A Guide for Career Paths in Business Intelligence (BI)

The Foundational Skills of All BI Positions – Data Manipulation 

The more traditional BI route involves mastering relational concepts coupled with SQL (Structured Query Language) as well as masterting non-structured concepts involving Hadoop coupled with Python. This knowledge is used throughout any BI position – whether at junior or senior level.

A great place to start learning the basics of SQL code for free is at Code Academy. And here’s a great resource to start learning more about Hadoop.

If you’re reading this as a college student who’s trying to decide your major, Management Information SystemsBusiness Information SystemsIntelligence StudiesStatistics, and anything in Computer Science are excellent majors for a career in Business Intelligence & Analytics.

I personally double majored at Infomation System, plus Operation and Supply Chain management. I have taken related courses such as Stats, Accounting, Economic and Operation Research, they are exremely helpful.

Two Different Paths 

There are two main paths to consider for a career in BI, and they are generally thought of as the “back-end” and “front-end.” Furthermore, there are plenty of BI professionals that take a shot at both of these paths over their career as a way to gain more knowledge, broaden their skillset, and generate more opportunities.

For back-end BI development, the foundational skills revolve around 3 primary capabilities.

  1. The ability to source data: This involves being able to collect data in whatever system, stream, location, and format it exists.
  2. The ability to manipulate data: The raw data you’re working with will need to be validated, cleansed, and integrated. And in some instances, business logic will need to be applied to the data. This is the first step in creating value from the data.
  3. The ability to create data structures and storage architecture: In order to make the data useful to an audience of users, it must be organized and structured in a way that makes it intuitive to the user audiences and responsive to requests and queries.

People typically call back-end work the “technical” side of BI. Back-end work is hardly noticed by the end-user. Working on the technical side of BI involves less design of what you’re delivering for your company/client and more hands-on development, programming, and coding of the solution. That’s not to say that if you’re a back-end developer you won’t ever be doing architecture and design work. But for the majority of your time, you will be doing more technical tasks like development, and less design.

The back-end skill set from a general perspective is known as “Extraction, Transformation, and Loading” (ETL). ETL concepts can be easily studied and understood, but hands-on work with data and developing the code to move the data around is what really gains you valuable experience.

The foundational skill for “front-end” BI workers is the presentation of information, well known as reporting analyst. Some common skills companies look for in front-end BI developers are a strong understanding of data visualization best practices, ETL experience, strong analytical and quantitative skills, and strong communication skills.

The goal of front-end work is to place information into a context that allows the consumer of the information (the user) to use it to make smart decisions. Many of these roles use SQL (or a software tool that creates SQL for you) to both query and manipulate that data into a context that takes the form of reports or dashboards for your customer (internal customer or external customer).

People typically call front-end development the “functional side” of BI. It is in this position where your ability to interact and listen to your customers’ needs is extremely valuable. The technical ability to develop the interfaces in order to provide the reporting and analytics they have requested is vital to have as well.

Doing so generates invaluable business insights and knowledge that would not be realized without business intelligence. These professionals also routinely provide support to users and ensure the proper configuration and management of the BI solutions they are responsible for.

Popular Job Titles in Business Intelligence

– Business Intelligence Developer/Analyst/Consultant/Specialist

– Data Warehouse Developer/Consultant/Specialist

– Database Applications Developer

– Big Data/Hadoop/ETL/ Developer

– Reporting/Data Analyst

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