October 21, 2022

Beyond the Data: Dakota Kelley, Sr. Data Engineer

By Mitch Rudolph

It’s been a hot minute since we featured someone for Beyond the Data…in fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s nearly been a year…

But have no fear, this series is back! For those unfamiliar, Beyond the Data is a down-to-earth series where we explore the people behind phData.

For the relaunch, I wanted to kick off this series with someone epic, and that someone epic is Dakota Kelley.

Dakota Kelley is a Sr. Data Engineer at phData and in just under a year, Dakota has already:

  • Made a noticeable impression on our customers
  • Won phData a Silver dbt Certification Award
  • Advanced his skillset in Snowflake, dbt, and many more
  • Written 9 blogs

Quoting from our internal Slack Shoutout channel,

“Dakota is ALWAYS quick and willing to go above and beyond to answer questions and provide assistance.”

With that, let’s learn more about Dakota. 

Tell us your name, where you’re from, and a little about you.

My name is Dakota Kelley and I was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Throughout most of my childhood, we moved all over the central southern US but we always seemed to make it back to Bartlesville. Now I live in Edmond, Oklahoma with my lovely wife, and our two dogs. 

From a young age, I always had a love for taking things apart, figuring out how they worked and putting them back together (often frustrating for my mom along the way as she’d come home from work to find things taken apart).

While I had that love of solving problems, which followed me through school with my knack for and love of math, I often found school itself boring. That all changed once I got to high school and found out I could spend half of my day in a vocational trade school known as Tri-County Technology Center. 

I ended up in a Computer Repair and Network Engineering course and I absolutely fell in love with solving problems using computers. After high school, I set off to Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSU IT) where I earned a Bachelors of Technology with a focus on Software Development, Information Assurance, and Computer Forensics.

After graduating from OSU IT, I took on a position as a Software Developer and spent several years working with data. Along the way, I realized I wanted to dive in and learn more. I would work during the day and spend my nights taking classes at Oklahoma State University while I pursued my MS degree, which I graduated with a 3.9 back in December of 2021.

What do you actually do on any given day as a Sr. Data Engineer?

This can be a hard one to answer, as each day is a little different but I tend to say as an umbrella term, that I spend my day building really cool and often cutting-edge solutions using data and technology. Regardless if I’m helping optimize a pipeline to help data flow faster or more efficiently, building robustness into a pipeline, modeling data, and focusing on bringing value to the business. 

Often this can look like a lot of different things: building cool tools to save myself and others time, collaborating with clients to help share knowledge, and train their team, or heads down writing code to solve an interesting and complex problem.

Tell us about the Data Engineering team. What is it like working with them every day? What can you tell us about your team that we don’t know?

The Data Engineering team here at phData is something else entirely. Everyone here lives and breathes our various core values, and that makes it so easy to collaborate and share. Different team members have different experiences and we often share them along the path to help develop and solve some of the most interesting problems out there. 

You’ll have a hard time finding a collective group of engineers who are ready to hop into a challenge heads down with you to find a solution. We all love solving problems and supporting each other. It keeps us curious and learning, which allows us to power through even some of the most difficult tasks. Most importantly, everyone is insanely respectful and this creates a sense of community even though we all come from different backgrounds and locations.

What are the most exciting things you’re working on and how do you see them positively impacting our customers?

This is an easy one for me! The most exciting thing that I love working on with customers is dbt. I’ve been in the sort of place where building database code and transformations requires a complex ticketing system and paper forms to help you promote and bring transformations into other environments.

It can often slow down the process and iterations on your code. With dbt, we can streamline this so much. With software development best practices, we can store transformations in git with certainty, and focus on delivering quality transformations for the analytics team. 

There is so much potential with this tool ( and really the rest of the Modern Data Stack) that we can set up excellent controls and best practices, which frees dev teams to work on building solutions and solving complex problems.

A room full of people listening to Dakota presenting
Dakota presenting at Coalesce 2022 by dbt Labs

How do you like working for a consulting company?

I absolutely love working in consulting, especially at phData. You can tell this organization was built to be engineer-first, and it shows in the quality of our teams here. We are constantly put into positions to learn and grow. Every client is different, and every engagement has a new skill that you will develop and grow with. 

With every new project, new doors and new experiences are constantly opening and I’ve felt an unparalleled growth in my skills and who I am.

What’s been a career-changing skill you’ve learned/developed while working at phData?

This is a tough one, but I feel like I’ve been set free to grow in ways that I want to grow. Which can be tough to manage, there are often a lot of opportunities out there that are exciting and are things that you want to go do, but you’ve also got to do your best to prevent yourself from being spread too thin or burning out brightly. 

So the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to set appropriate boundaries so I can have a second to clear my thoughts and unwind, which has been a tough one for me. It helps when you have wonderful bosses and coworkers who encourage taking time off, and you being your authentic self.

Outside of work, what's your life like? What do you do for fun?

Outside of work, I can often be found spending time with my wife and dogs. We love to play board games and we have a couple of groups that we get together with frequently to play Dungeons & Dragons in our spare time. 

Also, we absolutely love video games (just don’t expect me to be very good). I often spend time playing games, but it takes me a little longer to beat them than it used to. But I show my love and appreciation for video games in many ways, including all the video game tattoos I have. 

Next, I absolutely adore reading but not the fun kind most people like. I love reading non-fiction books, scientific papers, and technical manuals. Finally, I love BBQing and smoking foods, so much so that I practice for and spend time in competitions when I get the chance.

Dakota standing next to a smoker

The word on the street is that you're a huge football fan, what do GameDays typically look like at the Kelley household?

Yes, I am. Living in Oklahoma, it’s hard to not be a Football fan. Being an Oklahoma State University (OSU) alum and since my wife grew up in Stillwater, we are huge OSU fans. We bleed America’s Brightest Orange, and it shows on game day. 

It’s hard to mess with our Saturday and Sunday schedules during football season, as they’re already called for. Some seasons we’ll be at all the home OSU games, other times we are just watching from the comfort of the couch. 

During football season, we schedule our weekends around OSU kick-offs, meaning a late night game I might smoke some meats for it, a mid-day kick-off might have some homemade pizza out on the pizza oven, and early morning games are always enjoyed with a hearty southern breakfast. We enjoy the food, my wife yells at the TV, and I just enjoy our game day experience.

Want to work alongside Dakota?

Our team is growing! Check out our job board to see our current openings.

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