How I Learned Data Analytics
I’ve worked in analytics for 15 years now in a variety of different positions.
Now I run my own consulting company in addition to teaching people about analytics skills and careers.
I’ve always had a strong interest in math and have been naturally skilled at it. So it made sense when I was deciding what to study in college to go with math.
I have a bachelor’s degree in math with a minor in economics.
Picking a Career Path
Throughout college, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my degree.
I had a more solid list of what I didn’t want to do with it. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to get into accounting.
I knew whatever I did, I wanted to be able to make a practical impact with it.
At the time I graduated, data analytics wasn’t a very popular field at all. When I first heard about it, I was surprised a job like it existed and it seemed to really match what I wanted.
Data Analytics Tools
I had a great math foundation from college, but unfortunately didn’t know any programming languages or special tools that well.
I had used MATLAB and STATA, but wouldn’t consider myself an expert in either of them when I graduated.
When I got my first job as an analyst, I started learning SAS as that was the language and toolset mainly being used where I was working.
Learning New Analytics Skills
There was a lot of on the job learning - identifying particular problems I needed to solve and then using trial and error, referencing books I had purchased, or googling to find out how to do things.
This really helped me learn practical skills because I was learning how to do things as I went.
In addition to this somewhat ad-hoc method, I also took several courses through SAS to help build my skills further.
I found myself doing a similar thing to learn Excel and VBA. I didn’t take any courses, but I’d find specific things I wanted to do and then experiment or search for answers until I could do them.
Expanding My Skillset
I also took any opportunity I could to add on additional skills.
I learned specialized forecasting software that my company was using, met with other analysts working in different areas or different locations to talk about how they were working and build my skills.
I reached out to others in the organization that I thought I could learn from and provide benefit to through analytics - working more heavily with engineering and purchasing teams to solve real problems they were facing.
This is a great way to learn - finding a real problem to address and then using the skills you have and building new ones to solve them.
Looking for Opportunities
In additional to building analytics skills, I would take trainings or volunteer for projects that dealt with organization development.
This meant I was building my network and also learning how to build influence and enact more change within the business.
I found conferences to also be a helpful platform for learning how others were using analytics tools and skills.
This gave a chance to figure out new applications and tricks for being more effective.
These industry and software specific conferences also gave me a chance to present what I was doing and network even more.
On-going Analytics Development
Over time, I’ve added additional skills through training and experimentation.
I learned Power BI because it’s the visualization tool I had easy access to and then learned Tableau because I saw its growing popularity.
I started learning Python when I was considering doing consulting full time. I’m a major fan of SAS, but it’s also expensive so I wanted to know an additional language.
I'm Still Learning
I’m in no way done learning. I still set aside every week to continue developing myself.
Over the past few years, that’s looked like taking additional classes in machine learning and working on additional programming languages.
I have a membership to DataCamp which I use to help build skills in languages I’m not currently using as much like R and SQL.
What I'd Do Differently
There are a few things I'd do differently if I was starting over today.
Here's how I'd learn data analytics if I were starting over.
How to Become a Data Analyst
If you’re considering becoming a data analyst, check out my ebook for more details.