SJ: My Data Analyst Career Journey

SJ: My Data Analyst Career Journey

Today, we're bringing you an interview with SJ - he currently works in the Healthcare industry, performing data analytics

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Hi SJ, please introduce yourself to our site’s readers

My name is SJ, I work in the Healthcare industry, performing data analytics. I have been in my current role for just under 3 months.

If I understood correctly, you were originally a business owner, but decided to shift to a data analyst career. Can you share with us what prompted you for the change, and how did you manage to navigate into your first role? Did you find your experience helped in the transition?

Yes, I ran a successful small business for almost two decades, then COVID hit and things shifted. While my business was successful, it didn’t come with a retirement plan, health benefits or anything like that. In addition, I knew that as my kids got older and graduated high school that I may want to move… and while it seems everyone’s goal is to work for themselves, no one realizes how hard that is to be mobile. Once you have a client base you don’t want to move and start all over. I feel like what I did is completely opposite of what you see people on social media doing. Most people work an 8-5 and dream of working on their own. I had the business, loved it… but it was time for a change.

During Covid lock down, I obviously had a lot of time on my hands, and I was trying to find a better way to visualize my own sales data. The CRM I was using was great at that, but it came with limitations, especially when trying to comparing year over year growth and other metrics. I stumbled across Tableau; I don’t even remember how… I quickly plugged my sales data into some visuals and loved the results I was able to see with my own data- and from there I was hooked. It was quite that simple. From Tableau, I found the whole world of Data Analysis and SQL.

I quickly found places to learn SQL like Khan Academy (highly recommend) and of course Alex the Analyst on YouTube. I learned and absorbed everything I could from online resources. I am very thankful to those who put out content on sites like YouTube for sharing their knowledge.

When it came to job hunting, I realized I was up against a huge obstacle. Not only did I have zero experience in this field, but it is one of the worst labor market we have experienced in a very long time. Additionally, I would probably need to work remote, I don’t live in a big city or anything like that … and with the popularity of remote work… I knew I had an uphill battle, but boy did I get lucky.

I was on Indeed, and I saw that a local healthcare place was hiring for a Data Analyst. I was ecstatic. This is exactly what I was looking for.

I got an interview, at this point I knew I had to sell myself like I had never sold before, but I knew that I could do the job, I knew I had the drive and that whatever I didn’t know I would learn quickly. Towards the end of my initial interview, my (current) boss asked me if I had ever just read code to see what it was doing. He explained that they have a bunch of code, so I wouldn’t always be writing new SQL, but changing, adapting old code. I hadn’t done that, and I said that… but, while I had no experience up to that point actively interpreted SQL code, I fell back on my experience with my small business; I was always looking at the metrics I had available to see what worked, whether that be a social media ad or a picture… why one was successful while others were not. I explained this in the interview and we continued on. At the conclusion of the interview, I was given no indication that I would move to another round…. I wanted this job and made the conscience decision to actively go after it. That night I went home, and found several examples of SQL code- I then deciphered what it meant and wrote up summaries of what each code did. I sent this to him along with other examples of my portfolio. It was this action that landed me a second interview. The fact that I was proactive, did a little bit more work based on our conversations and sent it to him without being asked. See, they weren’t looking for someone who was just a data order taker, they wanted someone who would go out find the data pain points for people and get them the data they needed. Most people don’t know what they need, they don’t know what is possible because they don’t work with the data every day.

During my second interview, I concentrated on showcasing my drive at actively pursuing the data. Again, I leaned on my business experience, because as a business owner- at least for me I had to ask my clients questions, I had to actively pull the information out of them. They knew what they wanted but couldn’t always verbalize the words. So, I had to ask questions of my clients, always thinking of the end goal so I could ensure they loved the result. The same applies in the data world, I have to think of the end result, whether that be a PowerBI report, a paginated report or just an Excel spreadsheet. Do you need to see this over time, so a line chart – do you want to see percent of total.. we have to think of the report all the way through and thus we have to ask a lot of questions; and of course not all the questions are the right questions, but the wrong questions are helpful too because refine and produce a report that is actually useful. All questions lead to a useful report. I got the job because I asked questions during my interview, I was able to showcase how I asked questions to my clients and how I had the drive for the job. I let my enthusiasm show because I genuinely wanted the job. I didn’t just want a job, I wanted THIS job.

How do you spend your days in your data analyst role?

I have only been in the job for 3 months, but so far my days consist of seeking out people that need data and compiling their reports, usually in PowerBi, but sometimes in Paginated Report Builder. I spend a lot of time learning our terminology, as well as how the company works and industry work. My days consist of a lot of DAX coding so far, which is not stressed at all in any certificate or course, although it should be. Not one course that I took or video that I watched even mentioned DAX, yet if you are building anything in PowerBI, you have to learn it.

What is it that you're personally finding most exciting about being a data analyst?

I absolutely love, love my job. I am so thankful that I have found this career path, I am thankful to my boss for hiring me. We share a lot of the same work ethics and my coworkers are all so extremely helpful. Not once have I felt I could not ask a question or that my question was dumb… Every day I am learning something new, even if some days that learning is incredibly hard and frustrating. I am excited to go to work everyday. l enjoy lightening the load of other people’s job…when I can make a report work for someone that had to do a data task that took quite a bit of time, and then I can put a report together that saves them that time. I love that part. I also enjoy doing the behind the scenes work of it all. I thrive when I have to figure out how to do things and really enjoy seeing what the data can reveal when analyzed and modeled correctly. 5. What would you say are the must have data analyst skills to thrive in today’s environment? How did you start improving your skillset as a data analyst? What are you currently doing to keep up with the ever changing data analytics industry?

A few skills that are not talked about that I think would be handy to have…Hard skills wise, besides the obvious SQL… You need to know how to calculate things in visualization software, which, as I stated before, is not mentioned in any courses. The courses only show you how to put visualizations on a page, but they don’t teach you much beyond that. If you want to do anything beyond basic aggregations that the software does it for you, you must know how to do those. You don’t have to be an expert, at all, but starting to learn the language beforehand would set you apart and make your life easier those first few months.

This is more Microsoft focused, but learning paginated report builder. It is not that difficult, but it can be finicky… and it’s something else to put on your resume as a skill. Because even though we live in a digital world, we still print things, and you can’t print a PowerBI report and integrating that into PowerBI is so easy and convenient for end users.

Soft skills cannot be overlooked, I think they are just as important, anyone can learn to read and write SQL, but honing your soft skills to communicate is so important. One thing is the ability to seek out people who need something from you but might not know how to ask. Most people don’t know what the data team is capable of, they might just think things are the way they are because that is how it has to be, and we know that is not true. Therefore, being able to seek people out or take random conversations and turn them into an actionable item. For instance, I was talking to a colleague and she mentioned the steps she did for something and I was like oh, hold on I can change that to one step, all it took was dragging another column on to the table and saved her an hour of work a week. Changes like that are simple but so helpful! It is not always about building complex reports.

Another soft skill is being able to ask questions. You might think anyone can ask questions, but do people? No, they sit there in silence confused and get lost in the meeting. If an acronym comes up (which they always do) and I don’t know what that is, then I am asking what that means, and I follow up with questions and questions and questions. I don’t feel like I am annoying because I know the result will be better because of it.

Can you share what factors are most important to you in a data-focused career and why? Do you have a vision of what you'd like your career growth to look like?

I wanted a job that will challenge me, people who work with me to make the company and each other better, but also one that provides job satisfaction. Regarding career growth, I haven’t given much thought to be honest because I just starting out. However, I do know that I like to learn and then share knowledge. So, if one day my company needs a more Senior data person, maybe I can step into that role and then share knowledge with the new person; but I have a long way to go and a lot to learn before that happens! 7. Something that a lot of people are wondering and asking about - What recommendations would you give to someone who is looking to join the data industry and get their first full-time data analyst position?

Make your portfolio diverse, don’t just focus on sales data, which I know is hard because that is what a lot of datasets are out there. Not all companies need sales data.

Learn the calculation language of one of the visualizations softwares and learn it very well. It will set you apart.

Anything you'd like to highlight, or add? Something that not specified above but you hear a lot? Or would be helpful for people to know?

I hear a lot to do the Google Analytics course, don’t waste of time and money (there go my chances at being hired at Google).

Further, you don’t need a degree; you can teach yourself, you just have to do it. I won’t lie, most job descriptions want a degree, but if you can show that you know your stuff, and show that what you don’t know you have the drive to learn it I think that goes a long way. There is no one holding my hand at work showing me step by step what to do (I wouldn’t want that anyways) it takes a good work ethic full of motivation to learn. You have to show that is you.

An extra one: How do you see the increased availability of AI tools such as ChatGPT, Bard etc, impacting the data analyst role?

They are fun toy to play with. Great for helping you write those cover letters, sprucing up the resume and helping with DAX and SQL syntax. AI tools are just that, tools. They should be used to learn how to reach an answer, not relied on to provide the answer. We can’t treat AI like the calculator.. back in school we were told “you won’t have a calculator with you at all times” and now look what we have in our pockets. We need to learn to use the tools technology is giving us. They will help us learn better and get through tedious tasks faster. I am not personally worried that AI will “take my job” because when is the last time you asked anyone what they wanted and they told you exactly what that looked like? I can’t even tell you what I want for dinner, let alone exactly what data should go into a report at first. A good report goes through several changes and I don’t know if prompting an AI bot to finesse a report will ever be as good as a human.