As you (may) know, my job mostly consists of creating reports in Microsoft Excel and Access by querying big databases. The problem is that I'm spending the biggest chunk of my time failing to get data out of the database, and trying to analyze the problems and come up with ways to work around them.
[Database geek moment ahead] Is part of it that I'm not optimizing queries well? Probably. But many of my queries need subselects or temporary tables; MySQL doesn't support subselects and I don't have write access to the database. So I need to create anything complex by linking the MySQL tables to an Access database, and making the query in Access, which is where the bad things begin. Optimization frequently gets thrown out the window at that point, because Access's optimizers are terrible. A lot of things in Access are terrible.
I'm not using the right tools for the job. You can use a monkey wrench to remove and tighten lug nuts on a wheel, and if you only do that when you're changing flats, you'll probably deal with it. If you do that weekly--or hourly--you're going to want a pneumatic wrench. Unfortunately, no one is willing to buy the database equivalent (say, Crystal Reports). There will be arguments over how much can be spent, what exactly to buy, and--in a peculiar example of why having a core staff of people used to being brilliant loners may be great for the development phase of a company but could potentially become a liability as the company moves into a service phase--whether we'd be better off just building something in-house.
This has been a good learning experience, though, in that it's teaching me that ultimately this isn't what I want to do. I'm not saying that facetiously. I like working with data sets and torturing information out of them, so I've wondered whether a career built on that would be interesting. The answer is "not interesting enough to compensate for the annoyance factor."
I think my next "homework assignment" will be figuring out how to promote myself as a print/web designer for little on-the-side jobs. I'm trying to avoid positioning myself as being in direct competition with a friend up in Sunnyvale who's a freelance desktop publisher, but on the flip side, I've got to start being more active in transitioning into the field. I don't expect that a small press company is going to make a lot of money... but I'd like to be able to stop the commute to/from work as soon as I can. (And to answer the obvious question, yes, I'll look into whether I can keep my job and just telecommute a day or two a week, although I think the current policy is that you're really only supposed to telecommute if you have a reason better than "I hate my commute." Which is understandable.)
Speaking of that, I'm late on starting that commute again!