One of the characteristics of a really good, classic movie is that it has a lot of memorable dialog. I could go on for hours quoting one-liners from The Blues Brothers or Princess Bride. Likewise, I think a good book leaves the reader with gems to ponder and to stimulate ideas. Such has been my recent experience reading Rob Collie’s “DAX Formulas for PowerPivot, The Excel Pro’s Guide to Mastering DAX”. The title doesn’t have the allure of an action thriller but it’s been a while since I’ve read a book so entertaining and effective at teaching a valuable skill.
I’ve challenged myself to learn more advanced DAX while honing my skills with PowerPivot and SSAS Tabular Model design. I understand a lot of the basic concepts but I really need to get deep into practical business calculations. But unlike the past few years of my BI career that I’ve spent using IT development and performance tuning tools, I am finding my self embracing the PowerPivot designer in Excel. In recent BI client work, I see a growing need to help business professionals do their own analysis and self-service reporting. To educate them, I need to think more like those business users.
I have an arsenal of books and resources that are all really good. In “Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services The BISM Tabular Model”, Marco, Alberto and Chris; who I all know well from PASS conferences and MVP community involvement, do a through job in describing the mechanics of tabular models, and some practical applications for various DAX expressions and queries. However, I chose to focus my attention on using DAX in the Excel add-in for now and then I’ll come back to the topic of solution architecture and larger-scale design a little later on. I’ve also gained a lot from Teo Lachev’s book on advanced Tabular model design. These are books I’ll come back to when I’m happy with my DAX skills.
For now, I’m reading Rob Collie’s book page by page and working through the examples. The pages just ooze with personality and have no shortage of opinion and advice. I like this quote:
“Much like the heat and pressure in the earth’s crust seize the occasional pocket of carbon and transform it into a diamond, the demands of the modern world ‘recruit’ a certain kind of person and forge them into an Excel Pro.”
…that’s profound. This isn’t a book written for programmers or IT professionals but for the new generation of Excel business super-users. Rob’s book is unlike most of those technical books that decompose a software tool and lay each part on the examining room table, detailing its features and nuances. He tells you what he thinks and how he has used the tool successfully and then moves on without explaining all of the ways to “do it the other way”. The pages are full of screen shots, images and diagrams with call-outs and commentary. Reading it makes me feel like he’s personally showing me how to access all the cool trap doors and secrets. As a technical book writer, it’s very apparent to me that this book – although I’m sure it’s been thoroughly proof-read and reviewed, has not been subjected to the rigid formatting rules and unforgiving styling of a large publisher. In places, it’s almost like a hand-written manuscript with the author’s doodles & personal notes in the margins.
There are a lot of good books on the market about PowerPivot, tabular models in SSAS and DAX. This book focuses entirely on DAX for the Excel professional and teaches DAX calculations and expressions, and not queries. For me, this is the best book I’ve found to learn how to think like my business clients and to understand the practical application for the self-service BI designer.
Oh, by the way…. Outside of some good books, online visibility to DAX resources is sorely lacking! there’s good information out there but you may have to dig for it.
In preparing for a conference presentation, I did some research on DAX. First I Googled “DAX” and found a picture of Dax Shepherd. Next, I searched using Bing and found a picture of Jadzia Dax from Star Trek. Giving up on the search engines, I went to Wikipedia and my search returned “Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name.”
So… I took it upon myself to post this Wikipedia article to get us all started. Please feel free to make enhancements to support the community.