Data Analytics Careers: An Inside LookJune 21, 2021
Capitology Blog sat down with two data analytics professionals – one at the start of her career, and the other in the management – to learn about what it’s like to work in the industry.
Elizabeth Oliver is a junior statistician/data scientist with CORMAC, a Maryland-based health IT firm. She has been working in the field of data analytics for just over a year.
Jenn Hall is a data analytics manager in the finance department of one of the largest health insurance companies in New York City. She has been working in the field of data analytics for fifteen years.
Why did you pursue a career in data analytics?
JH: When the 9/11 attacks happened, I realized just how short life can be. I began to think about what it is that I really wanted to accomplish, and that was to go to graduate school. My focus at the time was psychology, in particular research/experimental psychology. During my course work, I began to realize how much I loved playing with numbers and turning numbers (data) into stories (information). I naturally sought work that aligned with that opportunity.
EO: I am a statistician by training, but I have loved data and using it to solve problems since before I knew someone would pay me. We are surrounded by data, but without being able to think critically about its use, it becomes noise.
What is your favorite part of your job?
EO: It is very intellectually rewarding. I am continuously learning new skills or new ways to apply old skills.
JH: One of my favorite parts of my job is that no two days are the same. A large part of my job is to dive into the drivers behind trends, working with my team to determine what recommendations we have for improving the financial performance for any given population. I was recently described by a colleague as having an innate curiosity, which I loved hearing; the opportunity to “play” as I call it is tremendously satisfying.
What is one thing that has surprised you about/you find most challenging about your job?
JH: The analytics world is constantly changing. When I first joined my company 11 years ago, I was using SAS, Crystal Reports, and Microsoft Access to complete my work. Now, my company relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Tableau, and Python. It can be challenging to ensure that my working knowledge of every new software we use remains strong, as I work to complete deliverables while the tools available for completing my work may be in flux.
EO: How often I utilize online resources and documentation to learn a new way to apply a skill or solve a problem more efficiently. This is one of the many ways I never stop learning.
Why do you think is there such a need for employees with strong data skills?
EO: Data is everywhere and it touches everything. No matter what your interests you can find a way to make an impact with data science. It encompasses things such as predicting the spread of the pandemic, visualizing election results, to fighting forest fires.
JH: Anyone can be taught to run a particular code and export the findings. It takes a true analytical mind to see that as just one piece of the much larger puzzle.
What software programs/skills do you find most useful? In what area/program/skillset do you wish you knew more?
JH: Any language that is based in or that uses basic SQL language is quite transferable to other coding languages, so I certainly recommend that anyone with a focus in analysis should be quite comfortable with SQL, in particular regarding best practices for joining tables and cleaning data. I have used SAS in some capacity for years (and years) and have certainly been a fan, in particular when the code uses a combination of SQL and SAS language. I am currently strengthening my skills in Tableau (very powerful for visualizations!) and am learning some of the basics of Python.
EO: I mostly use SAS and R, though I have some supporting tasks that use LaTeX or Microsoft Excel. There are programming languages I am interested in learning but have found that understanding the theory behind the techniques used is more important than the tools used. You can always transfer the theory to another tool (or programming language, etc.) with a good internet search and a little time invested.
What is the one non-technical course or area of study that has benefitted you the most in your career?
EO: The most useful non-technical course I took involved a lot of writing. Learning how to convey a complex idea to a non-technical audience is invaluable. We don't do data science in a vacuum. To be useful, we have to share results in a way that can be understood.
JH: think that my studies of psychology in general has a powerful impact on my interactions with others – from working with peers, to understanding my customers’ needs, to appreciating the importance of networking. I find that I rely on my interpersonal “soft skills” in much of my day-to-day work and would certainly recommend that everyone take the time to appreciate the importance of empathy and active listening.
What type of person should consider a career in the data sciences?
EO: As a data scientist, it helps to be curious and a little bit stubborn. A “gamer” mentality is useful when you are trying to solve a programming problem.
What do you look for when hiring a new employee?
JH: I look for someone who has a strong analytical foundation I believe I can help them to build upon. Typically, that would entail a history of working with SQL and proven success in creating analytical insights from the data they have pulled.
Some of my favorite questions to ask during interviews are about customer service and asking for examples of how that person has worked well as a team member. While much of our work is performed solo, we are strongest when we work together to bounce ideas off each other and to share best practices; the best candidates can easily share a history of positive, supportive teamwork.
Capitol Tech offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in analytics and data science. Many courses are available both on campus and online. To learn more about Capitol Tech’s degree programs, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.