Five year ago this week I joined the Power BI Customer Advisory Team, commonly known as the CAT team.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in early 2018 I made the most positive change in my two-plus decades working in tech. The work since then has often been challenging and difficult, but I have never felt more satisfied or more appreciated than I have on this team. As I’ve shared before, I’ve worked in tech for over 25 years, but my time on this team has been the best of the lot, by a wide margin.
Why has my time on the Power BI CAT team been so amazing? Looking back over the past five years I see five key factors to my success.
A team that needed the unique strengths I bring
In 2018 the Power BI CAT team already had some of the world’s leading experts on Power BI and the Microsoft business intelligence platform. Although I’d been a data professional in my pre-Microsoft career, I was feeling a little stale on the hands-on side of things, and was definitely feeling my share of impostor syndrome as I started my new role.
What I found was that my product management, data warehousing, ETL, and data governance experience filled gaps in the team’s existing strengths. From the beginning I was welcomed and empowered to make suggestions and implement solutions to problems that the team had not previously been able to solve. Given the prevalence of “not invented here syndrome” in some parts of Microsoft, this welcome wasn’t something I could take for granted.
A team with strengths that complement my weaknesses
When I joined the Power BI CAT team I was anything but a Power BI expert. I honestly don’t know why they hired me, because even in retrospect I don’t believe I was a great fit for the team’s priorities when I joined. Although I did bring my own unique strengths, the fact that I didn’t know the difference between Live Connection and Direct Query had the potential to introduce challenges.
The entire team had my back. When I reached out to request assistance or to ask “dumb” questions, everyone stepped up to help out. They valued me and my unique background and perspective. They knew that it was a smart investment to help me get over these “new to space” speed bumps, and to get up to speed on the ins and outs of Power BI. They were right, of course, but given the competitive nature of some past teams, this support also wasn’t something I could take for granted.
A manager who consistently provides opportunity, trust, and support
It’s taken a real effort to keep this post from becoming fawning Marc Reguera fan appreciation, but I cannot overstate the impact made by having a great manager. I’ve worked for some wonderful and helpful managers over the years, but I have never before worked for anyone with Marc’s gift. He deeply understands people’s strengths – what people are good at and what gives them joy and energy. He then finds high-value problems for them to solve using their strengths, and which align with the evolving goals of the team.
Time and again Marc enabled me to try new things, and provided a safe space for me to work outside my comfort zone. Marc tirelessly promoted my work and the results I delivered, and he consistently pushed me to do more and to think bigger. Marc saw strengths in me that I didn’t recognize in myself, and he gave me the opportunities to exercise those strengths. I put in the hard work, but Marc provided the environment for my work to deliver the most impressive results.
A leader and sponsor who earns and maintains my trust
How has Power BI gone from a new offering in 2015 to being the clear leader in business intelligence for many years running? This is a bigger question than I can answer in a blog post, but a lot of the answer is understanding what customers need, and relentlessly delivering improvements based on this understanding.
When I joined the Power BI team in 2018 we already had well-established channels for listening to users, and a team culture that prioritized acting on user input. What we didn’t yet have was a similarly strong channel to understand what large enterprise customer organizations needed to drive broad adoption and manage a complex user base. Much of what I’ve done since then has been building this channel and expanding on its scope and impact… but what does this have to do with leadership I can trust?
When you’re building a new customer feedback channel, sometimes you’ll learn things that don’t align with the status quo. Sometimes the feedback you’re sharing contradicts current understanding and plans. In my experience this is one of the most telling tests of an organization’s culture. I’ve worked on teams where sharing truths that don’t fit leadership’s narrative was a career-limiting move, but this is not the case on the Power BI team.
Instead, I’ve found the strongest executive sponsorship I can imagine, with leaders who are eager to learn about customers’ lived realities, and who are willing to change plans and priorities based on what they learn. At every step of the way, Arun Ulag and his leadership team have championed my work, and empowered me to make a bigger difference than I could ever had made otherwise. Having an executive sponsor isn’t only important for building a data culture.
A global pandemic that normalized remote work
This factor doesn’t really fit in with the other four, but if I’m being honest with myself I need to include it. Over the past few years I’ve written and spoken publicly about some of my personal mental health challenges, and how I’ve worked to find and apply the unique strengths produced by these challenges.
One challenge I never truly appreciated until remote/virtual work became the norm was how much energy I spent every day on face-to-face social activities. Walking to a conference room, making social chit-chat as people filter into the room, maintaining appropriate eye contact and body language throughout the meeting, walking to the next conference room, and repeating this pattern all day long. I’m exhausted just typing it.
In all seriousness, I probably expended 30-40% of my total daily budget of emotional and intellectual energy on these non-value-add activities. When I was working in person I could get the job done, but when everyone was working remotely I could thrive. It was like someone had removed a great weight I had been carrying so long I didn’t know it was there, and once that weight was gone I had so much more of everything to give.
This post has ended up very different than the post I intended to write when I sat down at the keyboard, but it’s apparently the post that needed to come out. Sometimes you need to share your gratitude for the people and circumstances that have made your life better in important ways, and an anniversary like this is one of those times.
Five years ago I felt like my career had stalled, and it wasn’t clear to me what I should do next. Since I can’t begin to claim that the past five years of growth and success were planned, the next best thing is sharing a personal retrospective. I hope you’ll be able to look at these factors for my successes and find their parallels in your own life. If you find yourself on a team like this, you may want to stay there. If you find yourself on a team that’s the opposite of the Power BI CAT team, you may want to start looking for your next opportunity.
Here’s to another glorious five years.
 Let’s get it out of the way early: Yes, the T in CAT stands for Team. No, I don’t care. Work with me here.
 Yes, this appreciation includes bigger numbers with dollar signs next to them, but that is definitely not the most important part of the story.
 Let’s be honest – compared to most of my CAT counterparts, I’m still not.
 I suspect that readers who have autism spectrum behaviors will be nodding along at this point. I know that it’s not just me.
 Or spoons, as my teenager assures me the kids no longer say.