Getting Started with MicroStrategy

MicroStrategy and Business Intelligence in general has been a fantastic career space to me.  I love doing it (as evidenced by this blog I hope), and there’s definitely no shortage of opportunities in the market.  It’s exciting to be on ever changing projects as your priorities are always directly in line with the company’s.  Working on the front end aspect of Business Intelligence gets you valuable face time with high executives of the company and everything you produce is helping someone do their job a little better and a little easier.  It’s a great feeling, a fun space and a great career path.

So how do you get in on it?  I’ve always said the barrier to entry for a budding MicroStrategy Professional is very high.  There are no 3rd party books, it’s difficult to acquire the software for your own research and even if you did, it’s tough to find data to use or come up with use cases that would make good exercises.  I like to think that this blog serves as one of the better free resources to help those getting started in MicroStrategy, and I’d like to continue that by rounding up as many resources as I can, coupled with some advice and strategies, that can help anyone interested in joining the MicroStrategy or Business Intelligence ranks and getting over that barrier.

MicroStrategy is one of the few companies that will give you their full software for a trial period during a POC.  Simply call them up and tell them you’d like to evaluate it, and you get the whole thing.  They’ve extended that offer in recent years with the Free Reporting Suite.  This is a slightly stripped down version of MicroStrategy, but it is one that you can use for a longer period of time in a production environment whereas the Trial software you get during a POC is for non-production use for a limited time.  You need to create an account to request the Free Software, but you can’t use a free email service (ie, gmail, yahoo, hotmail), so you’ll need to make the request through a corporate email account.

The best thing you can do is to get a working knowledge of Data Warehousing and Visualizations in general.  I’ve hand picked my favorite books on the subject and I’ll continue adding to the list as time goes on.

There are several free online resources available depending on how deep you want to go:

  1. MicroStrategy Free Online Courses – This requires a MicroStrategy account.  The Online Courses are all free and are high level introductions to each area.  They’re a good self-paced starting spot and include little quizes along the way to test your knowledge.  If you’re completely new to MicroStrategy or even BI in general, this is a great place to start.
  2. Online Videos – Seeing is doing.  MicroStrategy provides some high level video demonstrations of the product which when coupled with the Online Courses above can give you a good picture of what MicroStrategy is like and how the workflow operates.  You can find even more videos are MicroStrategy’s YouTube page.
  3. eBooks – The free MicroStrategy Mobile app includes links to download most of the full courseware which includes far more details than the Free Online Classes.  These includes thousands of pages of descriptions, exercises and examples.  This is most useful if you can follow along with the MicroStrategy software if you’re able to obtain it via a POC with your company or via the Free Reporting Suite.
  4. Perennial Education Passes – While certainly not free, the absolute best way to learn is to attend MicroStrategy Instructor Led Classes.  These are full day/week classes that are mostly hands on.  They’re performed in person at various education facilities worldwide or via online live meetings.  Both are excellent sources of knowledge, though it’s a little expensive.
  5. MicroStrategy World – Even if you can’t make the annual user conference, most of the content from 2012 is available for free online.  This includes several keynote presentations and full slide decks from most of the presentations. (Thanks Carlos for the comment).
If you’re working through the software yourself and run into trouble, you have a lot of various options:
  1. Knowledge Base – This is the MicroStrategy Tech Support Knowledge Base, which includes articles written about nearly every potential problem or task you need to do.  You need a MicroStrategy account to gain access.
  2. Discussion Forums – The forums are a tremendous wealth of information.  You can read through questions and answers other users have had, search for relevant information for your issue or post and share your questions and answers with others.  They’re a great resource for even experienced MicroStrategy Professionals.  I think we fall into little rutts on projects where we only work on the same area of the product and solve the same problems.  The forums offer a way to help others while still exposing yourself to problems or areas of the tool you don’t use daily.  I like to say it’s like lifting weights for athletes.  It keeps your skills sharp and it’s for a good cause.
  3. Ask Bryan – You can always ask me questions directly and I’d be happy to help out where I can.
  4. Technical Support – Included with your POC or Free Reporting Suite software is access to MicroStrategy Technical Support (some restrictions apply with the FRS).  If you have any question at all, no matter how large or small, they can help you and walk you through it via a Live Meeting.  I learned a lot in my early days of MicroStrategy from the support technicians, so don’t forget about this valuable resource at your disposal.
Getting Test Data
If you’ve acquired the software and are ready to explore yourself, here are some places you can get some data:
  1. MicroStrategy Tutorial – This is the default database that ships with the software and is a pretty full example of a simple data warehouse.  It contains all of the pre-modeled dimensions and fact tables for a variety of situations and examples.  It’s definitely where you want to start to see the product working as designed.
  2. Microsoft Adventure Works – This is a sample SQL Server Data Warehouse that serves as a good starting point for building a MicroStrategy project around.
  3. Not Northwind – This free community built Warehouse sample is a knock against the overly simplistic, classical sample database included with Microsoft database products.  They describe it as, “Complex enough to be called Real World but simple enough that someone could “get it” in 5-10 minutes“. Thanks Claus for pointing out this project died with no official release.  If anyone else has any other recommended test Warehouses, send them my way and I’ll update.

Landing The First Job
It probably seems like a Catch-22: MicroStrategy Developer jobs require X years experience, but you can’t get that experience until you get a MicroStrategy Developer job.  The trick is to find a shop that will hire you based on your existing skill set and potential and will fund your training and certification.  While it may seem impossible to find such a place, know that almost every Developer I’ve ever had a hand in hiring had minimal or no prior experience.  The key is to find someone with relevant knowledge, interest and skill.  Learning software is cheap, but critical thinking and problem solving are not.  (For more on my opinions on that, you can read my Interview Questions post).

The most direct path could be to work for MicroStrategy directly.  Their Associate Consultant position is perpetually hiring and doesn’t require prior MicroStrategy experience, only relevant skills like I mentioned above.  They’ll send you to bootcamp to learn the details of the product and set you up at various clients (travel probably required).  You can also follow @MstrJobs on twitter for new opportunities.

Doing some initial research and work on your own prior to reaching out will go a long way.  Not only does it start to build some of the basic knowledge you’ll need, but demonstrates great qualities of self starting, passion and initiative.  A lot of it is luck, but one of my favorite sayings is, “Luck favors the prepared“.

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