What Makes A Data Platform Professional?

Eugene Meidinger hates the broadness of the term “data platform professional”:

During PASS Summit, I wrote a post about the broadening data platform. I talked about the term Data Professional, and how I feel how it describes the changes going on the in SQL space. Here’s the problem: It’s a terrible guide. It’s a great description, it’s a wonderful attitude, it’s an ambitious goal; but it’s a terrible guide.

Being a data professional means being a jack of all trades. It means being a renaissance man (or woman). It’s means a career plan that looks like this:

Here’s my summary of Eugene’s argument:

  1. The concept of “data platform” is too broad to be meaningful, because
  2. nobody can gain expertise in the entire data platform.  Therefore,
  3. focus on a particular slice of the platform.

Before I go on to make a counter-argument, let me start by saying that I agree almost whole-heartedly with this summary.  But that never stopped me from arguing before…

So here’s my counter-argument:  the concept of “data platform” is quite broad and nobody will master it all.  Within that group, there are core skills, position-specific core skills, secondary skills, and tertiary skills.  I recommend one of two paths:

  1. The Polyglot:  be great at the core and position-specific core skills, good at secondary skills, and aware of tertiary skills.  Be in the top 25% of your field at one to two skills, ideally one core and one secondary.
  2. The Specialist:  be outstanding (in the top 1-3% of your field) at one to two skills.

With that in mind, let’s flesh this argument out.

Gauss and Mathematics

Carl Friedrich Gauss was the last true polyglot mathematician.  He was able to make significant contributions to pretty much every branch of mathematics at the time, something no mathematician has been able to do since.  The reason for this is not that Gauss was that much smarter than any other person since him, but rather that Gauss himself helped expand the world of mathematics considerably, so a 21st century Gauss would need to know about everything Gauss did plus what his contemporaries did plus what their chronological successors did.  This spider-webbed growth of knowledge makes it impossible for one person to repeat what Gauss did.

Even though nobody can be a “true” polyglot mathematician—in the sense of knowing everything about mathematics at the present time—anymore, it doesn’t mean that “mathematics” is so broad a term as to be meaningless as a career plan.  Instead, it means that we all have to specialize to some increasingly greater extent relative to the entire body of knowledge.

What’s The Right Level Of Specialization?

One of my colleagues, Brian Carrig, was working the SQL Clinic at SQL Saturday Raleigh.  When he lost his original “I can help you with…” badge, he created his own.

This…might not be the right level of specialization.  Brian’s a sharp enough guy that he knows more than the average practitioner on a wide range of topics, but I don’t think the choices are to be Brian or to be replaced by robo-developers; there are few enough people who can reach Brian’s level of skill that if these were the only choices, it’d be a dystopian nightmare for IT practitioners (and I’m not just saying that because I want Brian to provision me some more SQL Server instances).

So there has to be a middle ground between “know everything” and “exit the industry.”  I agree with Eugene that we have to specialize, and here’s what I see, at least based off the current landscape.

Sub-Data Platform Job Categories

To save this from being a 5000-word essay, let’s pick four very broad categories for data platform jobs.  These share some overlap and there are certainly people who don’t fit in any of these roles, so this is not a complete taxonomy.  It should serve as a guide for us, however.

The four broad categories I have in mind are as follows:  database developer, database administrator, Business Intelligence specialist, and data analyst.  Database developers focus on writing and tuning queries and tend to specialize in performance tuning.  Database administrators focus on backup and recovery, dealing with database corruption, and availability; they tend to specialize in process automation.  Business Intelligence specialists build warehouses and migrate data from different systems into warehouses; this is a broad enough term that it’s hard to say what they specialize in, but pick one piece of the puzzle (cubes, warehouse modeling, ETL) and you’ll find people who specialize there.  Finally, data analysts apply concepts of statistical analysis to business problems and come up with explanations or predictions of behavior.

Choosing Your Skills

I see four major categories of skill, but the specific details of what fits into each category will differ based on the role.  Again, this is not intended to be a taxonomy but rather a conceptual description.  We have the following concepts:  core skills, position-specific core skills, secondary skills, and tertiary skills.

Core skills are skills which are common to all data platform professionals.  These are relatively uncommon but tend to be fundamental to all positions.  Think of things such as an understanding of SQL and relatively basic query tuning (which includes figuring out when to tune a query and what information is available on your platform for tuning queries).  But really, when we think of core skills, we’re thinking of position-specific core skills.

As an example of a position-specific core skill, administrators need to know how to back up and restore the databases under their care.  How you do this will differ based on the product, but if you administer a database without knowing how to recover it, you’re running a major risk and have a major skill gap.  So basically, position-specific core skills are the things that you train juniors to do and expect mid-levels to know already.

Secondary and tertiary skills are even more nebulous, but I see them as skills which are ever-more-distant from the position-specific core skills.  For a database administrator, the ability to write .NET code is a secondary skill:  relatively few employers or practitioners think of a database administrator as someone who needs to write C# or F# code, but they can see how it’d apply to the position.  A language like R would be a tertiary skill:  a skill which the average practitioner has trouble tying back to day-to-day life.  Most DBAs never think of using R for anything (although I’m trying to change that in my own small way).

Now, skills move over time.  As Eugene points out in his post, I sincerely believe that administrators who don’t understand Powershell are at a serious disadvantage and that there will come a time that database administrators entirely lacking in Powershell scripts will be superfluous.  We’re probably the better part of a decade away from containerization technologies like Docker having the same impact, but it’s ramping up as well.  On the other side, an example of a technique that differentiated good from great database administrators a long time ago was the ability to lay out files on disk to minimize drive latency.  SANs and later SSDs killed that skill altogether.

I wouldn’t describe these skill shifts as fluid, but rather tectonic; they don’t change overnight but they do significantly alter the landscape when they happen, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that tectonic shift.

So What’s The Answer?

In my eyes, the answer is to build your skills along one of two paths:  the polyglot or the specialist.  The polyglot knows a little about a lot but has a few major points of depth.  A polyglot database developer might know a lot about writing PL/SQL and tuning Postgres queries, but also has enough experience to query Lucene, write some basic Informatica scripts, and maintain a Python-based ETL project.  At many companies, a broad slice with good depth in a couple skills and relatively little depth in several skills is enough, and for our polyglot developer, it keeps doors open in case the market for Postgres developers flattens out for a few years or our developer wants to go down a new road.

In contrast to the polyglot, a specialist developer is elite at certain skills and knowingly ignorant of most others.  A specialist SQL Server query tuner is in the top 1-3% of all developers at tuning SQL Server queries and knows all kinds of language and configuration tricks to squeeze percentages off of queries which take milliseconds or even microseconds, but might not know (or care) much about the right way to automate taking backups.  You go to the polyglot to solve general, overarching problems but go to the specialist because you have a particular problem which is beyond the polyglot’s skill level.

In case the parallel isn’t completely clear, this model fits with the model for medical doctors:  you have Primary Care Physicians/General Practitioners (PCPs or GPs) and you have specialists.  The PCP knows how to diagnose issues and sees patients with a wide range of maladies.  Sometimes, the PCP refers a patient to a specialist for further diagnosis or action. As an example, a PCP might stitch up a patient with a nasty gash, but that same PCP won’t rebuild a shattered femur; that PCP will refer the patient to a specialist in that area.

Is This Really The Right Direction?

A couple days before Eugene’s post, I had a discussion with a person about this topic.  She was getting back into development after a couple years doing something a bit different, and one thing she noticed was the expectation of employees being more and more polyglot.  Her argument is that we, as IT professionals, have a lot to do with this, as there’s a bit of a race to the bottom with developers wanting to learn more and willing to spend more and more time learning things.  This makes IT jobs feel like running on a treadmill:  you expend a lot of effort just trying to keep up.  And this shows in how job titles and job role expectations have changed, including the concept of a data scientist (which I’ll touch upon at the end).

I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, but it does seem that more positions require (or at least request) knowledge of a range of skills and technologies, that it’s not enough to be “just” a T-SQL stored procedure developer in most shops.  So to that extent, there seems to be a combination of developers innately moving this direction as well as job roles shifting in this direction.

To the extent that she is correct, there’s a good question as to how sustainable this strategy is, as the platform is expanding ever-further but we don’t have any more hours in the day.  But at the same time, take a step back and this is nothing new:  database developers are already a subset of all developers (much as we are loathe to admit this sometimes), so these categories are themselves cases of specialization.  But let’s shelve that for a moment.

Anecdote:  ElasticSearch And Me

It’s time for an anecdote.  A few months ago, I started running a predictive analytics team.  Our first project was to perform predictions of disk growth based on historical data.  No big deal at all, except that all the data was stored in ElasticSearch and our DBA team wanted the results in ElasticSearch as well.  My experience with ElasticSearch prior to this assignment was practically nil, but I went into it eager…at the beginning…

There were days that I wasted just figuring out how to do things that would take me five or ten minutes in SQL Server (particularly around aggregating data).  In that sense, it was a complete waste of time to use ElasticSearch, and throughout that time period I felt like an idiot for struggling so hard to do things that I intuitively knew were extremely simple.  It took a while, but I did muddle through the project, which means that I picked up some ElasticSearch experience.  I’m definitely not good at writing ElasticSearch queries, but I’m better than I was three months ago, and that experience can help me out elsewhere if I need to use ElasticSearch in other projects or even to give me an idea of other ways to store and query data.

This is one of the most common ways that people learn:  they muddle through things because they need to, either because the work requires it or because it’s a challenge or growth opportunity.  If you’re able to take the results of that muddling through and apply it to other areas, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.  And I think it’s easier to form quality systems when you have a few examples—it’s easier to reason accurately from several scenarios rather than just one scenario.


Summarizing a rather long blog post, I do agree with Eugene that “data platform” is a very broad space, and expecting someone to know everything about it would be folly.  But that’s not unique.  “Programmer” is extremely broad as well, but we don’t expect embedded systems developers to write databases (or even write database queries) or design responsive web applications.  Doctors and lawyers specialize to extreme degrees, as do plenty of other professionals, and I see no reason to expect anything different from data platform professionals.  I do believe that unless you are at the extreme right end of the distribution for certain skills (and can thus be a top-end specialist), you want to err in the direction of being broader than deeper, as it reduces the chances of getting caught in a sudden paradigm shift (remember how cool Web Forms was for about 4 years?) and risking your livelihood as a result.

One other point I want to make is that the broadness of this space shows the power of teamwork and complimentary skills.  There’s an argument that a good scrum team is made up of a bunch of generalists who can all fill in each other’s roles on demand.  I think that concept’s garbage for several reasons, one of which is that you often need specialists because specialists fix problems that generalists can’t.  So instead of having a team of generalists, you have a team of people with different skills, some of which overlap and some of which complement each other:  you have one or two data specialists, one or two UI specialists, one or two “backbone” specialists (usually .NET or Java developers), one or two QA specialists, etc.  This says to me that there’s less a difference in kind than a difference in degree, even between the polyglot type and the specialist type:  you can be a polyglot with respect to other data professionals (because you’re using several data platform technologies and are working across multiple parts of the stack) while being a specialist with respect to your development team (because you’re the database person).

Coda:  Data Science

One bit at the end of Eugene’s post is that he’s interested in digging into data science.  For a post criticizing the impossibility of living up to a definition, this did elicit a knowing chuckle.  The problem is that the term “data scientist” is a microcosm of the issues with “data platform professional.”  To be a data scientist, you should have development skills (preferably in multiple languages, including but not limited to SQL, R, and Python), a strong background in statistics (ideally having worked through PhD level courses), and a deep knowledge of the context of data (as in spending years getting to know the domain).  I saw the perfect t-shirt today to describe these people.


There are very few people who have all three skill sets and yet that’s what being a data scientist requires.  It’s the same problem as “data platform professional” but at a slightly smaller scale.

Upcoming Events

Busy Season is officially underway.  Here’s where you can find me over the next several weeks.

  1. Tonight (2017-03-23), I am giving a webinar for the Southern New England UseR Group.  My topic is data cleansing with R.
  2. This Saturday (2017-03-25), I will be in Phoenix, Arizona for SQL Saturday Phoenix.  I will give two presentations there, one on the APPLY operator and one on using Kafka in .NET shops.
  3. On Saturday, April 1st, I will be in Orange County, California for SQL Saturday OC.  I will give two presentations there, one on the APPLY operator and one on using Kafka in .NET shops.
  4. On Tuesday, April 4th, I will be in Charlotte, North Carolina for the Charlotte BI Group meeting.  My topic there is using Kafka for real-time data ingestion.
  5. On Saturday, April 8th, I will be in Madison, Wisconsin for SQL Saturday Madison.  My topic there is R for SQL Server developers.
  6. On Saturday, April 22nd, I will be in Raleigh, North Carolina for Global Azure Bootcamp.  My topic will be Azure SQL Data Warehouse.
  7. On Saturday, April 29th, I will be in Rochester, New York for SQL Saturday Rochester.  I will give two presentations there, including one on the wide world of the data platform and one on R for SQL Server developers.  As a special bonus, if you’re there, check out Chris Hyde’s talk on SQL Server R Services, which will be right after mine.  We did this pair of talks back to back at another event and they fit together quite well.
  8. On Thursday, May 4th, I will be in Roanoke, Virginia for the Roanoke Valley .NET User Group monthly meeting.  My topic there is using Kafka for real-time data ingestion.
  9. On Saturday, May 6th, I will be in Baltimore, Maryland for SQL Saturday Baltimore.  My topic there is using the APPLY operator.
  10. On Saturday, May 20th, I will be in New York, New York for SQL Saturday New York City.  I’m not sure yet what my topic will be.

That’s my speaking agenda for the next couple of months.  A couple more events might pop up in there, but I’ll call that officially busy.  If you’re able to make it out to any of these events, I hope to see you there.

Game blogging update and Baseball HOFs

I’m going to move future game blogging to my Patreon page. I will occasionally make comments about non-gaming (i.e. sports stuff) here, but the gaming stuff fits more over there. I’ll be starting my YouTube channel soon, so keep an eye out for that!

As far as the Hall of Fame voting, in all honesty, there weren’t that many surprises, unless you count Pudge sailing in despite the controversies of his career. I was pleasantly surprised to see Manny surpass 25% and Bonds and Clemens to break 50%, which means good things for their candidacies. Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman now look like locks, although the 2018 class has some strong first time candidates (Chipper Jones and Jim Thome strike me as definite first ballot guys, and I expect Scott Rolen will get in eventually). My favorite case for next year is Jamie Moyer; he won 260+ games, so we’ll have to see what kind of voting he gets. Vizquel will get traction, but probably not make it the first time.

Jorge Posada did better than I expected, getting almost enough to stay on the ballot, but I’m surprised Drew or Orlando Cabrera didn’t get a vote. The Boston thing must not be as strong as I thought.



The Benefits Of Technological Differentiation

Dave Mason has some early qualms about “big data” technologies like Hadoop and Spark.  Paraphrasing his argument (and splicing it with arguments I’ve heard from other SQL Server specialists I’ve talked to over the past few years), it seems that a good practitioner can replicate the examples and demos that are out there for technologies like Spark and Hadoop, sometimes even better than Spark or Hadoop can in the original demo.  This is especially true whenever someone comes in with a laptop and runs a demo off of a virtual machine (like, uh, me).  But I think that there is an important caveat to this critique.


For me, Hadoop & Spark aren’t about “things you simply cannot do otherwise.” There are some companies where the scope and scale work out that there might not be another practical choice, but I’ve never worked at one of those companies. I think that it’s more a question of value versus cost on two levels. First, I can buy ten mid-spec servers a lot cheaper than a single server with 8-10x the power. Second, SQL Server Enterprise Edition is pricey. So if it’s equally easy to build a solution with Spark vs SQL Server, then that—ceteris paribus—is a potential reason to use Spark.

There’s a lot of overlap in data platform technologies and good people can make create workable solutions with reasonable data size and reasonable response time requirements using quite a few platforms. It’s when you start relaxing some of these assumptions that platform technologies really differentiate themselves.  For example, suppose I need sub-millisecond query response times for frequently-updated data while retaining ACID properties; if so, I’d lean toward a powerful relational database like SQL Server.  If I need sub-second response times for large warehouse queries, I’d look toward Teradata or maybe Azure SQL Data Warehouse.  If I need to ingest millions of data points per second in near-real-time, I probably want to combine Kafka with Spark.  If I need to process petabytes of non-relational genomic data, Hadoop is king of that show.  On the other side, if I need to put a small relational database on millions of embedded devices, I’ll use sqlite or maybe SQL Server Compact Edition.  In each of these cases, it’s not so much that it’s literally impossible to envison using Tech Stack A instead of Tech Stack B or that people who start using Tech Stack B will come up with entirely different ways of solving business problems than professionals familiar with Tech Stack A, but rather that the relative trade-offs can make one a more viable alternative than the other.

As a totally different example, I can use Full-Text Indexing and various tricks (like n-grams) to perform quick text search in SQL Server. For some data size, that’ll even work, and if it meets my data and response time requirements, great. But if I’m expected to do full-text search of the Library of Congress in milliseconds, I’m probably at a point where I need something tailored to this specific problem, like Solr.

Nothing New Under The Sun(?)

Aside from restrictive constraints, I want to address in a little more detail the architecture point I made above.  Based on my reading of Dave’s post, it sounds like he’s expecting New Ways Of Doing Things across the board.  That’s because many of the proponents tend to blur the lines between techniques, architectures, and solving business problems at the highest level.

Technique changes over time.  The Google MapReduce paper has spawned a generation of distributed computing techniques and has indirectly led to Resilient Distributed Datasetskappa and lambda architectures, and plenty more.  But if you look at it at a high enough level, the concepts have stayed very similar.  We’re still building text processing engines, aggregation engines, and lots of servers which take data from one place and put it into a different place (sometimes making it look a bit different in the process).  At that level, there’s nothing new under the sun.

But I don’t consider that a shortcoming; it is an acknowledgement that conceptual solutions to business problems are independent of their technological implementations.  Part of our job as data specialists is to translate conceptual solutions to a particular set of technological tools available under given constraints for a particular problem.  The new tools won’t open up a previously-undiscovered world of conceptual solutions; instead, they shift the constraints and potentially open doors when we previously would have said “Sorry, not possible.”

That said, I think that there is a benefit in people knowing multiple tech stacks, because that helps us delay or defer the “Sorry, not possible” mentality.  That’s because “Sorry, not possible” really means “Sorry, not possible given my best expectation of what servers, processes, technological stacks, potential solutions, the budget, and business requirements look like at this moment.”  That’s a lot of hidden assumptions.

Hadoop and Spark Specialties

Wrapping up what was supposed to be a three-line response to Dave on the SQL Server Community Slack, the closest thing I have off-hand to a “thing you simply cannot do otherwise” with Spark is distributed analytics with SparkR/sparklyr or Pandas.  You can use a scale-up approach with an R server or a Microsoft R Server instance, but analyze a large enough data set and you’ll eventually run out of RAM.  With the enterprise-level version of Microsoft R Server, you can page to disk so the query won’t outright fail (like it will when you’re using the open-source R client or Microsoft R Open), but performance will not be great.

But even then, the mindset isn’t so much “How do we come up with a brand new concept to solve the problem?” as much as it is “How can we relax binding constraints on existing problems?”  That, I think, is the critical question to answer, and where you start to see value in these platforms.

Life and times of Avindian

I have once again been absent for some time. In particular, I’ve yet to write on the Hall of Fame election, which I plan to do in the not-too-distant future. Similarly, I have some overdue thoughts on Madden 17 to share.

I am thinking of properly starting my YouTube channel soon. I’ve gotten a little bit of experience doing some videos; once I’m a bit more comfortable, I will start posting videos. Until then, my friends!

Analyzing DBA Salaries

Recently, Brent Ozar put together a data professional salary survey.  He did some early research and opened the floor for others, now that the results are in.  In this post, I’m going to take that data set and do some fairly simple descriptive statistics with R.  So let’s fire up RTVS and get started.

Getting A Picture Of The Data

The first thing we want to do is grab the Excel file and load it into R.  There’s a nice package called XLConnect which makes working with Excel a breeze. Aside from that, I’m going to load dplyr and tidyr to help with data cleansing and the to get some data we’ll use later in conjunction with salary data.

install.packages("pwt9", repos = 'http://cran.rstudio.com/')

wb <- loadWorkbook("2017_Data_Professional_Salary_Survey_Responses.xlsx")
salary.data <- readWorksheet(wb, sheet = "Salary Survey", region = "A4:T2902")

The salary survey worksheet really starts on row 4, with the first three rows being pre-header descriptive information. The first thing we want to do is check out the summary of our data frame to see if there are any immediate goodies:



From the summary, we can see that there’s a wide range of salary values, from $430 a year up to $1.45 million. There are certainly some values which seem suspicious, and that’s a common problem with data sets like this: misreported values, typos, bad translations, etc.  We’re going to have to do the best we can with the data we have, but in a practical data science scenario, we might want to investigate these values to see if they’re legit and clean them up if not.

Because salary is our primary fact value here, I figured it’d be interesting to see the distribution of salaries in a histogram. That’s easy to do with the hist() function, but if you just build a histogram of salaries, you’ll get skewed results. There are several orders of magnitude difference in salaries in this data set, and the way we smooth out those differences and capture meaningful trend differences is to take the log of salary. It doesn’t really matter which log base you use, so long as you’re consistent. I’m going to use log10 because that gives us an intuitive understanding of values: 10^5 is $10,000 per annum, 10^6 is $100,000, and so on.


The resulting histogram looks like this:


This is not really a normal distribution; it skews left (thanks in part to that $435 per year value, but there are plenty of very low values in the data set).  It also shows that a strong majority of people answered between approximately 10^4.8 to 10^5.2.  If you want to see what the exact bin widths are (assuming that, like me, you didn’t define them in the first place), that’s easy:

h <- hist(log10(salary.data$SalaryUSD))
> h$breaks
 [1] 2.6 2.8 3.0 3.2 3.4 3.6 3.8 4.0 4.2 4.4 4.6 4.8 5.0 5.2 5.4 5.6 5.8 6.0 6.2

To give you some context, 10^4.6 is $39,810 per year, 10^4.8 is $63,095 per year, 10^5.0 is $100,000 per year, and 10^5.2 is $158,489 per year.  Most data professionals surveyed make between $63K and $159K per year.

Breakdowns By Country

Now let’s look at some country-level breakdowns.  For this, I’m going to use some dplyr function chains, and my first step is to see what we’ve got.

entrants.by.country <- data.frame(salary.data %>% group_by(Country) %>% summarize(mean.salary = mean(SalaryUSD), n = n()))

This will create a new data frame called entrants.by.country, which includes the country name, the number of entrants (n), and the mean salary. We can see that Anglosphere countries dominate the survey results, which makes sense given that it was on an English-language blog:

entrants.by.country[order(entrants.by.country$n, decreasing = TRUE),]
> entrants.by.country[order(entrants.by.country$n, decreasing = TRUE),]
                 Country mean.salary    n
64         United States   106741.99 1879
63        United Kingdom    62570.73  293
10                Canada    74600.53  105
26                 India    22507.34   70
3              Australia    91087.17   69
20               Germany    76408.07   45
39           Netherlands    65543.22   36
57                Sweden    60151.21   34
55          South Africa    54313.75   28
40           New Zealand    78336.92   24
15               Denmark   101767.35   23
27               Ireland    80177.25   20
46                Poland    32028.70   20
58           Switzerland   120138.89   18

That said, we have data for people from 66 countries; I’m only including some of the results in the list above for space reasons. If we want to see where the highest mean salary is for data professionals, we just need to reorder the sort criteria:

entrants.by.country[order(entrants.by.country$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
> entrants.by.country[order(entrants.by.country$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
                 Country mean.salary    n
58           Switzerland   120138.89   18
6                Bermuda   120000.00    1
64         United States   106741.99 1879
25               Iceland   105500.00    2
15               Denmark   101767.35   23
42                Norway    97820.89    9
3              Australia    91087.17   69

These results say that Switzerland and Bermuda are nice places to work if you want to maximize expected salary. But there’s a problem: we only have one entrant who chose Bermuda, so that’s not very helpful for data comparison. What if we picked the one guy in Bermuda who makes more than $100K a year? Or maybe everybody makes more than this guy? We don’t know, and there just aren’t enough entrants in this sample to give us good information, so I want to filter out any country with fewer than 10 entrants. Why 10? Either because I hate Norway or I like round numbers; your call.

filtered.entrants.by.country <- entrants.by.country %>% filter(n > 9)
filtered.entrants.by.country[order(filtered.entrants.by.country$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
> count(filtered.entrants.by.country)
 Source: local data frame [1 x 1]

 1 23
> filtered.entrants.by.country[order(filtered.entrants.by.country$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
          Country mean.salary    n
21    Switzerland   120138.89   18
23  United States   106741.99 1879
5         Denmark   101767.35   23
1       Australia    91087.17   69
10        Ireland    80177.25   20
14    New Zealand    78336.92   24
11         Israel    77200.00   10
8         Germany    76408.07   45
4          Canada    74600.53  105
13    Netherlands    65543.22   36
6         Finland    63640.00   10
22 United Kingdom    62570.73  293
20         Sweden    60151.21   34
2         Belgium    59354.55   11
18   South Africa    54313.75   28
7          France    53063.64   11
12          Italy    51410.00   15
19          Spain    40233.33   15
15         Poland    32028.70   20
3          Brazil    31152.18   11
16        Romania    27284.00   15
9           India    22507.34   70
17         Russia    21693.54   13

We’re now down to 23 entrants, so I included the full set here. Honestly, I think even 10 is way too low to make an accurate guess; I’d want 30-50 before I start feeling at all confident, and even that’s low considering all the factors which go into salary within a country.

Looking at these countries, we see Switzerland in its own tier, followed by the United States and Denmark.  Australia kind of fits between the next tier, which includes Ireland, New Zealand, Israel, Germany, and Canada.  Down and down it goes, until we land on India and Russia at the bottom.

Introducing Purchasing Power Parity

Looking at salary data in a vacuum can be interesting, but I think we all have an intuitive understanding that it’s more expensive to live in the United States, UK, or Germany than in Romania, Russia, or India.  Economists have done a lot of research on the topic, particularly around purchasing power parity.  The quick idea is, supposing I have a basket of goods that I can purchase in one area, how much would it cost me to purchase an equivalent basket of goods in another area?  Within one country, there can be vast differences:  compare prices in New York City versus Iowa City.  Between countries, there is also a significant difference, and PPP tries to adjust for that difference.

In our case, I want the purchasing power parity-adjusted Gross Domestic Product of each country; I’ll treat that as the norm.  Before anybody jumps down my throat about how per capita GDP isn’t the same as average income, the various ways in which GDP is flawed as a calculation metric, that per-capita GDP includes people outside the workforce, that workforce compositions can differ between countries, etc. etc., I know and I agree.  My hope here is that most of the differences will balance out without having to go through major analytic hurdles. We’re futzing about, not writing academic papers.

Anyhow, how do we get this data?  Well, that’s the Penn World Table package we loaded early on. Building the data set is pretty easy. In this case, I just want to compare my data set against he latest year in the data set, which is 2014.

countries.2014 <- pwt9.0 %>% filter(year == 2014)

In this data set, there are two PPP GDP measures: an expenditure-side measure and an output-side measure. The expenditure-side standard is better for comparing living standards for people in those countries, whereas the output-side measure is better for understanding productivity differences between countries. We’re going to use the expenditure-side GDP values, although the differences aren’t huge. Also, I should note that population and GDP are both measured in millions, so to get per capita GDP, we can do straight division.

country.gdp <- countries.2014 %>% select(Country = country, rgdpe, pop)
country.gdp$gdp.per.capita <- country.gdp$rgdpe / country.gdp$pop
country.gdp <- lapply(country.gdp, gsub, pattern = "United States of America", replacement = "United States")
country.gdp <- as.data.frame(lapply(country.gdp, gsub, pattern = "Russian Federation", replacement = "Russia") 

I also did some data cleanup, as there are two countries whose names do not match the values in the salary data set. To allow me to join these two sets together, I’m going to rename the countries in the GDP data set. That allows me to run a query like the following:

 country.gdp %>% filter(Country == "United States") %>% select(Country, gdp.per.capita)
> country.gdp %>% filter(Country == "United States") %>% select(Country, gdp.per.capita)
 Country gdp.per.capita
 1 United States 52292.281832077

This says that in 2014, per-capita GDP (with PPP adjustments) was $52,292.28. My goal is to compare that per-capita GDP with the mean salary for a country and get a ratio for data professionals versus a normalized salary per country, still understanding that this is a very imprecise way of solving the problem.

What I need to do is join the data sets together, and dplyr lets me do that quite nicely. I’m going to use the left_join function to link the data sets, and then do some additional work. First, I need to convert gdp.per.capita from a factor to a numeric value so I can perform computations, like calculating salary ratios.

salary.versus.gdp <- left_join(filtered.entrants.by.country, country.gdp, by = "Country")
#The GDP decimal values became factors, so let's defactorize them.
salary.versus.gdp$gdp.per.capita <- as.numeric(as.character(salary.versus.gdp$gdp.per.capita))
#Now compute a salary ratio
salary.versus.gdp$salary.ratio <- salary.versus.gdp$mean.salary / salary.versus.gdp$gdp.per.capita salary.versus.gdp[order(salary.versus.gdp$salary.ratio, decreasing = TRUE),] %>% select(Country, n, salary.ratio)

Here’s the full result set:

> salary.versus.gdp[order(salary.versus.gdp$salary.ratio, decreasing = TRUE),] %>% select(Country, n, salary.ratio)
          Country    n salary.ratio
18   South Africa   28     4.478221
9           India   70     4.308437
11         Israel   10     2.320406
5         Denmark   23     2.265324
14    New Zealand   24     2.255296
1       Australia   69     2.114833
3          Brazil   11     2.094886
21    Switzerland   18     2.054748
23  United States 1879     2.041257
4          Canada  105     1.761447
8         Germany   45     1.662452
10        Ireland   20     1.644101
6         Finland   10     1.575217
22 United Kingdom  293     1.554880
12          Italy   15     1.435772
13    Netherlands   36     1.387466
2         Belgium   11     1.359226
20         Sweden   34     1.348734
7          France   11     1.347673
16        Romania   15     1.310630
15         Poland   20     1.273202
19          Spain   15     1.188078
17         Russia   13     0.902426

A couple things stand out to me. First, in a bare majority of the countries in this list, data professionals make 1.5-2x the “expected” value, saying that being a data professional is a relatively lucrative business. In South Africa and India, those ratios are even higher. I could expect it from India, where there are still large pockets of poverty and where IT jobs tend to be among the best-paying jobs in the country. South Africa is an odd duck to me here, but that might be my ignorance of their circumstances.

The other thing that stands out is Russia. Russia is the only country in which our salary ratio is under 1.0, indicating that being a data professional is a sub-par job. I decided to take a look at what makes Russia so special here.

What Makes Russia So Special?

The first thing I want to do is filter the Russian data set and take a quick look at their results to see if anything stands out.

russians <- salary.data %>% filter(Country == "Russia")

Immediately, I see something pop out:

> summary(russians$SalaryUSD)
 Min. 1st Qu. Median Mean 3rd Qu. Max.
 1050 12000 20000 21690 35000 39570

Wait, there’s a person making $1050 a year? Let’s look at that person’s details:

salary.data %>% filter(SalaryUSD == 1050)
> salary.data %>% filter(SalaryUSD == 1050)
            Timestamp SalaryUSD Country      PrimaryDatabase YearsWithThisDatabase OtherDatabases   EmploymentStatus                          JobTitle
1 2017-01-10 00:29:51      1050  Russia Microsoft SQL Server                     4            Full time employee Developer: App code (C#, JS, etc)
  ManageStaff YearsWithThisTypeOfJob OtherPeopleOnYourTeam DatabaseServers           Education EducationIsComputerRelated   Certifications
1          No                      4           More than 5               4 Bachelors (4 years)                        Yes No, I never have
  HoursWorkedPerWeek            TelecommuteDaysPerWeek EmploymentSector LookingForAnotherJob Counter
1                 40 None, or less than 1 day per week Private business                   No       1

According to this, the person is a full-time app developer with 4 years of experience and a Bachelor’s degree. He’s not looking for another job, so if this is legit data, somebody might want to snatch him up at $2000 a year. I’d take a risk on a developer for $2K.

Realistically, this is probably bad data—maybe it’s $1050 a month? Or $10,500? In any event, if you take this guy out, the mean jumps from $21,690 to $23,413. That’s still below the Russian GDP of $24,039, but is close enough to be almost 1:1…but that’s still not a great ratio in comparison to the other countries on this list.

By Primary Database

The next thing I looked at was primary database.

primary.database <- data.frame(salary.data %>% group_by(PrimaryDatabase) %>% summarize(mean.salary = mean(SalaryUSD), n = n()))
primary.database[order(primary.database$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
> primary.database[order(primary.database$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
           PrimaryDatabase mean.salary    n
1  Amazon RDS (any flavor)   325000.00    3
5            Elasticsearch   156500.00    2
8                  MongoDB   134000.00    3
3                Cassandra   130000.00    1
11                   Other   103418.44   16
15                Teradata   101521.43    7
13                     SAP   101357.14    7
10                  Oracle    90506.67   89
7     Microsoft SQL Server    90395.03 2729
12              PostgreSQL    86613.41   17
2             Azure SQL DB    84050.00    6
9            MySQL/MariaDB    76800.00    8
4                      DB2    72941.67    6
6         Microsoft Access    61700.00    3
14                  SQLite    44000.00    1

Given that 94% of entrants chose SQL Server, there’s no way we’re getting anything good from this slice. That said, it does feed my biases toward DB2 and Access…

By Job Title

I now want to look at salary by job title. Again, I’m going to filter out any job titles with fewer than 10 entries.

job.title <- data.frame(salary.data %>% group_by(JobTitle) %>% summarize(mean.salary = mean(SalaryUSD), n = n()))
filtered.job.title <- job.title %>% filter(n > 9)
filtered.job.title[order(filtered.job.title$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
> filtered.job.title[order(filtered.job.title$mean.salary, decreasing = TRUE),]
                                                JobTitle mean.salary    n
3                                         Data Scientist   123317.55   11
2                                              Architect   120086.86  244
9                                                Manager   116003.52  142
8                                               Engineer    99983.54  147
4                                                    DBA    87697.75 1514
10                                                 Other    83594.62   53
7                                       Developer: T-SQL    83310.70  264
6  Developer: Business Intelligence (SSRS, PowerBI, etc)    80021.84  203
1                                                Analyst    79985.09  128
5                      Developer: App code (C#, JS, etc)    78001.04  181

Self-described data scientists have the highest mean salary (go team!), followed by architects and managers. The one thing that surprised me a bit was that T-SQL developers (AKA Database Engineers) make slightly less in this data set than Database Administrators. There could be a number of factors, such as country-level differences, but the different isn’t vast, so I’ll go with it.

At the bottom of the list are app developers, data analysts, and BI developers/report writers. This more or less fits my preconceived notions, and the numbers don’t seem outlandish.

Significance Testing

The last thing I want to do is perform a few significance tests to get an idea of how robust our findings are—in other words, are we able to draw specific conclusions from this data?

Data Scientist Versus DBA

The first question I want to ask is, based on this data set, can we expect the wide world of data scientists to make more than the whole population of DBAs? Intuitively, I’d say yes, and we can see that there’s a $35K a year difference in the results, but the problem is that the number of data scientists in the sample is only 11.

The way that I’m going to compare these data sets is by running a t-test on the log10 salaries of each data set. I know that the distributions are not normal, so I can’t make the assumption that they are. That said, t-tests are robust to normality, meaning that although they were designed to work with data following a normal distribution, they can still function without that requirement.

data.scientists <- salary.data %>% filter(JobTitle == "Data Scientist")
dbas <- salary.data %>% filter(JobTitle == "DBA")
t.test(log10(data.scientists$SalaryUSD), log10(dbas$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(data.scientists$SalaryUSD), log10(dbas$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(data.scientists$SalaryUSD) and log10(dbas$SalaryUSD)
t = 1.9772, df = 10.173, p-value = 0.07574
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 -0.01828365  0.31237969
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 5.031427  4.884379

I’m taking a two sample t-test (because I have two samples: a sample of data scientists and a sample of database administrators) and get a t score of 1.9772 and a p value of 0.076. Neither of these is good enough to give us enough confidence to state that, based solely on this data set, a data scientist in the overall population earns more than a database administrator. We can visualize a big part of the reason just by looking at the two histograms:


3 of the 10 data scientists are in the 10^5.2–5.4 range, which is well above the peak for DBAs. But most data scientists fit into the upper end of the DBA salary range, so even though the means are vastly different, it’s hard to confirm—based on so few data scientists in the sample—that we can make a confident prediction that there’s a real difference rather than just being sample-related noise.

But let’s do a quick thought experiment and add three more data scientists to the survey, each of whom has a salary of our mean, $123,317.50. If we do that, the results become quite different:

ds.thought.experiment <- c(data.scientists$SalaryUSD, 123317.5, 123317.5, 123317.5)
t.test(log10(ds.thought.experiment), log10(dbas$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(ds.thought.experiment), log10(dbas$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(ds.thought.experiment) and log10(dbas$SalaryUSD)
t = 2.7378, df = 13.368, p-value = 0.01658
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 0.0340569 0.2855808
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 5.044198  4.884379

Now the t score is 2.74 and the p value is under 0.02. This makes sense: by adding a few more people to the sample (and assuming that the sample mean is anywhere near accurate), we see a clearer bifurcation.

DBA Versus DBE

We saw that we didn’t have enough data scientist entries to differentiate data scientists from DBAs in terms of salary, so what can we do about this debate? Spoilers: not much.

dbes <- salary.data %>% filter(JobTitle == "Developer: T-SQL")
t.test(log10(dbes$SalaryUSD), log10(dbas$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(dbes$SalaryUSD), log10(dbas$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(dbes$SalaryUSD) and log10(dbas$SalaryUSD)
t = -1.6626, df = 336.98, p-value = 0.09733
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 -0.072605456  0.006090578
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 4.851122  4.884379

There’s a t score of -1.66, indicating that DBE salaries are lower, but the p value is nowhere near good enough for us to be confident that there’s a statistically significant difference.

US Versus Russia

Okay, with two failed tests, let’s go for a gimmie. American data professionals earn more than Russian data professionals. This isn’t quite a layup because there are only 13 Russians in the sample, so we might end up with something like the data scientist scenario.

americans <- salary.data %>% filter(Country == "United States")
t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(russians$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(russians$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(americans$SalaryUSD) and log10(russians$SalaryUSD)
t = 6.613, df = 12.019, p-value = 2.472e-05
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 0.5325389 1.0557546
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 5.001766  4.207620

Success! We have a t score over 6.6 and a p value way below 1, meaning that based on our sample, it’s safe to say that Americans earn more.

US Versus UK

So how about the UK?

uk <- salary.data %>% filter(Country == "United Kingdom")
t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(uk$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(uk$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(americans$SalaryUSD) and log10(uk$SalaryUSD)
t = 22.971, df = 363.35, p-value < 2.2e-16
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 0.2171545 0.2578154
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 5.001766  4.764281

We have enough members of both samples to be very confident in the difference. Note that even though the means are closer between the US and UK samples, the t score is much higher; this is because we have so many more members in the sample and can draw more confident conclusions.

US Versus Australia

Australia’s a tougher call because the sample is a bit smaller and the mean is a lot closer.

aussies <- salary.data %>% filter(Country == "Australia")
t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(aussies$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(aussies$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(americans$SalaryUSD) and log10(aussies$SalaryUSD)
t = 3.9512, df = 73.376, p-value = 0.0001771
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 0.03386076 0.10277441
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 5.001766  4.933449

Even with that hedging, there are enough members of the Australian sample for us to be confident that there is a statistically significant difference between the populations.

US Versus Denmark

So how about the US’s nearest neighbor in terms of average data professional salary?

denmark <- salary.data %>% filter(Country == "Denmark")
t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(denmark$SalaryUSD))
> t.test(log10(americans$SalaryUSD), log10(denmark$SalaryUSD))

	Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  log10(americans$SalaryUSD) and log10(denmark$SalaryUSD)
t = 1.1847, df = 22.086, p-value = 0.2487
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 -0.06728552  0.24668863
sample estimates:
mean of x mean of y 
 5.001766  4.912065

The t score is small, the p value is large, and the 95% confidence interval crosses the 0 boundary. In other words, there aren’t enough people in the sample to show a statistically significant difference between the US and Denmark.


I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from this sample, but it is rich enough to get some ideas.  We were able to see some common trends across most western countries regarding the relative pricing of data professionals—even though Americans make more in the data set than people in all other countries save for Switzerland (after filtering out the low-count countries), the earnings ratio relative to other Americans is nearer to the middle of the pack, meaning that data professionals tend to be at similar relative levels of affluence.

We also learned that you should avoid DB2…but I don’t think you needed me to tell you that…

Hopefully this inspires you to grab the data set yourself and play around with it.  There are plenty of other tests that people can run on the data; I’m just scratching the surface.

Let’s Build A Portable Hadoop Cluster, Part 1

A little while back, I had a mini-series on building a Hadoop cluster.  Part 1 covered what I bought.  Part 2 introduced the idea of a Dockerized Hadoop cluster.  Part 3 covered installation and setup.

That’s all well and good, but one of my goals is to make this a portable Hadoop cluster so I can present with it.  The Intel NUC does not have a built-in battery like a laptop, so if you pull the plug (hint:  don’t), it’ll just shut itself right off.  When you power it back on, you’ll find that your Hadoop cluster has gone into hiding:


I’ll show how to bring the cluster back to life in the next blog post, but I will say that it takes about 10-15 minutes for everything to come up, and I might not have 10-15 minutes before my talk to set things up.  I’d prefer to be able to attach the NUC to an external battery pack an hour or two before the talk begins and let it coast from there.

In addition, I also need to have a network connection so I can talk to the NUC.  I don’t want to trust that my presentation location will have a good internet connection and I don’t want my NUC exposed to the network, so I need a miniature router as well.

Here’s what I landed on:

The TP-Link router was already in my bag, so I didn’t buy it specifically for this project.  It’s an alright travel router but is probably the weak link here and if I were buying new, I’d probably go with something a little more modern and powerful.

I did a lot more research on rechargable power packs, and the BP220 seemed to be the best for the job.  The Intel NUC that I have draws about 17 watts when idling and can spike up to 77 at load (and I’ve even read that it could spike into the 80s when you push it hard).  The BP220 supports that load and provides 223 watt-hours of juice per charge.  That means I could stretch out a battery charge for up to 13 hours (223 / 17), although a more realistic figure would be an average of about 35 watts, so maybe 6-7 hours.  Still, that’s more than I need to get me through a one-hour presentation and two hours of prep.

The battery pack itself is a little heavy, weighing in at a little over 3 pounds—in other words, it’s heavier than my laptop, especially if you pack the power brick as well.  Combined with the NUC, it’s about 7-8 pounds of extra gear, meaning that I’m fine taking it with me to present but wouldn’t want to schlep it around all the time.  That said, it’s also pretty compact.  At 10.6″ long, it fits nicely into my laptop bag, and it and the NUC can share the inside pocket while my laptop fits into the outside pocket.  At that point, I’m essentially carrying two laptops, but I did that for a while anyhow, so no big deal.

Finally, the power strip makes it so that I can plug in these devices along with my laptop.  Power outlets aren’t always conveniently located, and you rarely get more than one or maybe two outlets, so that’s in my bag just in case I do run low on battery power and need to plug everything in.