they're not even responding, just slumped over, and they're still jolting them.
Johnny Winter (00:23:55): Yeah. It's scary isn't it? That's point one why that doesn't happen, point two is the guy that used to be in charge of writing all the crystal reports was a right miserable old bastard. He was just really unapproachable. So I think at some point I did ask him and I just got my head bitten off, "All the time and effort I'd have to do just to save you a bit of time every month." And it was just like...
Rob Collie (00:24:18): It's almost like being grumpy is like a job requirement in that place. It's the only way you can really survive.
Johnny Winter (00:24:24): I'm picturing Michael Douglas in Falling Down and somebody's come up to him and just been like, just one more, can you just add this one more column?
Thomas LaRock (00:24:30): That is brilliant.
Rob Collie (00:24:36): Johnny, I like you.
Thomas LaRock (00:24:37): Just one more column. Oh my God. So Rob, we could totally splice something together, we could make some sort of edit with all the face morphing, we could totally do this thing with falling down.
Rob Collie (00:24:51): Have you ever been on the high quality gifs subreddit?
Johnny Winter (00:24:55): No.
Rob Collie (00:24:55): It is amazing. So people take clips of movies or TV shows or whatever, they take a silent version of them, and then they splice in alternate dialogue, but they don't use subtitles. They use like highly stylized almost like 3D letters coming out of people's mouths and things like that. And we can take any movie we want, Michael Douglas will be sitting there in his car on the highway and we pretend like he's getting a cell phone call. He's like, "Yeah, we need another column added with the report." And he just opens the car door and goes on a rampage.
Rob Collie (00:25:30): We have the resources now as a company to invest in such shenanigans. When I ask that question, why didn't people ask him, it wasn't disbelief that was powering it. I am very, very much accustomed having been outside the wire, outside of Microsoft for a while now, seeing how the real world operates, that there's something upstream that could be changed to make the downstream easier, and no one ever really addresses it. That's maybe more common than not actually.
Johnny Winter (00:25:56): The thing that always got me in later life, when I knew more about how all these things fit together, TM1 has a set of connectors that you could plug in ERP anyway. So we had this guy who his job was to write the crystal reports on top of the ERP to get the data so that I could human ETL it into TM1 and literally TM1 had a connector where you could have just written a SQL statement and you could have actually cut two of us out of the loop and just done it. The IT guys reckoned that, oh no, but the load that TM1 would have, transactional system would be too overbearing, and it was like, it would be exactly the same as running the crystal report?
Rob Collie (00:26:30): So the human being essentially introduces a weight loop into the process. It's like when your code is running too fast for some reason, you just tell it to go spin CPU cycles for a little while just so it can slow it down. I did that in the wheel of inquisition, our team got too big recently. Have you heard about the wheel of inquisition Johnny?
Johnny Winter (00:26:47): I don't think I do.
Rob Collie (00:26:49): Yeah. It was a blog post at one point we put on Twitter, Mr. Excel did a video about it. When the pandemic hit we were online obviously, but we were always online, we were always a remote company, even pre COVID. We were discovering that it was getting harder and harder to get people to speak up and ask questions and contribute whenever we had a team meeting. So I designed, you'll appreciate this, thinking back to the wheel in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, that's kind of what was the inspiration for the wheel of inquisition. So I made a desktop spreadsheet with VBA and a pie chart and Excel is so wonderful, I mean it has a property and a UI element for degree of first slice. So the first slice of the pie chart, based on the series order, you can tell it what degree of the circle that should start at. And if you've run a four loop and you just keep changing that degree of first slice, you have a spinning wheel. I have a pointer at the top and I have all kinds of random logic that randomizes where it's going to stop. But it also stops kind of like with realistic physics. I mean, this is a huge investment of time for diminishing gain, but this is the important things.
Johnny Winter (00:27:57): This wasn't when you were PMing on X Excel then, this wasn't something...
Rob Collie (00:28:03): No, no, I was on the outside.
Johnny Winter (00:28:04): Ah, just imagine if you could just ship that with the product, that would have been great.
Rob Collie (00:28:08): I mean, go to the developers and say, look, I've got a really important business crucial case here and I need us to up the performance.
Johnny Winter (00:28:15): Shift control, WRA, keyboard shortcut for the wheel of inquisition.
Rob Collie (00:28:19): What a preposterous argument, right. That if we wired them directly together, the load on TM1 of all that data coming in all at once would be too great. So it's better to have a human burning their time and cycles just to kind of stagger the load on TM, that is a new one. I don't think I've heard that one before. That's a new pattern.
Thomas LaRock (00:28:42): That person has upper management potential right there.
Rob Collie (00:28:45): The sky's the limit.
Johnny Winter (00:28:47): It was that classic though in terms of, we were finance working in the finance department, and they had a TM1 development team who were the guy that wrote the TIs and wrote all the consolidations and whatnot. So they were quite techy people, but they were still headcount within the finance team. And even they were like, we can just get TM1 to talk directly to the ERP, and it was the IT guys that were the blocker. And that's like the classic sort of business problem, solution is staring us in the face, and then the IT just being like the gatekeepers of it, and like, oh no, we couldn't possibly do that. Nope, you'll just lock all the tables in the ERP. The crystal reports will run identical SQL. So it's like 15 years ago, I'm still bitter.
Rob Collie (00:29:26): And you should be, you should be. I mean, I'm bitter about it for you. Look how much time we've spent on this. It's been like an unexpected focus.
Johnny Winter (00:29:33): Off the back of that. The old grumpy crystal reports guy was coming up for retirement and I was good at noodling about with data. So they asked me if I wanted to potentially be groomed to be his successor. So I got sent away to do crystal reports training and that was kind of my first official dabbling with BI. I don't know if either of you guys ever used crystal reports, but it was insane really. The training cost was just all the drag and drop. It was almost like somewhere in between using Power Query and Power Pivot. It was almost like the query builder in SQL server management studio in terms of like, select your tables, decide which relationships you want, decide which fields you want. Nobody mentioned SQL to us. Nobody was like, oh, this is actually generating SQL under the hood and that's keying a SQL statement. It was just, oh, well, what you do is you just link these tables together and create your report.
Johnny Winter (00:30:22): So I kind of did that for a little bit. And then I moved departments to one of the manufacturing departments in BAE, and the guys there, I got the job off the strength that I already had the crystal reports training, and those guys there for me were just wizards with it. They were like, oh, by the way, if you click this button, this shows you the SQL that's generated in the background, and if you want that SQL to do something more complex, then the UI will actually let you do, you can just hand edit this. So if you want to get into the realms of like nested sub queries and all those kind of stuff, so wacky groupings of data and all that kind of stuff, you can just do this.
Johnny Winter (00:30:58): So then that was kind of like my introduction to, and I just got hooked on SQL, and it was insane as well because again, I was just so naive because effectively the SQL client in crystal reports was just a text editor. So I learned all my SQL, it was all in Oracle databases, so it was PL/SQL as opposed to T-SQL. But it was just literally as if I was editing it in notepad, and if I ever got any syntax errors I just had to spot them and it was only in later life, when it was like, oh, well if you'd just use an Oracle client to write those, that would've been loads easier. And then getting into the realms of things like IntelliSense and SSMS and all that kind of stuff. But yeah, that's how I kind of cut my teeth. Incidentally, I don't know why I always call it PL/SQL, but T-SQL.
Thomas LaRock (00:31:39): Oracle is PL/SQL.
Johnny Winter (00:31:41): When I'm referring to the Oracle variant, I always say SQL as opposed to SQL, but Microsoft I say T-SQL. I don't know why, I've always done it that way.
Thomas LaRock (00:31:51): Oh, you do PL/SQL. I see.
Johnny Winter (00:31:56): Yeah, but T-SQL.
Rob Collie (00:31:56): But T-SQL. Yeah, I think it's probably because the way that it starts PL, PI, you'd probably say PI/SQL, right. But PL, you have to pronounce as just the letters and at that point your brain just follows through pronouncing every individual letter.
Johnny Winter (00:32:10): But then I don't call it T-SQL.
Rob Collie (00:32:14): Shit.
Johnny Winter (00:32:17): Why do I not call it T-SQL? There's a guy I worked with for ages who always thought the SQL was pronounced squirrel.
Rob Collie (00:32:22): I actually stick to my guns. You can't say PL and think it's a sound, it's so clearly letters. Whereas T, I mean, it might be tee, it might just be a sound, sticking to it. But touche pointing out the T is also a letter. Just circling back for a moment, during that first crystal reports class, did they allocate any time in that class to teaching you the proper methods of being grumpy and cantankerous or was that left, to had to figure that on your own?
Johnny Winter (00:32:51): Yeah, I mean, I think that's just something you gain with experience.
Rob Collie (00:32:53): One of my favorite things about teaching classes, and I haven't done that in a long time, is teaching a little bit of the social engineering that goes along with the tools. One of my favorite things to tell people when they're learning DAX for the first time is I tell them the story about being the Excel person, because most people in the room at that point, I teach the foundation's intro. I tell them the story about themselves, that I've seen enough times to know that this happens to them. Where someone comes to them at three o'clock in the afternoon, near the end of the day and says, hey, we need the numbers for that meeting tomorrow. And they always call it the numbers because that makes it even sound more simple. Couldn't even ask for the report, right, the numbers. Just totally demean what you do.
Rob Collie (00:33:32): And their request is completely unreasonable. There's no way you're going to get this done for their 9:00 AM meeting without staying up half the night. But you've learned as the Excel person that there's no percentage in arguing it. You just got to knuckle down and do it. So you do it. You stay up half the night, you do exactly what they asked you to do. You walk in half asleep, blurry eyed to the 9:00 AM meeting and you hand it over and they go, "Oh great, perfect. That's exactly what I needed. Hey, you know, we also need to see it broken out by region." And they don't understand the person asking this question, that's dumping this on you, doesn't understand, again, a report that is implemented in traditional Excel, every piece of machinery that produced that report was structured in a way to produce exactly that report. Even though it sounds like it's going to be simple. No, you have to rebuild the whole thing.
Rob Collie (00:34:17): It's actually going to take you more work to build this slightly more complicated version than it took you to build the whole thing in the first place. So there's no way you're going to have this done for their meeting, and they're going to assume that you suck because in their head they can just sort of imagine just going into the headers of the report and typing north region, south region, east region, what's wrong with you, right. They don't get to make good informed decisions, and you as the Excel person get thought less of, it's just everybody loses. And then I show them that when you've built that same report using DAX, how the story differs. This is where the social engineering advice comes in. I say, so what you do is, when they hit you with that, first you've got to wince and you say, "Ooh, oh wow. I wish I'd known about that yesterday."
Johnny Winter (00:35:05): Breathe through your teeth.
Rob Collie (00:35:06): Right. But let me see what I can do. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Johnny's got this, right. Let me see what I can do. And then you have to leave, you cannot be visible for the next step. You go back to your own desk where no one can see you and you click the one check box, you check that check box that says region, and everything just magically recalculates, and you're done. And then you wait 30 minutes before you go back, because if you go back too quickly, and heaven forbid don't you dare show them the check box, because here's the thing, you earned the check box by building the data model the right way you earned the check box. But all they will see is the check box and they will go right back to devaluing completely what you did.
Johnny Winter (00:35:47): So the other thing with this, because I've been down this route so many times as well, is the fact that even though some like old school, like you say, it was like, buddy hell, start from scratch, do it all again. New school, ha-ha, I've thought about this upfront and I'm just going to drag it on, nice one, hide for 30 minutes. But then at the same time, if you do kind of step out from behind the curtain and let them into this kind of little drag and drop world, there's no context for them in terms of understanding data granularity and things like that. And all of a sudden that kind of, yeah, well he just needs to drag in region, it was only five minutes. Oh my God. That's amazing. Brilliant. Nice one. Can you just add demographic to this please? And you're like, that doesn't exist in our data and that's not part of my model because that's not a thing and it's a granularity that's utterly different to the rest of this data.
Rob Collie (00:36:35): Yeah. So two things here. One is following up on what I was saying, and another one is following up on what you're saying. The first one is, I've never had anyone come back to me after being told that 30 minute rule and say I was wrong. Except one time someone after being out in the wild with it came back and said, "No, no it's more like an hour." 30 minutes is too fast. But the field list, so this was a myth that we told ourselves at Microsoft for many years, and this was back in analysis services days, multidimensional, the MDX world. The output of an MDX analysis services model, as far as we were concerned at Microsoft, the final product of it was the field list. That's how an analysis services model would go out and meet the users, was in the form of the field list.
Rob Collie (00:37:26): And then unsophisticated people could then use the field list to assemble whatever report they want. Oh no, even less so, even less true in the multidimensional world than in the tabular world today. I mean just no way. The myth that, we used to tell ourselves that there were three tiers of users. There were people who would consume pre-built reports, there were people who could build reports using a field list, and then there were the data modelers and the formula writers. And that middle tier of field list users is a very, in reality, is a very sparse audience.
Rob Collie (00:38:03): The people who can use a field list effectively to assemble a report, once they've passed that test, I'm pretty sure I can teach them at least rudimentary DAX and data modeling. The people who can do that but can't do the other is a much smaller group than we told ourselves, delivering the field list and trying to train people on what it can and can't do is a more difficult exercise. And when you do find someone who takes to it, they really lean into it, they sort of end up bleeding into your world sooner or later. We don't have this check box, why don't we have that check box? Well, here's the formula, look how the other one's written, oh you just copy paste, and then they end up climbing that same gradual slope, just like you signing up to take over the crystal reports.
Johnny Winter (00:38:45): I've definitely come across a hybrid somewhere in the middle though, where you'll give them this kind of self-service model and they'll all sort of, brilliant, this is great, this gives me everything that I need. And then as soon as they hit a point where there's something extra that's required, rather than just ask for it, rather than just be like, oh, it'd be great if you could add this to the model, and it's like, okay, cool, yeah, we can work with that. You've tried to make their life easier, but it's almost like they miss the pain, they miss that opportunity to be like, oh actually, well I can create this pivot table for my self service model, but now I need this extra piece of data in it. Oh, I know what I'm going to do, I'm going to write 10 sheets of-
Rob Collie (00:39:23): Of Vlookup and yep.
Johnny Winter (00:39:23): Yeah. And then I can add that to my column as well. I don't know, I sometimes find that the most frustrating. It almost goes back to that never willing to ask the question. Maybe the answer might have been, oh no, there isn't a better way to do it. Actually what you've done there was given the circumstance, the best thing you could have done, or the answer might be, we want to give you, empower you to do what you can now and try and give you some help and some tips, mention the IT's favorite word. We'll put it on the backlog and we'll look to deliver it over time. But just the people that just won't even attempt to understand whether or not there's a better way, I don't know, it pickles my noodle.
Rob Collie (00:40:01): Yeah. So let's talk about the four letter acronyms, SSIS and SSAS. I can understand the Excel origins, I can even understand how that sort of climbs up through the crystal reports. There is a gap to jump to get to SSAS multidimensional.
Johnny Winter (00:40:17): So one of my favorite soundbites is I don't even know how to spell MDX. So I'm kind of, I'm of a breed where I've actually never touched multidimensional. It was only ever tabular in terms of the SSAS stuff I've worked with.
Rob Collie (00:40:29): Okay.
Johnny Winter (00:40:29): Part of the mission step was the fact that when I was a crystal report writer for the first four or five years it was just part of my day job, as opposed to my day job. When I was in finance I was doing other administration. When I moved into manufacturing, I used to kind of do ERP access queries. It wasn't working in IT, but it was almost like helping answer questions on how to use the ERP. Doing the crystal reports was a bit of a side hustle.
Johnny Winter (00:40:53): And then 2012 was a big round of redundancies where I was working and I was fortunate that I didn't lose my job, I got moved out because the department I was in was shrinking, but another job came up in another part of the company. And at that point, crystal reports became my full-time job and my job title became business intelligence analyst. And there was almost a mind switch at that point, that as opposed to doing crystal reports just being a part of my day job, business intelligence was my day job. And that was kind of, I went, I really, really understand this. So again, all of my crystal report writing up to this point had always been on transactional systems on the operational systems. And at the point where business intelligence became part of my actual job title, I just wanted to get to the bottom of what does that actually mean, and I discovered Kimball and sort of read upon on Kimball and all that kind of stuff.
Johnny Winter (00:41:40): And I ended up pitching to the department I was now working in, look, we're doing this wrong. Every single report I wrote, I was starting to jump through ever more complex hoops to build the reports I wanted to build because I'd figured out how. I could do several layers of nested sub query because I could, but ultimately it was like, well, why do I have to write for this one feature of these reports, I have to do that really complex thing all the time. So I kind of pitched to that department, we should be going down the data warehousing route at this point. And that's kind of where I guess the Microsoft love affair kind of started really, even though historically I'd been a bit of an Excel noodler that picked up a bit of SQL along the way and written some crystal reports.
Johnny Winter (00:42:22): Right, pitched the idea of data warehousing, got the project signed off, was part of the team that down selected on the products. So we had the at the time big three, because we were looking at implementing either Business Objects or Cognos or the Microsoft BI stack. I helped write the business case, part of my case for down selected on the Microsoft stack, to be fair, it was the cheapest one at the time anyway. But a huge part of it was the community side of it, because in the meantime I'd gone off and I had taught myself SSIS using YouTube and blogs. And having as part of my role at that time, I had to do some dabbling in SAP/BW, and at one point I was like, have you ever come across ABApp? It's like a proprietary SAP language. I was [inaudible 00:43:06] teach myself ABApp. At the minute, if we want to do some customization, we've got to pay some consultants a lot of wadge, there isn't even a SAP encyclopedia I can go and pick up inherited from somebody's grandmother.
Rob Collie (00:43:16): Aren't the tables in SAP typically named with like four letter acronyms?
Johnny Winter (00:43:20): It's a black box. You can't even really get access to them anyway. At the time being like a SQL enthusiast and being let loose on a load of Oracle databases previously, I was like, oh, can you not just give me access to the sat tables? Nope, don't do it.
Rob Collie (00:43:33): I was mostly just trying to set up a joke and Tom will appreciate this. I was talking to someone who specializes in essentially translating and making transparent SAP data. It's like a translation layer for SAP, and the amount of tribal knowledge required to build that and maintain that translator is insane. Like you say, there's no, it's like deliberately not documented. He says you have to get used to what we call, and he pauses for effect, and he says, the two tonic mnemonics that are used, because these tables are named sort of like after a German word, but then shortened into four letters. And so if you know what the German word, and he gives some examples. Anyway, if we get them on the show, we'll definitely have him deliver that punchline. And we'll pretend that it's never been said on the show before. I'll laugh. But there's a German word for that, Tom, that's one of your routine bits. That's one of your favorite bits. Well, there's also a German...
Thomas LaRock (00:44:31): What's the long German word for shitty database. It's actually not long at all, it's just SAP.
Rob Collie (00:44:37): Oh look at you. Oh, I'm sorry Tom, you didn't get that question right because you did not phrase it in the form of a four letter acronym.
Johnny Winter (00:44:45): But SAP just stand for a long German word, doesn't it? That's actually what it stands for.
Thomas LaRock (00:44:48): Oh, probably.
Rob Collie (00:44:48): Does it.
Johnny Winter (00:44:48): Yeah. Yeah. What's [inaudible 00:44:54] stand for.
Thomas LaRock (00:44:54): Doesn't SAP own Business Objects now.
Johnny Winter (00:44:56): Yes, it didn't at the time when, so I, Seagate at the time when I very, very first started doing it, Seagate. Then got bought by Business Objects and then Business Objects got brought out by SAP.
Thomas LaRock (00:45:09): So you and I were using crystal reports around the same time, about 20 years ago.
Johnny Winter (00:45:14): This is the other thing with obviously like a big multinational organization, like BAE systems who make obscene amounts of money selling weapons of war, is they didn't spend any money on IT. So probably the version you were using 20 years ago, I know, I got my certificate somewhere when I did my two day training course. It was 2007 was when I did the course, but it was XIR2 version. So it might have been the 20 years ago version, crystal reports 11 version two type thing.
Thomas LaRock (00:45:43): I probably have a certificate here somewhere from my crystal reports because I remember when they got bought by Business Objects.
Johnny Winter (00:45:49): BAE systems, we were going to go down the enterprise data warehouse and route. I was obsessed with Kimball. So when I first started Power Pivoting, because all of a sudden when I was like, oh, well tabular models and Power Pivot are built with the same engine. I started doing little, look what the art of the possible could be on a small scale. So I almost use Power Pivot as like a little prototype to demonstrate to people in terms of this is the technology we're going to move to. I have the Power Pivot pro little DAX crib sheet printed out by my desk forever.
Rob Collie (00:46:20): The old reference card.
Johnny Winter (00:46:21): Really excited to basically help build this Greenfield BI project from the ground up. And then it got stalled and stuck in red tape. And the sponsor decided that they wanted us to rewrite the business case again from scratch. I got hacked off because I'd spent all this time in personal development and skilling myself up, so I left and got a job that already had a data warehouse and I'd acquired the skills and was very lucky, somebody took a punt on me because I had zero hands on experience, but a load of kind of, I've read all these books and I know all this theory, and I was very clear to him when he interviewed me. I've never done all this, but ask me some questions and apparently I had all the answers.
Rob Collie (00:47:00): Well the cynical side of me also thinks you were fortunate that they stalled you on the enterprise data warehouse because you'd still be there today trying to get that enterprise data warehouse working. It's the project that never ends, the project that never actually completes, in my experience. You've moved on to so much more productive things.
Johnny Winter (00:47:18): Yeah. So it's been great. I've been really lucky. So since I left BA in 2016, I've since worked three or four different organizations, which have effectively been Greenfield BI implementations. And I got to sort of all the stuff I was noodling about on, I keep using the phrase noodling about.
Rob Collie (00:47:35): We'll allow it.
Johnny Winter (00:47:37): The stuff that I had just started out humbly in Power Pivot, all of a sudden became like creating tablet models from scratch.
Rob Collie (00:47:44): Okay. So couple of questions that are, seem like non sequitors, you mentioned massenomics, are you also like a power lifter bodybuilder type?
Johnny Winter (00:47:53): Not a bodybuilder. In the before times, pre March 2020 I was a semi-regular and semi committee gym goer in terms of trying to keep myself in shape. And then my wife's job changed so she had to travel a lot with work, and so I was getting to the gym less and less, two young children. But her [inaudible 00:48:11] job was also very well paid, so she paid for me to create my own gym in my garage and it's awesome. It's kitted out so well, it's ace. And so I kind of really got into my lifting. And yeah, I was competing as a power lifter. So I did my first competition literally the month before everybody gets sent home for the pandemic. But then everybody as well, all the gym's shut, and I was like, my gym isn't shut. I can carry on training. So I carried on through good nine months or so, but the thing that really got me was like, when I was training previously and I had a competition on the horizon and I had a coach and we had a plan and we just kept having to push the plans out and I got less and less motivated and more and more fat and lazy.
Johnny Winter (00:48:54): So I guess I was a power lifter. I haven't taken it seriously for probably, to be fair, I probably jacked in the power lifting and then that's when I started putting more time and energy into things like having a website and blogging and doing things like that. One hobby got replaced by the other.
Rob Collie (00:49:12): Here's the next non sequiter question. When we make the gift for you, it's definitely going to be you in Prince Adam attire, holding the sword aloft and transforming into He-Man still with your facial features. Do you want your tattoos included when you've post transformation? And if so, we're going to need some pictures. He-Man had no tattoos. I mean, he would today, I mean, he'd clearly have some sort of tribal arm band.
Thomas LaRock (00:49:37): Like Jason Momoa, right.
Rob Collie (00:49:40): Like once your biceps get to be a certain size, the tattoo just appears. Isn't that how it works.
Thomas LaRock (00:49:47): You got to oil them up. Once they get oiled up.
Rob Collie (00:49:50): I went to a tattoo shop and they said, no your arms are too flimsy. We are not, we do not... But yeah, do you want to be authentic to the He-Man or authentic to the you?
Johnny Winter (00:50:02): Punk rock He-Man. Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:50:03): All right. All right.
Johnny Winter (00:50:04): Cool.
Rob Collie (00:50:05): So data warehousing in Kimball.
Johnny Winter (00:50:07): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:50:08): At least on paper, the idea of it, led you to the tabular SSAS model.
Johnny Winter (00:50:14): Yes.
Rob Collie (00:50:14): And at that moment, as you discovered that did the music, the soundtrack sort of swell? Because in my opinion, there is almost an infinite difference in power between the things you had been working with up until that point and SSAS tabular. The first S in SSAS tabular stands for SQL, silly, right. So they get kind of lumped together, but they're not, they almost have nothing in common. The appearance of having things in common is actually in some cases an obstacle to learning it effectively rather than a benefit.
Johnny Winter (00:50:48): Yeah. I don't think that was that moment. Those early forays into doing that kind of work with analysis services, I was just doing simple aggregations. Some of the impressiveness was possibly some of the speed in terms of, compared to doing a big aggregate on SQL server Pre column store index versus doing it in SSAS. That was quite impressive, but I was still just doing basic things, while I wasn't sort of dabbling in the sexiest stuff that DAX can do into like, does anyone else describe DAX as sexy because I think DAX is so sexy.
Rob Collie (00:51:18): Oh yeah. It's super sexy.
Johnny Winter (00:51:21): It's like He-Man sexy. I think that probably that first time of doing something like a year on year analysis, which I think was a little bit further down the line for me, in terms of that tabular model experience, it was the first time doing, like forever having to write a CT for this year's revenue and then a CT for last year's revenue and then a common date table to join them together. And all of a sudden discovering time intelligence was just like, oh yeah, okay. Nice one. I was impressed.
Rob Collie (00:51:49): But before you even write any DAX of any complexity at all, even if you managed to make it to multi fact table star schema, where you have more than one fact table, I mean, it's just magic relative to anything else you could have ever done with that data set. You now have just unlocked every possible degree of freedom that you did not have in any prior tool, whether it was SQL based or Excel based or all those flat table languages are bad at that.
Johnny Winter (00:52:20): Don't think so.
Rob Collie (00:52:21): The angels didn't sing.
Johnny Winter (00:52:23): I know, sorry to disappoint.
Rob Collie (00:52:25): It was a gradual transition then, where it seemed incremental to you.
Johnny Winter (00:52:30): Yeah, definitely. Part where I had the biggest step change in kind of getting the most out of my tabular models, and this is kind of a clash of worlds as well to an extent, was having tabular models, but still having to use reporting services as the front end. And we're talking, where would that been, so basically for reporting services as a front end, you could stick it on top of a tabular model, but it's still basically used the old drag and drop MDX generator and it still created an MDX statement. Had I been at some conference and one of the Italians was speaking, I can't remember, but it was something basically along the lines, if there was a switch you could get to get to data mining mode, and in data mining mode you could actually write a DAX statement instead. So again, there was no kind of drag and drop experience, you had to know how to write a DAX query. And I went off and figured it out, and all of a sudden the fact that I could write DAX queries to generate SSRS reports off the back of tabular models, it was like, oh wow, this is really powerful. That sounds like the most unglamorous DAX discovery story ever. That's like, yeah, reporting services, woo. Oh my God, it's like crystal reports. Yay.
Rob Collie (00:53:33): Yeah, exactly.
Thomas LaRock (00:53:38): Crystal reports now with DAX.
Johnny Winter (00:53:41): But the thing is as well, Power BI was a bit rubbish to start with, like early doors Power BI was just like...
Thomas LaRock (00:53:47): I've heard that.
Rob Collie (00:53:48): Yeah. We've heard that before. We haven't broadcast it, but we've heard it.
Johnny Winter (00:53:52): I interviewed for a job, it's a big electrical retailer over in the UK called ao.com. It was like for a BI developer working with the Microsoft stack. They sort of said to me, "Oh, so what do you think of Power BI?" And Power BI at this point was still getting to the point where it wasn't quite fit for purposes as a proper sort of enterprise tool. It was starting to get close, and I sort of just basically turned around and said, "Am allowed to tell a bit of a blue joke." And the guy interviewing me was like, "Okay, go on then." And basically I said that Power BI was like the ruined orgasm of analytics, because it basically gets you really, really, really excited and then lets you down right at the last minute. And they gave me the job and apparently largely of the strength of that slightly blue joke.
Rob Collie (00:54:42): That joke, that was what sold you.
Johnny Winter (00:54:44): It's a lot less like that. It still has limitations, but it does everything I want it to.
Rob Collie (00:54:49): Are there any things moving out from power BI, the broader Microsoft platform, that you're kind of really into?
Johnny Winter (00:54:57): Yes and no. Power BI is still the first love. Power BI is the thing that I like to share my expertise on and I'm kind of the go to guy for it. But the team I'm working with at the minute at Waterstones, I'm one of the most senior guys in terms of the fact I'm old, basically. They're quite a young team. So I've got a much more breadth of experience and depth of experience than them. So I kind of, I've been sort of appointed like the technical lead for the team. In terms of sort of the direction we're going in and in terms of the solutions we're implementing, I love it and I hate it. On the one hand I'm bought into it, and on the other hand I just feel like I'm a victim of marketing. But we're kind of all in on Lakehouse.
Johnny Winter (00:55:35): I had this epiphany recently that when I kind of fell in love with data and analytics, it wasn't necessarily because I fell in love with databases, and the fact that under the hood it's not a SQL database. I'm okay with that. The fact that you can use something like serverless pools in Synapse is still flex your SQL muscles to query things, but actually from a storage perspective, it's just files. And it's so cheap. I think this sort of separation of storage and compute, I didn't know what that meant four or five years ago when people first started saying it, and now I kind of absolutely do.
Rob Collie (00:56:07): And now you just say it whenever, if you're confused, you can just say it to buy time and credibility.
Johnny Winter (00:56:11): Hundred percent.
Thomas LaRock (00:56:14): And sprinkle in the word hybrid.
Rob Collie (00:56:16): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (00:56:18): It's hybrid. We separate storage and compute because hybrid.
Rob Collie (00:56:20): Can we work edge, edge computing into this somewhere?
Thomas LaRock (00:56:23): Oh absolutely. This is all done at the edge.
Rob Collie (00:56:25): All done at the edge.
Johnny Winter (00:56:26): But yeah, no, Lakehouse, I'm sold on it. The thing that winds me up about Lakehouse is I hate a lot of the data bricks marketing. A lot of the data bricks marketing basically says that, "Oh, your data warehouses can't handle this, you need data bricks and you need a Lakehouse." And in my head, maybe I'm wrong about this, but for me, a Lakehouse is just a data warehouse. It's a data warehouse just on slightly different technology. For me, the concept of data warehousing is that dimensional model, structuring things in a way that are going to make these things accessible to the business, to be able to do the analysis they want. And whether or not under the hood it's SQL server or whether or not it's a load of PACK A files, the concept for me of a data warehouse is that organizing stuff and making it accessible. And so all this sort of data bricks trying to be a data warehouse killer, I think it's counterproductive. I think they'd have more success if they talked about it was the evolution of the data warehouse, as opposed to the killer of it.
Rob Collie (00:57:20): I can be completely sympathetic with what you're saying. Marketing has to be like lowest, common denominator. It's got to spur something. It's got to create an itch. Who wants to still be doing data warehousing when the cool thing is, you've got to change your noun. If you're still calling it warehouses, people think it's the old thing. No, no, no, no, no. We don't do that anymore.
Thomas LaRock (00:57:41): I have a data Mart next to a Lakehouse. That's what it is.
Rob Collie (00:57:44): I watched an old documentary one time, there's this old crusty US air force pilot who after world war II, he said, "We got all these briefings and all this that now that the nuclear age has started, all those things you used to know, forget all of that. That's not how things are going to be. It's all going to be, if there's a war, it's going to be nuclear and it's going to be conducted from a great distance or strategic and all this kind of stuff. There's not going to be any of those things that you used to do." And then of course the Korean war starts and he gets sent to Korea, he's like the squadron leader. And he gets this new, fresh graduate of flight school assigned to his team. They're about to go out on their first combat mission. The new guy is really scared, as you should be, he takes him aside and says, "Listen, we're about to go get up in a fighter plane and probably have to evade enemy fighters and then try to drop some iron bombs on a steel bridge. But don't worry because I have it on good authority that none of this is actually happening." And it kind of reminds me of what you're saying, we definitely don't data warehouse anymore.
Thomas LaRock (00:58:49): Don't worry, it's three times as complicated now.
Rob Collie (00:58:52): No, it's not. No, it's not.
Thomas LaRock (00:58:55): It can be. No, no, it can be.
Rob Collie (00:58:56): Yeah. I believe in this revolution. And you've heard before Tom, which is designing the rectangles for storage is very difficult. The rectangular shapes to store things is very difficult. We always need rectangles at analysis time, you were saying Johnny, like when you can write the SQL and pull your rectangles of data out to create some star schema to power your data model. Delaying the rectangularization, the rectanglify step to the point where you're actually informed enough to know what the rectangles need to look like is a reasonable thing to defer if you can. And storing in rectangle form was a very difficult thing to do when you're being thrown a tremendous variety of data from lots of different sources. And by the way, it's always changing, there's always something new. To hear your Johnny, you talk about how you still need to use sort of like some Kimball like star schema principles while designing these data lakes. I mean, that really runs counter to my narrative. I'm inclined to just, completely discount what you're saying, as opposed to...
Johnny Winter (01:00:03): Bill Inmon wrote a paper on it and I read it and I was just like, this pays no resemblance to all the other research and implementation I've done. This is whack, what's he on about. I guess there's probably, it still feels like it's an emerging discipline. So one of the guys who I follow for a lot of my thoughts on this, [inaudible 01:00:22] Whiteley, he will talk about like medallion architecture and your bronze, silver and your gold in terms of your data lake for a Lakehouse. So within this medallion architecture in these stage and layers, the gold layer is still a dimensional model. It's still like, or certainly the implementations we're doing, our gold layer is organized into dimensions of facts, hundred percent.
Johnny Winter (01:00:42): And I guess from that brick building perspective, for me it's kind of the difference between clay and plasticine in terms of like those golden, so bronze and silver layers, stashing all that information on a very, very raw basis. So that actually that brick you built for your dimensional model is no longer clay. If it's not fit for purpose, we just have to smash it. It's more plasticine in terms of actually, because we've kept everything in our bronze and silver layers in a more raw format, if we need to remold what that gold layer looks like, it becomes a little bit simpler.
Rob Collie (01:01:14): Is plasticine some British word for something that we would call something different over here. Is it like aluminium versus aluminum? I mean, it's different place on the periodic table.
Johnny Winter (01:01:26): What is plasticine, do you have Play-Doh?
Rob Collie (01:01:27): Yeah.
Johnny Winter (01:01:28): It's a bit like Play-Doh, but more rubbery.
Rob Collie (01:01:31): Okay.
Johnny Winter (01:01:32): It's more dense than Play-Doh, but...
Rob Collie (01:01:34): Oh, so it's like silly putty.
Johnny Winter (01:01:36): It's not as squidgy as silly putty.
Rob Collie (01:01:39): All right. Listen, we only have childlike metaphors here.
Johnny Winter (01:01:42): What is plas... Do you have blue tack, is blue tack a thing?
Rob Collie (01:01:47): Oh yeah, yeah. That you use to put pictures on the wall.
Johnny Winter (01:01:49): Yeah. Yeah, totally. Plasticine is a bit more like blue tack, except for it's a kid's product for kids to play with. It's not like a, here's a temporary adhesive for fixing things, it's kind of, it comes in crazy colors that your kids mash up into something that just ends up looking brown and turd like.
Rob Collie (01:02:06): I don't think we have plasticine over here. I've never heard of it.
Johnny Winter (01:02:08): You could pioneer that then.
Rob Collie (01:02:09): It's probably illegal. I probably have to smuggle it. Johnny Depp in Blow.
Thomas LaRock (01:02:13): No, no. As long as you don't put it in a kinder egg, we'll be fine.
Rob Collie (01:02:16): Okay. Okay.
Johnny Winter (01:02:18): Oh, hang on. Will that be a wordagami, is plasticine going to be...
Rob Collie (01:02:21): Yeah.
Thomas LaRock (01:02:22): Score.
Johnny Winter (01:02:25): Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:02:26): This has been great. I've been wanting to meet you for a long time. The podcast is at least partially an excuse to do that.
Thomas LaRock (01:02:34): Yep, exactly.
Rob Collie (01:02:35): That's one of the things, and you 100% live up to your online persona and then some.
Johnny Winter (01:02:38): Thank you. Thanks for having me on as well. I was like, oh my God, I'm getting invited as a guest on literally my favorite podcast. Yes.
Rob Collie (01:02:45): Did you hear the music rise in the background when that happened, when the invite came through? If the music didn't rise for you, as you discovered SSAS tabular, this podcast isn't going to do it. You need more choral soundtracks. And then that's C-H-O-R-A-L. That's probably a wordagami a got me for this episode.
Johnny Winter (01:03:02): Cool. I would imagine, it's probably more a death metal riff when I get excited about these things. It's more like a... Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:03:09): I love the music in modern metal, but I cannot handle the cookie monster singing. Why does everyone have to sing like an angry cookie monster?
Johnny Winter (01:03:19): How familiar are you with Korn and Jonathan Davis from Korn?
Rob Collie (01:03:22): But even he breaks character. He's not a hundred percent cookie monster all the time. There's become apparently some trend where like, if you ever sing in a real singing voice and not cookie monster, you're less than. Everyone's telling me, oh, you got to check out Mastodon or whatever. And I try it and they look like great guys, they look funny. I mean, they were in Game of Thrones as extras. I mean, they've got to be pretty cool people. They start their stuff and then the vocals kick in and I'm like, ah, I'm out.
Johnny Winter (01:03:47): Hang on. Did Mary [inaudible 01:03:48] get to meet Mastodon?
Rob Collie (01:03:50): She probably was right next to them. Because it was that scene, it was that episode for sure.
Johnny Winter (01:03:56): I'm more of an old rocker. I'm more of a kind of like a post new grunge kind of guy as opposed to full on metal.
Rob Collie (01:04:01): Give me your go-tos.
Johnny Winter (01:04:03): It's going to be obscure. It's going to get very obscure. Dinosaur Pile Up.
Rob Collie (01:04:06): Nope. Don't have any idea what that is.
Johnny Winter (01:04:08): Pulled Apart by Horses.
Rob Collie (01:04:10): Nope.
Johnny Winter (01:04:10): Ruben, False Advertising, they're good.
Rob Collie (01:04:13): Nope, nope, nope.
Johnny Winter (01:04:14): These are all British bands. Who do I know, METZ are from Canada? Do I actually like any American bands, apparently not.
Rob Collie (01:04:22): Too discerning, too discerning.
Johnny Winter (01:04:23): Alternative modern grungy type stuff.
Rob Collie (01:04:26): Johnny's like, my bands had to grow up playing with plasticine or I'm not in. Really thank you for taking the time. I know it's evening for you.
Johnny Winter (01:04:35): It's been cool.
Rob Collie (01:04:35): We'll have to do it again sometime.
Johnny Winter (01:04:36): Awesome.
Speaker 3 (01:04:37): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Have a data to day.
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