The Absolute Beginning for Amazon Alexa Voice Skill Development

An Introduction to this Alexa Learning Journey

So if you’ve visited my site at all in the past, you’ll notice this is the most blogging I’ve done in…ever? Put another way, a significant confluence of factors has dialed up my motivation to doggedly pursue learning and growth. So, here we are at learning Alexa skills!

A few weeks ago, I was suckered by the cheap promise of a free hoodie from Amazon, in exchange for building and publishing my first Amazon skill. You can experience the equally cheap output of that effort by saying, “Alexa, start silly marketing strategies” (again and again.)

Is it a good skill? No! Nor am I going to pull a Dollar Shave Club here either. It’s a bad skill! It’s not interactive. You just have to keep asking it over and over for some dumb buzzword-laden sentences. I promise I only account for 75% of the utterances. 🙂

2017-01-25-001-Silly-Marketing-Strategies

Honestly, I’m thrilled to have published an Alexa skill. But there’s so much more out there! Thus, I’m embarking on yet another educational journey, this one into Amazon Alexa Voice Skill Development.

Getting Set Up with Resources You Need for Alexa Skill Development

The instructions below are for PC only. Apologies, Mac users!

  1. You need to create a folder directory in which we’ll be housing our various materials and code.
  2. Visit the Alexa Skills Kit JS Git Hub page and download all materials as a ZIP.
    1. 2017-01-25-002-Alexa-Skills-Kit-JS-Git-Hub
  3. Once you’ve downloaded the ZIP file, move it from your default Downloads directory, and into the folder you created in Step 1.
  4. Extract the ZIP file. The unzipped folder should be named, by default, “alexa-skills-kit-js-master”. Within the unzipped folder is yet another folder of the same name.
  5. Take the all the contents within the two folders described above, and move them into the “Alexa” directory, higher up.
    1. Move the contents from the “samples” folder into the main “Alexa” directory, so the skill folders (spaceGeek, reindeerGames, etc.) are in the umbrella directory.
  6. When you’ve completed Step 5, you should be left with A) Three text files, and a bunch of skill folders, B) an empty “samples” folder [A&B you moved up two directories into the “Alexa” umbrella folder], C) an empty “alexa-skills-kit-js-master” folder and D) the original zip file.
  7. Delete items B, C, and D from step 6.
  8. Download and install a code/text editor. I personally prefer Sublime Text 2, but a lot of folks prefer Notepad++ as well.
    1. A dedicated code/text editor is highly preferable here, as much of the code for the Alexa skills in JS – Node.JS in particular, I believe.
  9. After you’ve muddled your way through this folder architecture, go into the README file and not the order of Skills. Number the skill folders accordingly in the umbrella directory, excluding helloWorld. (You should have skills 1-9, starting with spaceGeek and ending with ChemistryFlashCards.)

2017-01-25-003-Alexa-Folder-Structure

Alright, that’s it for now! Next, we’ll look at setting up access to Amazon Developer and Amazon Web Services.

DSC_0037 (2) Zach Doty Cover Photo for SQL SELECT Clauses & Statements

The SELECT Clause, SQL Statement Fundamentals

Getting Started in SQL Statement Fundamentals

Howdy, all, welcome back to our journey learning SQL. This post will deal with basic SQL statements. In fact, most of these SQL statements should be applicable to most major types of SQL databases (MySQL, Oracle, and so forth.)

The SELECT Statement (or Clause)

First up, we’ll start with the “Hello World” of SQL: SELECT. We’ll look at the formal conventions of the SELECT statement and some examples using the statement. A quick aside: SELECT is also often known as a clause in SQL settings. For the purpose of this article, the educational materials I’m walking through proposes clause and statement may be used interchangeably for these purposes.

SELECT is one of the most common tasks in querying data tables with SQL. Further, it has many clauses that may be combined to form a powerful query. Let’s look at the basic form of a SELECT statement. Below, you will use the SELECT statement to call in a column or some column names, separated by a comma if multiple columns, then FROM a table.

SELECT column1,column2,column3 FROM table_name;

So, breaking down again the select statement.

  1. Specify a list of columns in the table which you want to query via the SELECT clause
  2. Use a comma between each column you are querying, if multiple columns
    1. If you want to query all columns in a data, save yourself some time by using the * asterisk wildcard as a shortcut for selecting all columns
  3. After you’ve called in the appropriate columns in the SELECT clause, follow it with FROM, where you indicate the appropriate table name

 

Sidebar 1: Random facts about the SELECT statement and SQL language

Time for a TV timeout! Did you know that that the SQL language is case insensitive? So if you use “SELECT” or “select”, you should get the same results. For the purposes of this education and sharing, SQL clauses / keywords / statements will be typed in all uppercase caps to make the code easier to read and stand out among all this text. 🙂

Okay, just one more sidebar note! It’s generally not encouraged to use the asterisk (*) select all columns wildcard in queries. Why? If you have a robust table with a ton of columns and a great depth of data beneath those columns, you could be placing unnecessary load on yourself, the SQL server and the SQL application (pgAdmin / PostgreSQL).

 

Application Example 1 for the SELECT Statement

Let’s jump into executing actual SQL commands against databases in pgAdmin!

Below, I’m going to open the file tree, select “dvdrental”, then click “Tools” in the top menu, and select “Query Tool” to execute arbitrary SQL queries and statements.

 2017-01-22-001-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Open-Query-Tool

You should then see the screen below if you are in pgAdmin 4. If you are in pgAdmin 3, then it should appear as a new window.

2017-01-22-002-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Query-Tool-Start

Let’s have some fun, why not go against our own advice and query a whole table? Below, you can see in the query window, we’ve typed:

SELECT * FROM actor;

Into layman’s terms from above, we’re selecting (SELECT) all columns (*) from (FROM) table actor (actor).

Important: My image example doesn’t show it below, please, put a semicolon at the end of the line! (I got hasty making screen shots. 🙂 )

2017-01-22-003-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Query-All-Columns-Actor

After you’ve typed the query, go to the lightning bolt above the window, and click “Execute/Refresh”. I’m just going to punch F5, because I’m about that keyboard shortcut life. In the future, I’ll likely introduce a command or action, note its keyboard shortcut and use that shortcut moving forward for any other examples.

The query should run and refresh. I now have a new tab in pgAdmin, with data output returned from my query. Let’s take a look below.

2017-01-22-004-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Query-All-Columns-Actor-Execute

Okay, so we’ve got four columns returned: actor_id, first_name, last_name, and a last_updated. You’ll also note that below the column names are quick descriptions of the data type for each column. And of course, we see our beloved celebrity data returned below, all 200 rows.

Let’s examine further the data types listed below each column name. The integer below actor_id is pretty simple, numbers. Next, the character varying, below first_name and last_name. Character varying is essentially just string text. The (45) denotes the limit on character count length. Last, the timestame with YYYY-MM-DD and military style HH:MM:SS.XX time, without time zone. We won’t worry too much about the timestamp for now.

If you’re somewhat knowledgeable in SQL, you may rightly decry our glossing over of data types. For beginners, data types will be covered in more detail later. Data types will become increasingly important later, as we execute statements such as, WHERE, in which data types make or break the query. Promise, we’ll cover data types in more detail later.

 

Application Example 2 for the SELECT Statement

So we kind of broke our rules in the first SELECT statement SQL query example. However, some rules were made to be bent or broken, yes? In this example, we’ll follow best practices a bit more closely and select a column or columns by name from a table within the dvdrental database.

Remembering our SELECT column1,column2,column3 FROM table_name format, consider the below, and see it typed in (with closing semicolon on the statement!

SELECT first_name,last_name FROM actor;

2017-01-22-006-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Query-Two-Columns-Actor

Before we execute and refresh via F5, please note that I’ve not included spaces between the column names and comma in the statement. Alright, below is what we see when we execute and refresh.

2017-01-22-007-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Query-Two-Columns-Actor-Execute

In our screen shot, we see at bottom right, confirmation of the query execution. In the output window, we’ll only see what was queried: first_name, last_name. So we’ve left out the actor_id and last_updated columns.

One more note on our output, you’ll notice that all 200 rows were returned for this query. If you think about enterprise level data, that could be 200 million rows, zoinks! As we progress through our material, we’ll look at the aforementioned WHERE statements and other conditions / methods to limit or control the rows in query output.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

For the educational benefit, we’ll reinforce and apply what we’ve learned one more time. Let’s say that we’re a business and marketing analyst back in time when DVDs were still used (it’s okay to laugh!) We need to send a New Year’s promotional email (It’s January 2017 when this post was originally published) to all existing customers. We’re going to build and execute a query to that effect.

Below, you can see we’re still in the dvdrental database, in the arbitrary query code input window, with statement: SELECT first_name,last_name,email FROM customer;

2017-01-22-008-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Application-Query-Existing-Customers

One last quick note on syntax and formatting: you can go multi-line! In the below screenshot, we have typed the same query, but added formatting. Explained: SQL will read your code as one line until it runs into the closing semi-colon (;). A common practice is that for every keyword, a new line is created in the query. (Of course, the statement is not closed via semi-colon until appropriate.) I’ve also taken one more step below from various ranging coding practices (CSS, C++, etc.) and indented the ongoing portion of the query to help visually break up the code a bit.

2017-01-22-009-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Application-Query-Existing-Customers-Multi-Line

Wrap-Up

Woohoo, we did it! We ran our first basic SQL queries in pgAdmin / PostgreSQL. We learned how to select all columns within a table and select separate desired columns within a table. Be sure to re-visit my other articles on learning SQL, visit the previous article on restoring an SQL database with table schema only.

In our next post, we’ll learn about using a SELECT DISTINCT statement.

Restoring a SQL Database with Table Schema Only in pgAdmin x PostgreSQL

Howdy! Welcome back to our shared journey of learning SQL. Last time, we learned about creating, deleting and completely restoring SQL databases in pgAdmin. Today, we’ll learn about how to restore a database, but only its table schema.

Specifically, we’ll restore the table names and preferences for types of data within those tables. However, the actual data itself won’t be ported in.

Think of it as taking your house or apartment, and recreating, but you don’t move in with the furniture. (Maybe a sibling instead? 🙂 ) According to the material I’m working through, this method of database restoration is very common and is something we should have down pat.

 

Database Table Schema-Only Restoration, Method 1

An easy method to start this is to right click on the Databases header near the top of the file tree, and to select “Create” > “Database”. With a fresh new database, we’ll have flexibility to do some more management on the “front” side of things. (Knowing I may be abusing terminology a bit, but makes sense to me while writing this.)

 

2017-01-21-001-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-P1

For this example, I’ve finished the new database creation by naming (“OnlySchema”) and saving a new database. Below, you can see the new database in the file tree. Also, if we click through the tree as such, “Schemas” > “public” > “Tables”, we’ll notice there are no tables! (Compare that path exploration to the dvdrental database tables, where you can find 15 tables.)

 

2017-01-21-002-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-P2       2017-01-21-003-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-p3

Anyway, let’s get on with restoring table schema only!

  1. Right click on “OnlySchema” and select “Restore”
  2. Select the “Custom or tar” option for the Format field
  3. Select the file via the dialogue, or paste in your file path
    • Up to this point, you should notice we’ve taken the exact same steps for a full database restore. However, #4 is where things are slightly different. Pay attention!
  4. As shown below, click “Restore Options”, and activate the radio button for “Only schema” to yes
  5. Click “Restore” and refresh!

 

2017-01-21-004-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-p4

After the refresh, we should see something like below, where if we select the tables option and view “Properties”, we’ll see 15 empty named tables.

 

2017-01-21-005-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-p5

 

Method 2: Schema-Only Restoration onto a Database with existing tables, data

What if we’re working with a database that contains existing tables and data? And suppose we need to restore only the schema? Perhaps an error was committed in formatting / management and must be corrected.

Fortunately, this method of restoration is extremely similar to Method 1. For this scenario, there’s one added step toward the end:

  1. Right click on “OnlySchema” and select “Restore”
  2. Select the “Custom or tar” option for the Format field
  3. Select the file via the dialogue, or paste in your file path
  4. Click “Restore Options”, and activate the radio button for “Only schema” to yes
    • Here’s our jump off point, the next step is what differs from Method 1.
  5. Scroll down the dialogue box slightly. You should see a field and radio button for “Clean before restore”. Activate the radio button to “Yes”
  6. Click “Restore” and refresh!

 

2017-01-21-006-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-p6

After running the restore job and refreshing, we can verify the Schema Only and data clean prior to restoration occurred correctly. Below, we can click through the file tree down from “dvdrental” > “Schemas” > “public” > “Tables” and check the table properties to see that there are zero (0) rows of data.

 

2017-01-21-007-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restore-Database-Table-Schema-M1-p7

 

Wrap Up

I do hope these articles are serving a useful introduction to navigating pgAdmin, and getting familar with the foundations of PostgreSQL and databases. In the forthcoming articles, we’ll start learning about basic SQL syntax. To keep track of all the shared SQL posts and learnings, visit the SQL Education page for a list of articles to date. Cheers!

DSC_0322 Zach Doty Cover Photo for SQL Database Creation, Restoration, Deletion

Creating, Restoring and Deleting SQL Databases with pgAdmin 4

Howdy! Let’s continue the journey into learning Structured Query Language (or SQL). Previously, I shared my notes on the absolute beginning point for starting SQL, and also getting started with PostgreSQl and pgAdmin.
Now, we venture into some basics of database management via SQL:
• Creating a database with pgAdmin
• Restoring a database with SQL commands
• Deleting a database

Creating a new SQL Database in pgAdmin via Graphical User Interface

So, let’s retrace our steps on creating a new database. After you’ve successfully started pgAdmin and accessed your databases, right click “Databases” and go to “Create” > “Database”. Then choose your desired name and save.

2017-01-16-001-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Create-Additional-Database

Give it a second, and your brand spankin’ new database should be created! (Alternate method, you could select the “postgres” database in the file tree and select the option to create a new, arbitrary SQL query. In the Query window, type:

CREATE DATABASE dvdtwo;

2017-01-16-002-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Create-Additional-Database-Query-Tool

If you run and refresh you should see the output of the code’s successful run, with no results, and a new database in the file tree. Joy!

2017-01-16-003-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Create-Additional-Database-Query-Tool-Success

 

Deleting (Dropping) Databases in pgAdmin

Let’s build some character and delete the database we just created! Fortunately, deleting (also known as dropping a table is super simple in pgAdmin / PostgreSQL. Below, in the interface, we right click the name of the newly created database and click “Delete/Drop”, and click Okay. Obviously, be sure you don’t do this accidentally.

2017-01-16-004-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Delete-Drop-Database-User-Interface

 

Gracefully Restoring a Database

In the second SQL article, we previously restored a database. We’ll revisit that process in the pgAdmin interface again here. Practice, practice, practice! Let’s restore the dvdtwo database created earlier in this article for good practice. Below, we’ll right click the “dvdtwo” tree header and select the “Restore” option.

2017-01-16-005-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Restoring-Database-2-User-Interface

In the resulting dialogue box, I attempted to use the interface’s file browser. However, I was met with some bugs/error messages. Thus, I copied the file path from Windows Explorer, pasted it into the file path name field and began the restore job. It took a few moments to run, then I refreshed the database and saw tables populated under dvdtwo > Schemas > public > tables. Hooray!

Wrap-Up

Thanks for tuning in! Next article, I’ll share my learnings for restoring a database, but with only the table schema. So to be more specific, I’ll restore the framing and architecture of the sample database, but without the data. This seems a bit like copying and duplicating sheets in Excel, but with blanks for data, so you can populate at your discretion. See you soon.

 

PS- If you’re just arriving at this article, here’s my running list of articles that detail how to learn SQL.

DSC_0291 Zach Doty Cover Photo for Installing SQl Software PostgreSQl and pgAdmin

Downloading, Installing and Getting Started with PostgreSQL and pgAdmin

How to Download, Install and Get Started with PostgreSQL & pgAdmin, Popular SQL Programming Software

 

Introduction

Welcome back to the grand SQL journey! If you missed the beginning, here’s my previous post as a complete beginner to SQL. In this post, you will:

  • Learn what pgAdmin is
  • Become familiar with the program and some of its release history and
  • Walk through an installation of pgAdmin.

 

What is the pgAdmin SQL Software all about?

According to the educational material I’m working through, it’s commonplace (in some circles) to use a graphical user interface (GUI) when working with a SQL engine. (Compared to working with command line, zoinks!) That being said, pgAdmin is reportedly one of the most popular interfaces for PostgreSQL, the SQL engine / platform of choice listed out in the previous post. For the purposes of our education, I’ll be working in pg Admin 4.

 

Installation of PostgreSQL and pgAdmin

Here are the steps:

  • Install PostgreSQL and pgAdmin through their default Windows install methods. (Sorry Mac and Linux users, this party is PC only for now!)
  • Download a .tar file to be used for sample learning
  • Use the .tar file to restore a database we’ll be working with

 

Downloading PostgreSQL

First, head to https://www.postgresql.org/ in a new tab or window. When you’ve arrived, you should see something like the below screen, and click the “Download” link in the navigation.

2017-01-14-001-PostgreSQL-Download-Home-Screen-Shot

After arriving at the Download page, you should see the below. Under the “Binary Packages” for pre-built packages, select your appropriate operating system. Windows is shown below for the purposes of this demonstration. If you feel led or qualified to choose the source code option, you probably don’t need to be reading this article anyway. 🙂

2017-01-14-002-PostgreSQL-Download-Page-Windows-Install-Screen-Shot

Following the Windows link should take you to the Windows Installers page.  Under “Interactive installer by EnterpriseDB, click the “Download the installer” link. Another option for “Graphical installer by BigSQL” exists, but there have been some anecdotes of annoyances with the BigSQL experience.

2017-01-14-003-PostgreSQL-Download-Page-Windows-Installer-EnterpriseDB

Clicking on the link illustrated above should take you to the EnterpriseDB site, where a screen like the below should appear. When you first arrive, you will be prompted to select a version of PostgreSQL and your machine’s operating system details. Below, I’ve selected PostgreSQL 9.6.1 and Windows x86-32, because I’ve got a really old laptop! A quick note on the PostgreSQL version selection, you should choose the latest non-Beta version to install. As this post regards software and tech, it could quickly become outdated. When you have selected the appropriate details, click the ever-important “DOWNLOAD NOW” button.

2017-01-14-004-EnterpriseDB-PostgreSQL-Download-Page-Windows-Installer

After the .exe file downloads, open it, allow it to run. A screen for Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable will likely appear, let it run and complete. Next, the PostgreSQL installation dialogue should appear. (Below.)

2017-01-14-005-EnterpriseDB-PostgreSQL-Installation-Starter

Accept the default installation and data directories, unless you have a weird and specific reason to do something else. After you do this, enter your desired password.

A quick and necessary aside. Please follow best practices for passwords and information security. It is your sole responsibility to do so: protecting your information and yourself. I accept neither liability nor responsibility, nor in whole, nor in part, for your password security. Be smart.

Okay, with that out of the way, proceed to the Port portion of Setup. Accept the default and proceed. After the port screen comes a locale configuration. Accept the default and proceed. Now, you should be to start the installation process. Click “Next >”!

Once you click install, you should see a pretty traditional installation progress screen that creates a ton of directories, unpacks HTML files, and so on. (Note: this took my machine 5 minutes or so to install.) If you care to do so, uncheck any mail subscription offers and finish the installation!

From here, you should be able to get to pgAdmin 4 from your Windows start menu. Tah-dah!

2017-01-15-006-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Installation-Starter

If you expand the servers icon, you ought to see something along the lines of PostgreSQL9.6. If you click to expand the PostgreSQL 9.6 item, you should be prompted to enter your password. From there, you should see a dashboard with some various charts becoming populated, like below.

2017-01-15-007-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Installation-Confirmation

Next, a sample database will be restored. As shown below, please right click “Databases”, then mouse over the menu item “Create” and click “Database”.

2017-01-15-008-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Database-Creation

From there, name your database and save it! Once it’s successfully created, you should see a new part of the tree for your database, with options underneath such as Casts, Catalogs, Event Triggers, Extensions and so on.

2017-01-15-010-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Database-Confirmation

To restore data into the database, right click the database name and select the restore option. First time users, you may see a dialogue box saying, “Configuration Required”. No worries here, we’ll get through that momentarily. Click File > Preferences > Paths > Binary Paths.

2017-01-15-012-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Database-Binary-Paths

Once you’ve reached the point as described and shown above, you’ll need to open a new Explorer window. (Sorry, Mac and Linux folks, no guidance from me here.) Go to Computer > Program Files > PostgreSQL > 9.6 > bin. Copy the address and paste into the pgAdmin PostgreSQL Binary Path, click OK.

2017-01-15-013-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Database-Binary-Paths-Computer

That should now allow you to restore a database. Now return to the above steps, and when you select restore, select the options as desired. You should see a processing dialogue and success message. When this is complete, right click the database name and select “Refresh”. Very important – think of like you needing to refresh the data sources when working with pivot tables in Microsoft Excel.

Okay, you should have your first database! right click the database name and select “Query Tool”. Let’s make our first SQL query FTW!

2017-01-15-014-pgAdmin4-PostgreSQL-Database-Success-First-Query

In the code window, type:

SELECT * FROM [table “” not found /]
;

Then, either select the lightning bolt and execute + refresh. Or, you could just press F5 and it accomplishes the same thing. If the query is successful and you didn’t misspell a simple table name like I did the first time, then you should see the table in the Data Output window.

 

Wrap-Up

Alrighty! How about a rip-roaring start into SQL? Excited to keep learning with you. Stay tuned. If you’re just arriving at this article, here’s my running list of articles that detail how to learn SQL.

 

 

A scenic shot of Palo Duro Canyon from a hiking trail.

Starting SQL from the Absolute Beginning

What is this?

To be honest, I haven’t done much blogging or writing lately. Life (read: work) happens, and it gets busy. However, I’m feeling invigorated with a strong desire to expand my horizons. One such manifestation (snooze, I know) of this is to learn a bunch of new things, for where technology and industry are headed.

Thus, I present to you, learnings on SQL from a course I’m taking! Frankly, this should be boring to a majority of people. However, this is a way of self-accountability, and sharing what I learn along the way about Structured Query Language (SQL) programming, and hopefully how it applies to a bunch of awesome things! If you haven’t bounced already, here we go.

Square 0: What are Databases?

As the title/URL describes, I’m starting from an absolute beginning. While I have a range of experience (or lack thereof in some cases) with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Regex, etc., I am completely new to SQL. That said, this isn’t square 1, but square 0.

Databases are systems that allow users to organize and store large amounts of data. Databases can have a wide variety of users and use cases. Potential database / SQL users include analysts in marketing, business or sales. Additionally, technically-focused personnel such as data scientists, software engineers and web developers may also use databases for a range of purposes.

Discussing the Transition from Spreadsheets to Databases

Many practitioners in business have some familiarity with a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or Open Office.

Spreadsheets are often useful for a one-time analysis piece or quick charting, particularly with small data set sizes. Additionally, usage of a spreadsheet program ensures that a wide range of folks with varying expertise can access, use and manage the spreadsheet data.

So where do databases come in? Databases are great for ensuring data integrity and/or handling large & robust data sets/ Databases are also great for use cases where you need to quickly merge different data sets or automate actions with your data for frequent usage or re-use. Additionally, databases are widely used in powering websites and other applications.

In summary, the transition from spreadsheet to data comes when you bring massive amounts of data to life! The hope of the educational materials are that institutional knowledge in spreadsheets can be leveraged to help understand and master SQL database usage.

What are some quick hacks to translating spreadsheets to databases? The first is that tabs of a spreadsheet can be set equal in your mind to tables. Within each table is contained a set of rows, and a set of columns.

What are some of the top SQL database / data warehouse platforms options?

For your enlightenment and education, below are some common SQL database and data warehouse platforms.

  • Postgre SQL (Preferred for example use: free and open source, widely used on the internet, multi-OS)
  • Amazon Redshift data warehouse
  • MariaSQL
  • Microsoft Access
  • Microsoft SQL Server (MS SQL Server Express)
  • MySQL
  • Oracle Database
  • SQLite

 

In addition to straight database programs and data warehouses, there a range of other programs that utilize the SQL programming language for core functions. Below is a short (and rather incomplete list) of other popular SQL applications and uses.

Other Applications of SQL

  • Looker
  • MemSQL
  • Periscope Data
  • Hive (On top of Hadoop)
  • Google BigQuery
  • Facebook Presto

 

A Bit More About SQL

SQL stands for Structured Query Language. It can be applied in a wide range of manners, including PostGreSQL that will be used in these examples. Further, SQL is the programming language that will be used to communicate with databases in this experience.

To start, a sample SQL statement:

SELECT customer_id, first_name, last_name

FROM sales

ORDER BY first_name

 

Review

Here’s a quick overview of what I learned, and have consequently shared.

  • What’s a database?
  • How is a database different from a spreadsheet?
  • Why should a database be used?
  • What are some database / data warehouse platforms that operate with SQL?

If you’re just arriving at this article, here’s my running list of articles that detail how to learn SQL.

Upcoming Educational Material on SQL

  • PostgreSQL Installation
  • Databases and Tables Basics
  • SQL Syntax and Statement Fundamentals
  • GROUP BY Clause

 

  • JOINS
  • Advanced SQL
  • Additional SQL Commands

 

  • Create Databases and Tables through SQL
  • Views
  • PostgreSQL with Python
Exploring marketing career paths by climbing a mountain in Colorado

4 Simple Marketing Career Paths Your Professor Never Told You About

Several months ago, I sat in a warm conference room in the University of Houston Bauer business school. The wind gusted outside;  professors and a couple of brave students shuffled papers on a conference table between presentations. I was privileged to be an advisory board member and mentor at this Enactus UH event.

Unexpectedly (to me), an adjacent student leaned over and asked about marketing career paths. What an intelligent question! I realized determining a marketing career path can be utterly confusing as a student. There are slick advertising agencies, PR boutiques, massive corporations with large silos and vague job titles all around. What on earth is an account executive and what makes it different from an account planner, account manager or anything else?

In that moment, it was my pleasure to share with this student how to evaluate marketing career paths. Some years ago, I was strangely fortunate that by providence I’ve enjoyed such an easy, clear path so far in my young career. Reflecting on that exchange, there are likely thousands of students seeking clarity and guidance on marketing careers.

Below is a simple method that shows you marketing careers at a glance, with detailed explanations below.

marketing-advertising-jobs-career-starts

tldr;

In marketing, you make major two choices that determine your career path: where you work and what you do. You’ll either work at an agency or a client and you’ll either focus on branding or direct response. Obviously, there’s room for a lot of creativity and nuance – but a large portion of marketing careers fit this framework.

Where You Work: Agency

We’ll start here, because I’m most familiar with this area. An agency is a 3rd party that a brands such as Adidas or GM hires to help with marketing. Agencies exist because they provide expertise and impartiality that brands can’t get in-house.

Marketing and advertising agencies are a great starting point to master tactical execution. You’ll often be on the sharp end of the spear: pulling reports, writing copy and auditing campaigns. It’s often a fast-paced environment. The offices have bright lights, open concept floor plans, and quirky perks.

Working in an agency is fun! However, it’s imperative you do some homework before joining an agency. I’ve been very fortunate to work at agencies that offer great benefits and pay. My agency experiences have been nothing short of phenomenal. Regrettably, not all marketing agencies are that way. Some agencies  can be volatile if clients leave or have long/tough hours in uncertain conditions. That said, it’s your privilege of choice!

Where You Work: Client

If you’re not the agency, you’re likely the client. If you’re on the “client side”, you’re likely working in-house at a brand like Hilton or Neiman Marcus.

Client side marketing can vary a lot, depending on the marketing maturity of your organization. In some organizations, you may be managing agencies, vendors and strategy. In less-developed or smaller companies, marketing may be closer to sales support.

In general, client-side jobs are more stable and evenly paced than agencies. Deadlines are usually more relaxed and the pay is generally higher compared to agencies. However, marketing can be vulnerable in a corporate setting. If your organization falls on hard financial times, accounting and marketing are the first functions to be cut.

Much like agencies, there are great brands and tough situations. Do your homework!

What You Do: Branding

Now you know where you can work in marketing and advertising. The aspiring marketer’s next major decision is what you do.

In marketing, you either focus on consumer actions or consumer perceptions. The art and science of branding focuses on consumer perceptions. Branding is a fascinating discipline. You constantly fight battles in the minds of brands and consumers. You must appear first, as the best.

Branding jobs often have “creative” or “strategist” somewhere in the title; a keen sense of strategy is key to your success. To learn more about branding, you should read the classic, “Positioning” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. A caveat to branding-centric positions: you may lack experience in tactical marketing execution at the expense of creative pursuits. If you’re a strategy maven (which is rare), you can survive without concrete tactical knowledge. If you’re weak in strategy, it can be tough to advance your career in this field.

What You Do: Direct Response

The other major marketing avenue is direct response. Instead of focusing on consumer perceptions (branding), you work with consumer actions. Direct response is self-evident, you work to produce an action from a consumer. If you envision a purchase funnel, direct response typically handles the end: making a sale, strengthening a relationship.

Direct response jobs often have “analyst”, “planner” or “specialist” in the title. Working in direct response is fantastic to build practical, tactical experience that can be used in many places & many ways. You’ll find skills such as auditing, research and optimization highly marketable.

The upside of starting in direct response is that marketing is inherently self-promotional: the barriers to entry are low. However, if you don’t chase strategy skills, you can be quickly stuck as a tactician and encounter long-term difficulty advancing your career.

Finding Your Path

The good news: marketing career paths are an open playing field! The bad news: marketing career paths are an open playing field. Hopefully this post brings some definition to a broad field, while pointing out benefits and risks.

DSC_0034 Zach Doty Cover Photo How to Learn SEO in Five Minutes

How to Explain SEO in 5 Minutes

Today, you’re going to learn how to explain SEO to anyone in five minutes! Is it a comprehensive, end-all, be-all example? No. Will it help someone quickly understand the basics of a complex practice? Yes. Let’s jump in. This is, after all, a five minute guide!

Starting Point: SEO is not a black box.

For context, I often hear that SEO is a “black box” and it’s anyone’s guess as to how you rank in search engines. I’m always happy to hear that! It means we have a chance to explain what SEO is really about. Google isn’t a black box. Rather, its algorithms and search engines are so complex at a large scale, it’s difficult to comprehend on a daily basis.
With introductions out of the way, here’s how you do it:
A Job Application
Consider SEO like a job application. You have a resume, references, you deal with a recruiter and a hiring manager. And you want a great career!
In SEO, you have a website, backlinks, the search engine and the user. You want to be found and loved!

Your Resume
Your resume is your website. You control the content and tailor the experience to each opportunity. You balance who you are and what you do.
Your website balances your brand story and products or services. You target keywords to pages of your site, just like your jobs are targeted to certain functions and skill sets.
Which resume would you choose to interview for a Marketing Director?

A. “I’m Leroy, I’m awesome. I’m really cool, I enjoy long walks on the beach and like Ethiopian food.”

B. “Kevin is a seasoned marketing professional who has managed and implemented effective marketing promgrams.”

By the same token, which website would you do business with? One with “high quality products and synergistic solutions”? Or a site that speaks in plain, compelling English?
Your References
Your references are your backlinks, or 3rd party websites linking to your own. You can influence these endorsements and relationships, but not necessarily control them. On both sides of this comparison, quality trumps quantity.

Which of the following references holds the most weight for a candidate?

A. “Little Michael is my favorite nephew, he eats a lot at Thanksgiving, you should hire him.”

B. “Jake paid me some money to recommend him. I guess he’s cool.”

C. “Ryan took our marketing department to the next level with smart strategy. He works well with the team implementing our campaigns.”

Ryan is the best choice. A bunch of low quality or fake recommendations will do a job seeker little good if not harm. By the same token, it’s better to have a few excellent backlinks than a bunch of spammy or fake endorsements.
The ultimate goal
When you’re a job seeker, interviews are great. But you really want the career! Likewise, it’s great to rank well in the search engines, but you want new, loyal customers that convert on your website.

Above all else, optimize your website for your users. The search engine results will follow.

Where to next?

That’s how to explain and understand SEO in five minutes! Obviously, there’s much, much more to learn. However, this will get you on the right path. Dive deeper into SEO with a fantastic Beginner’s Guide from Moz.
DSC_0265 Zach Doty Cover Photo How to Win SEO Long Term

Winning Long Term SEO for Years

A few years ago, the average CMO tenure was 23 months. Yikes. That’s barely long enough to get acquainted and jamming with your staff. Happily, a recent indicates a CMO’s average tenure now sits at 45 months. It’s no secret that personnel and vendors come and go with the executive. For agencies and in-house digital marketers, burgeoning attention and spend in digital means unprecedented opportunity. Naturally, there is tremendous potential for fruitful, long term, agency-marketer-executive relationships. Yet success seems anything but simple, we can’t just ride off into the sunset. (Darn, I like Westerns.) Long term digital marketing engagements still seem precarious at best, especially for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The “quick wins” and short-sighted quarterly business environment is still firmly entrenched. With a bit of work and love, long-term client-marketer-executive relationships can be profitable foundations that bolster your agency or brand for the next 10 years.

Succinctly, winning SEO for years is a bit like a strong friendship. It’s not perfect, but an active exchange of trust and vulnerability makes something great. It’s not always “up and to the right”. Every friendship is different, but there are guiding principles and helpful tidbits all can apply.

1. Be a Good Wingman: No Paid Links, period. Just don’t do it. More profound material that follows, but an astounding number of folks still buy crappy links. The alleged 3 month benefit isn’t worth your 5 or 10+ year relationship. Consider the latency of SEO: bad backlinks bought today probably won’t help much this quarter. However, they could be indexed in 1-2+ years and derail your campaign at a crucial moment. Because you’re a star marketer, you may find yourself explaining this to other. Less enlightened (don’t tell them that!) colleagues, staff and supervisors need to know that optimizing for the user, not the search engine, brings the win home. Provide an enchanting user experience, and results will follow. Bonus: If you want to scope out your link situation, check out Link Detox or use a great SEO software platform to audit your link profile quality.

2. Be a master of reporting and storytelling. A common agency story runs like this, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: 3 months into an engagement, the client loves the work, everyone is excited! 6 months: communication tapers off and so does the work. At 7-8 months, an email arrives, “Can we get an audit of our billings and work?” Next month, “We’re not seeing the value…can we talk?”

Learning to communicate and report intelligently will help you avoid the account/campaign death spin and 9at least) double the life of your engagement. How you say and show success is the lifeblood of your agency’s (or brand’s marketing) future. In agencies, you’ll often hear, “We don’t have time to educate the client.” True, but you surely can’t afford to leave them in the dark. Build small bits of education into your reporting at each step. Your client (or executive) should be educated enough that they could dispose of you, but so satisfied that they’ll never want to.

Reporting over a long time horizon is tricky. Before you have a full year of data, seasonality can make your work look bad if you’re uninformed on market trends. (What if your 6 month evaluation is in a demand trough?) Furthermore, it’s not realistic to primarily report on the same metric month after month. (E.g, keyword rankings) The client or executive may deem organic traffic the determining KPI at your campaign start. However, fascination is fleeting. Revenue or return on investment will likely be your KPI in 12 months’ time.

Use a consistent mix of metrics to paint a rich picture of your phenomenal digital marketing campaign. When you forecast, it’s common to use upper and lower bounds (like economists and weathermen!) to ensure you don’t look like too big of an idiot in any case. Similarly, use “upside metrics” such as revenue generated from organic and ROAS/ROI and “downside metrics” like cost per acquisition and results decay analysis if your client or executive stopped working with you. Assuming sound communication, your reporting should become easier over time. When showing CMO’s and presidents year-over-year, 3, 5 year trends of their performance, we don’t have to do much selling.

3. Learn to live through redesigns. The shelf life of a website is (and should be, to a degree) these days. Blanket statements are a great way to get in trouble. However, many sites (looking at you, Fortune 500 companies) are on the cusp of major changes for mobile friendliness. If you’re around for more than a couple of years, you will see the client’s site go through a redesign. Ideally, you will start the redesign process small pieces at a time. When you present conversion improvement data, mash up clickstream analytics with heatmapping data for compelling improvements.

However, if you’re not regularly testing, you should start. If you approach a redesign without aforementioned experience, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You must exercise discretion and attention to detail. Choose carefully which battles to fight. Web design & development projects are notorious for being past schedule, over budget and largely dissatisfying on the whole. Don’t be the unnecessary logo critic and save your clout for things that matter to SEO.
  • Here’s what you do need in a redesign: a seat at the table, the power to veto content, technical matters and the ability to test after completion. Conventional wisdom in design is at best, a starting point. Best practices will not transfer from one client to the next.
  • Here’s what you don’t need: Approval on typography, creative direction of promo tiles and so on. Did we mention you should pick your battles?

A redesign done well can bolster traffic, interest and conversions. A poor redesign can break a site, its rankings and the business behind it. Mind your technical details such as URL aliases, file extensions, redirects, robots files, sitemaps and more. Don’t know what I just rattled off? Send me a message, I’m happy to explain.

4. Visible Progress. Related to reporting, what tangible value can you demonstrate on a regular basis? Clients and executives often refer to digital marketing as “black box” and “murky”. Their perception is understandable. However, many facets of digital marketing are so precise and complex at scale that simple explanations are very difficult in quick meetings. What pieces of content or site changes can you point to? Given that digital is complex, your client or executive must have concrete, simple wins they can shop as their own.

5. Deep involvement in the client’s business. Don’t get left out in the cold. Many agencies suffer volatility because they enter late in the marketing game with a client. Brand managers suffer irrelevance by thinking small, too late. When a client or executive says sales or down, don’t nod and make a cursory note in your moleskin. Unleash a barrage of intelligent questions about their customer intelligence, acquisition, retention and sales process. Your ability to engage on a deep business level (down to P&L and EPS) will be a large determining factor in your long term success.

This is not an all-inclusive guide to winning SEO long term. However, it’s my hope that this will a jump off point for your team as it conquers its next digital marketing success.