The Art of Coding

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This week I was able to deliver my first-ever Power BI Hands-on Class through a virtual meeting. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, although the class received high evaluation scores from the students.

PowerBI is Microsoft’s data analytics tool that makes it reasonably easy to created incredible dashboards of interactive reports showing the state of your business. Much like pivot tables in Excel, it is intended that business users that have no coding experience can use the tool to perform deep analytics on their data. Our latest class sold out (it’s free but has limited seats) in under a week, and we continue to add more classes, so the popularity of the course is high.

The problem is that usually, this class is held in a conference room where I, as the instructor, can walk around and see everyone as they work on their laptops. It is easy to see puzzled faces when people get stuck, and I know when students are falling behind. In the virtual world, however, it is hard to focus on my shared teaching environment, also monitor the TEAMS session where the students are, and be checking scripts, staying on time, answering questions, and making sure my demo is working. It is similar to trying to juggle ten things at once, with two of the ten items on fire. By the time the three-hour course was finished, I was exhausted and needed a nap.

This morning there was a news article in the Wall Street Journal about one of the surprise effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people who are working from home right now are making time to learn new things online. In particular, the article talked about the explosion of online training for coding – learning to write computer software code to automate procedures and functions. According to the WSJ article, programming classes enrollment had more than doubled since the start of the pandemic.

Back to PowerBI, the course is three hours long, and honestly, it barely scratches the surface of what Microsoft PowerBI can do. The parts that I mentioned in my class, but did not have time to dig deeper into, was PowerBI’s ability to support programming languages. PowerBI allows users to write functions, measures, and create Calculated Columns using multiple languages. Typically Microsoft would use Visual Basic for Applications or C# within their apps, but with PowerBI, students use DAX, R, and M instead.

DAX stands for Data Analysis Expressions and is excellent for creating time-related functions like Fiscal Year to Date calculations. R is a statistical analysis language perfect for making graphic representations of data, and M, shorthand for Power Query M formula language, is a programming tool used with data that allows filtering and combining of datasets. These languages are primed for working with massive datasets and let incredible summation of big data to happen with astonishing speed.

Learning these three languages would allow users to master data analytics. Now thanks to the pandemic, we all may have the chance to do so while working from home.