Inside Tigunia: A Conversation with Ryan Paterson, Director, Business Intelligence

 

Thank you for reading this month’s Inside Tigunia. Tigunia is comprised of industry-leading experts. Inside Tigunia features full-length, candid conversations to introduce the team to our friends and clients.

 

This month’s spotlight will be on Ryan Paterson.

 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

 

 

Tigunia
Thank you, Ryan, for taking time to do this. First question, how did you first find yourself working in the information technology and business intelligence field?

 

Ryan Paterson
I first started working in business intelligence at a phone refurbishment company that was severely lacking on the data front. Everything was being done manually, by hand. All invoicing and ordering. They didn’t have any ERP system and they had nothing in the way of reporting. Since I was there for a while, I took it on myself to get into that role and build up a data warehouse for the owner from scratch. That really started changing the course of the business, both from a profitability standpoint, as well as how we managed month-to-month, how our books were closed, and everything else. It really changed how the entire business went.

And that was all well and good, but then the company ended up going under when the economic crash in 2008 occurred. At that point I went and started working at a call center. Knowing that they had a pretty good reporting space and team there, my entire intention was to go there just so that I could get my foot in the door with a bigger IT and reporting space rather than pursue another offer. If I recall correctly, that was at Bank of America as a teller. Something I felt was a dead-end.

That really where I see it as the beginning because before that it was like I was doing it, but it in spirit and not in title. And then once I was at that call center, I was only assigned as call center agent for five weeks and then got promoted up. It actually broke a bunch of their rules because they said there was an internal rule stating I had to be there 90 days and all that nonsense to get promotions. But it was one of those situations where got hired onto the reporting team there and quickly showed my merit. Soon I was appointed to what they called the reporting tech supervisor at the time and I not only started helping out, but I started shepherding the team that was there on how things can go, how to build reports, and how to make data make work for you.

 

Tigunia
And what has your experience looked like ever since?

 

Ryan Paterson
So I’ve been with Tigunia for a two and a half years now, since June of 2019. I worked for that call center for close to five years. From there, I ended up going down to Portland for my next job. The job at the call center was cut. The company got bought by a Mexican company called Qualfon. Anytime a company changes hands, there’s changes that happen so my position was eliminated. I started looking for jobs on the western seaboard, because I’m from North Idaho or Eastern Washington area and there’s not a lot of the opportunity in the tech space up there. Looking from Seattle down through San Francisco, I found my way to Jet Reports.

I got hired there and spent five years there. I became the business intelligence manager during my time there and kind of shepherded the team of Jet Analytics developers. I got to know the group over at TimeXtender because of that and I got to work with them pretty closely on product design. I was really a part of that Jet Reports software company from a BI and reporting space, but also kind of still teaching folks on how to do it. I loved it there and I thought I’d be retiring there.

They eventually got purchased by another company. If you notice, there’s a bit of a trend here. The first company I lost my job at was due to the economic crash, then the second one was company acquisition, and the third one was also an acquisition. (laughs) So yeah. When Insightsoftware bought Jet Reports, they made, basically in Excel, the decision that anyone over a certain pay rate or anyone doing any kind of management role just got cut right away. We got a 90-day warning and the news was pretty widespread

At the time, Tigunia heard about it. Marc and Bret reached out and offered me the opportunity to start a business intelligence department. And I was like, “Absolutely.” So that’s how that all transpired. They gave me a wonderful landing. I didn’t even have to wait for my 90 days at Insight. Now, we’re still good partners with Insight, so no bad words to be said about them.

 

Tigunia
Of course. Through that time that you’ve been in the industry, how would you say that business intelligence has evolved? Where is it now, and where you think it’s going to be in 10 years from now?

 

Ryan Paterson
It’s definitely come along ways from generic SQL queries. I got my route in T SQL, and it was very powerful. You could start querying data and you could manage large databases and I really just sunk my teeth into it and it resonated with me. So much so that I could start reading it, almost like you would read a sentence. From that point, that’s kind of what you needed to know early on, and so I learned that really well. In the beginning, it was just ad hoc: pulling stuff for various things and no real formed reports, more so just being able to pull data and pull it into an Excel file and then manipulate it around for whatever your report looks like.

From there, it’s definitely grown. I was introduced to SSRS or SQL Server reporting services in 2008. It was kind of revolutionary to me at the time. I think it was revolutionary to industry because it allowed you to form up these more polished reports and present them to your users with parameters. And they didn’t have to know any of the back end, they could run it on their own. That was a big step in the right direction of what we now know as like reports. Since then, it’s really just gone crazy. The business intelligence space has exploded. Back when SSRS was new, it was really just that, there really wasn’t a lot of data representation or visualizations.

And now there’s a ton of front-end reporting solutions. What’s been neat about it along the way is getting to benefit from those advances in the industry. I recall in one of my earlier jobs, we actually had a team of guys get sectioned off from the rest of us with the sole purpose of creating a cube. When I left, they had been at it for about 8 months and they didn’t have a fully formed data cube yet. They had a dimension or two and a couple of measures, so they were basically there, but they hadn’t rolled it out to anybody. It wasn’t useful. It was very, very thin. And that took a team of guys eight months.
Fast forward to the present day with Jet Analytics and TimeXtender, and we can build a cube in a half hour working session with a client watching us.

 

Tigunia
Wow.

 

Ryan Paterson
It’s completely changed how quickly ROI can happen. They had a full team of ABI guys; made an entirely separate team. And after eight months, they had nothing to show for it. That’s expensive as all heck, whereas now you buy the software. Sure, the software has some costs to it, but as far as building up new cubes and exposing new data, it’s very fast.

So that’s been the greatest thing. And now, of course, we’re seeing a bunch of new front end tools. Like going from just raw data that you can’t really export to having reports that are flashy and beautiful. It’s really fun to see how much money Microsoft is dumping into it, because the advances that they’re making in Power BI are incredible. When I first started this, the thought of having a report that you could just update on a smart phone was nonexistent. I mean, advanced smartphones weren’t even really a thing at the time. But now, it’s something where I can be sitting on my couch at the end of the night, pull up my phone and within a matter of like two or three clicks on my phone screen, I can be looking at important details that help us run this company.

 

Tigunia
Yeah, I don’t have much experience with BI, but I had to use it in my last job and it was really amazing how specific we could get with it Like I said, not a lot of experience, but even with the little experience I had, I still felt like I was barely tapping into everything that it could do.

 

Ryan Paterson
And that is the case, right? We’re still learning about it. Each day, there’s new things to be done with it. I think that’s one of my favorite things about my job. We work with so many clients, so many different industries, that never do I get two requests that are exactly the same, even if it’s for the same kind of thing.

 

Tigunia
I can see that being the case. What are your go-to resources to remain up to date on everything happening and BI industry?

 

Ryan Paterson
There are several places I rely on. There are a few different folks that I follow that I consider to be an authority in the industry. We’re also a Microsoft partner. We do a lot of Power BI, so I subscribe to a channel called Guy in a Cube. It’s two guys, Adam and Patrick, and every time a new power BI functionality or feature is released, they create a video. I also follow Marco Russo. He is a leading expert in Dax. He runs a website called SQL BI. He’s regularly a special guest speaker and he’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to see what he’s doing and, when we can, we train on and incorporate some elements into what we’re doing here.

 

Tigunia
Awesome. So given that Tigunia is a remote company, how do you create motivation for yourself and for the people you work with. And is there anything that you really do to promote work-life balance?

 

Ryan Paterson
Great questions. Let’s me reference work-life balance first and we’ll come back to motivation. I always push for my team to make sure that they spend time with their family. I try to be a family-first leader. The work will always be there. Family should take some importance over that. That’s one of the great things about Tigunia is being able to work a flex shift. If you need to take off 2 hours for family, cool, go do it and enjoy it. I try to encourage my guys to do that and to take time off to make sure they don’t reach a point of burnout. Especially when working from home, it’s hard to see it coming. It’s important to make sure that you have good control over that and to make sure that you put time towards your family. I’m also one to practice what I preach because I tend to work too much. We’ve got a growing department and it’s great to see, but it’s hard because we’re constantly growing at this point. As we’re at that capacity, the capacity falls to me for the most part and because of that I’ll try to be a family first leader so my guys don’t have to work 50 or 60 hours. I don’t mind putting in the extra time, waking up early is usually what it comes down to.

Going back to your first question, how do you find the motivation for everything? That’s pretty easy for me. Being in consulting does have its difficulties. Not everyone has great days and being that we’re client facing or working with people day-in and day-out, sometimes you don’t always see others on their best day. But the benefits outweigh it in that I kind of view our job as a giant puzzle. So each project is different in its own right, and each report is its own thing. It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle, and if you’ve ever put together a really large puzzle, there’s an excitement to when you’re getting close to the end and you can see it coming together and you know you’re about done. There’s that feeling of accomplishment and wonder. The same thing happens with data and reporting.

One of my more recent clients is in the food industry, making pizzas at large factory scale. We didn’t have anything built for them for reporting. We had to start from scratch and we had about two months before their goal to not only build a data model out for them, but also build out about 50 reports. We were able to hit it. It was one of those giant puzzles, and from the get-go when they’re going through all these requirements, you kind of gloss over like how are we going to do this? As time has progressed through the project, we started to see that picture form and the puzzle come together. It’s a good feeling. Plus, when you hear people mention how much time this is saving them, it’s a gift. We were just on a call with them the other day and they were just like hooting and hollering about this report because what they currently have to run 30 or 40 times each day. It is now looking like a singular report that they can refresh whenever they need to. They don’t have to run 30 or 40 things. It’s dynamic and live. And they were just floored by how much time that’s going to save them, and that’s one of those really great feelings.

 

Tigunia
That’s great you were able to help them to extent that you did. Transitioning to some more personal questions, what’s your either favorite book or movie of all time and why?

 

Ryan Paterson
I’m going to go with the favorite book series and it’s going to be the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. It’s so great. Stephen King is known as this horror writing stories, and he’s great at that too. But the pictures he could paint with words is a pretty incredible. The Dark Tower series is basically like his Lord of the Rings story, if you will. It’s very fantastical kind of science fiction type thing. The movie adaptation needed to be done better. It needs to be done as like a full TV series, to be honest, because trying to shrink it all into a movie just didn’t work.

 

Tigunia
Yeah, that was with Matthew McConaughey and Idris Alba? I heard it wasn’t great.

 

Ryan Paterson
Yeah, I thought it was going to be cool because they got some pretty good actors. Unfortunately, they massacred it to make it fit in an hour and a half.

 

Tigunia
That’s a shame. Maybe it should be like an HBO series.

 

Ryan Paterson
Yeah, an HBO series would be epic.

 

Tigunia
Alright, next question, what is your life motto or mantra?

 

Ryan Paterson
I would say, “Be kind to others.” I try to be kind to everybody because you don’t know what’s happening in other peoples’ lives. They don’t mean to be mean to you, it’s just coming off that way sometimes.


Tigunia
Yeah, all right. Final question, what do you do to make life count?

 

Ryan Paterson

Spend time with family. Yeah, family and friends. It’s fun reading books, watching TV, things like that. But getting outside with family and friends and exploring things, swimming, going for hikes, or playing some sports. That’s really what I feel that makes life count.

 

 

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