Hey everyone. I thank you for reading the last part of this personal blog about my journey. It has been a fun ride, and whatever I can share about my experiences may help prepare you if you want to dive into the industry as well. You may not experience exactly what I have to this point, but it will keep you aware of what you could experience.
At this point in my career, I was a seasoned professional in the business intelligence world. I was an expert in Cognos. I also had a working knowledge of Cognos’ competitors like Business Objects, OBIEE, and MicroStrategy so I could accurately determine the strengths to focus when proposing a Cognos solution. I was extremely comfortable in my “Cognos” skin. I was also extremely comfortable in my black skin as not just a Cognos expert, but a true business intelligence architect. I had developed the technical confidence and competence to arrive in any situation, diagnose a problem, and implement solutions to any client successfully. A question may be asked, “Why wouldn’t a client treat you equally as opposed to any other professional?” That is a valid question. However, if I want anyone to take me seriously whether it be professionally or personally, I need to command the room with a proper combination of confidence and competence without sliding into the arrogance category.
The Jaunt into the World of Visualizations
I love business intelligence, but there was much more to this world than just Cognos. After really analyzing the business intelligence landscape, I could tell that Cognos was starting to take a backseat to other tools like Tableau and Power BI. These were tools that had snazzy visualizations as opposed to simple list and crosstab reports. Dashboards were the thing of the present and future. IBM acquired Cognos and it was not “keeping up with the Joneses” when it came to the innovative visualizations. I left Cognos/IBM to broaden my horizons and dove right into Power BI and Tableau, together. Again, this was another opportunity to fill the “toolbox” and stockpile IT skills. This is about professional fear and making myself more marketable. I was beginning to worry that I was single threaded as far as just being known as a Cognos expert. If I wanted to establish that feeling of creating job security, I needed to expand my horizons and add visualizations to the mix. I had the foundation of learning Cognos from scratch, so I did the same with Tableau and Power BI.
The fun part about these visualization tools is that as the end developer you see instant gratification with little code. There were back-end metadata skills I gained from Cognos and that enabled me to set up data properly to make these charts and graphs. I used to be a database administrator. I knew SQL in assorted flavors of databases, so I was not truly beginning from nothing. I was adding ball of knowledge rather than creating an additional ball of knowledge and looking for ways to connect the two. Although I was able to connect and identify with other people of color in the Cognos world, would that be the same in the visualization world?
Initially when I did not see as many people of color involved in the profession, I thought that there just simply was not volume. Well, that is partially true. There is not a ton of volume, but for the ones who were around, there was not a venue to join up and discuss our experiences. This was a difficult for me because I wanted to start up something, but my aptitude in Tableau/Power BI was not high enough yet to do this. At least that was my thought. I struggled with this mightily because I felt like I was letting others down by not stepping up and putting a group together. What won out in this internal tug-o-war was that I would provide a better service by just learning my craft and leading by example in the meantime. I took that challenge to design, build, and implement strong, innovative dashboards that my clients embraced.
After about five years of dashboard development and implementation, I began to get the itch to run my own company. I had about 23 years of business intelligence and analytics experience in my arsenal. I had enough skills in setting up reporting databases to set up data properly so I could design and structure the data objects first and then, propose a reporting solution. The two aspects provide a powerful 1-2 punch to gain and keep new clients. I had also garnered a reputation in the industry for my work. Having the respect of your peers is one of the greatest professional compliments to achieve and I was honored. Was I ready to make this jump of starting my own business analytics consulting firm? Was I ready to make my mark in the analytics world in the biggest of ways? With the utmost enthusiasm, the answer was yes.
The Birth of Precision Analytics Group
It was time to start on my own. I have been a consultant and an architect for a multitude of companies. I have taken notes and studied others who have owned companies. This was the ultimate final exam. I can apply everything I have learned from everyone who I have had the pleasure of working with to start my own organization. It was scary yet exciting in the same breath. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could own a business when I started my professional career.
I organized the LLC in Oregon since I was living there when my business originated. I registered my company as an Emerging Small Business, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, and a Minority Business Enterprise. I had guidance with organizing my clients/contracts, software licenses, my pipeline, and my website. I mentioned the website because I had a dilemma upon having it built. That was whether to have my face on the website. It may sound silly, but I did have questions on whether having my picture as a leader of the company would hurt business. After a brief period of internal debating, I decided to go forward. I needed people to understand who I was and for what my company stood. I am a black professional starting a soon-to-be successful business.
Although I was confident in my skills in dashboarding, reporting, and database development, I needed one more element to make my business stand out. Then, I discovered Alteryx. I was invited to Las Vegas for a free day of Alteryx Inspire. Inspire is meant to get anyone motivated and encouraged by the value of analytics. There are exhilarating keynotes, breakouts, and trainings. You see how to solve your most challenging and complex problems, faster and better, and show your bosses the real boss – analytics. That one day of being around a bunch of data geeks, which I am one of, I was hooked. I believe in the tool 24/7/365. I wanted this to be a part of my company.
Making the decision and commitment to being a Certified Alteryx Partner was the single most beneficial decision I have ever made. I love Alteryx because it allows me to perform data blending and data preparation with ease. Having dealt with Framework Manager for years to set up the metadata layer for reporting, Alteryx was a massive upgrade. Additionally, this toolset afforded me the opportunity to become intimate with customer’s data, which sets me up for additional reporting/dashboarding work going forward. I really committed to learning yet another toolset and mindset. Alteryx has really pulled everything together as far as analytics is concerned.
The Alteryx Community is the greatest group of data analysts in the world. Easily. It is an honor to be a part of it. One main question that stood was how many people of color are there in this community? I have seen increased diversity in Alteryx. This is so encouraging. I want to carry the flag more. There is a movement to have a blacks in Alteryx user group. This is super and something that is much needed. There is a diversity group in Tableau; there is no reason not to have one at Alteryx.
Where My Company is Today
Precision Analytics Group has managed to survive a pandemic and go strong for four years and counting. We are thriving with clients, contracts, and opportunities. It has been a rollercoaster, but it has been a ride that I would not trade for the world. Currently, I am a co-leader for the Orange County Alteryx User Group and part of the leadership group for the Portland Tableau User Group. I want to give back as much as I can so being part of these user groups does that, but I also learn so much from each person who attends. It is truly the best way to learn.
As time goes on, my company will grow, and I look to surround myself with the best analytics minds in the industry. I am so energized and eager to push on. The future is so bright. I also want to show minorities and other black professionals that this success is doable because I am living proof of that. Every time I can speak, I want to give back. Without various professionals giving to me throughout my life, I would not be where I am right now.
I want to express my extreme gratitude for taking the time to understand my evolution as a black professional. I hope that you continue to follow my chronicles. Please feel free to check out my website at https://www.pag.biz and register for my newsletter at the bottom of the homepage. You can follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-williams-pdx/ and follow my company on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/llc-pag/. This is ongoing and I hope that you all continue to be a part of my journey.
By Chris Williams
Certified Alteryx Partner
and Tableau Desktop Specialist