Three of our data team– Rae Ellingham, Jeffy Jebastin and Aaron Felton – attended SQLBits at the International Convention Centre in Wales last month. They attended dedicated training sessions on a range of Microsoft products and spent time talking to partners, consultants and other data scientists. They came back to the office with a wealth of new knowledge and opportunities to make sure the Red Olive team stays ahead of the data game.

For Jeffy, this was her first SQLBits experience. “It was really good,” she says. “The first two days were training sessions – each session ran for the whole day, dedicated to a single topic, so we could get into some depth. I chose data science using Auto ML and a bit of Synapse for the first day, and a session on PowerBI for the second.”

Aaron had been to the event before, both in person and online during the pandemic. He really enjoys the way SQLBits allows you to learn more about the technologies you are already using – showing you how you can do things differently or apply thinking in a new way.

“I attended a training session on Synapse,” says Aaron. “This is a modern data lakehouse tool that functions as a big storage area for all the data in your organisation as well as a serverless transformation tool that you can use to model the data without have to spin up SQL servers and pay for them all the time.”

“The session was a crash course in Synapse where they took some raw data and put it into the tool. They then did some modelling on it, putting it into different tiers – raw data, transformed data, and full modelled denormalised data. On the second day, we talked about Synapse integration with Power BI, so pushing the model we had built the previous day built in Synapse into PowerBI.”

Aaron found both the training and the general networking to be a great way of validating the work the Red Olive team is already doing. “You get access to ideas and possibilities that you can use in your work immediately, helping to get more out of the tools,” he says.

SQLBits sign

The power of partnerships

For Rae, a Senior Consultant at Red Olive, this was her fourth SQLBits event, so she’s had lots of experience at organising networking and general sessions to make sure the team gets the most out of their time.

“My first session was on Data Factory, which is the modern variant of SSIS, a tool I use quite a lot,” she says. “Data Factory is a component of Synapse – it’s about moving data in a graphical way without too much coding. It was really useful to attend so we could see the limitations of the tool and what’s available in Synapse. Data Factory is more suitable for smaller amounts of data, rather than the large amounts we deal with here at Red Olive.”

Rae also sees the value of speaking to others at the event. “One of the great things about events like SQLBits is that you are interacting with hundreds of other data specialists,” she says. “And because there are so many interesting avenues to go down, you can just adjust the general sessions you go to based on what you think will be most beneficial to you and the business. Between the three of us, we made sure that we covered a lot of those sessions, allowing us to bring useful insights back to the team.”

The team also made connections with potential new partners for Red Olive, helping the business to expand its offering to clients.

Knowledge sharing

Part of the point of going to these events is to gain knowledge that can be passed on to the rest of the data specialists at Red Olive.

“Our long-term plan is to build an end-to-end solution in the Red Olive environment, so we can test all the things we’ve learned,” says Aaron. “This will give us a platform not only to share knowledge with our internal teams, but to demonstrate to clients exactly how the Synapse and other Microsoft data tools can transform their businesses.”

This is timely, because many of our customers are interested in Microsoft data tools – particularly because they integrate out of the box with the other tools that businesses use. “We have the capabilities to help customers manage complex data problems using the Microsoft suite of tools, plus other third-party solutions,” explains Rae. “It’s valuable for us to have the opportunity to talk to product experts, learn from other data scientists and see how we can apply what we’ve learned to our client projects.”

And the dragons? Well, this year’s SQLBits event had a Dungeons and Dragons theme, which extended to the famous Friday night party, a pub quiz and other social events. Plus, speakers and presenters who took the theme to heart.

“I’m not sure we’ll be slaying dragons now we’re back at the office,” says, Aaron. “But we’ll certainly have the strategy and sense of adventure we need to push the data boundaries for all our clients.”