Today I had the pleasure of participating in a webinar with students from COOP, a workforce development program in New York. These were all college grads who have been training for careers in data and were looking to see how they should skill-up before entering the industry. They also heard from Sayantani Mitra, a fellow Tableau Ambassador, and Marissa Coronado from Datorama. The session was so great and I thought I’d share my advice here on the blog too!
I recently published my Trailblazer story, but for those of you who are new here, let me refresh your memory! I’m not a data scientist nor do I have a computer science or data background. I’m one of those people who changed their major 10 times and still doesn’t actually do what I ended up studying to do. I worked for the Girl Scouts for about 10 years before following my husband to San Diego and having to switch careers. I dabbled in project management before falling in love with Salesforce and then through Salesforce fell in love with data. I’m a self taught data-junkie, and almost 5 years later I’m leading a data team and kicking butt every day. This is where my advice begins!
When I started with Salesforce, and more importantly data – I didn’t know any programming languages. One of the things I realized pretty quickly after picking up Wave Analytics/Einstein Analytics/Tableau CRM was that I couldn’t build out all of our use cases using the drag and drop interface. I needed to be able to group and regroup data, do more advanced calculations and apply windowing functions – and all of this is done in the code. I was looking at other people’s code and was like… uhhhh… but I started picking it up just by doing it and now I can write it in my sleep. I think all data platforms are making progress to allow these more advanced things to be done via the UI, but having the skills and the know how to jump right in really sets you apart and you’d be able to start working on more advanced projects more quickly. Some languages I suggest you skill up on:
The language of the data people – the most well known and most used database language.
This is really similar to SQL but is only for Tableau CRM. Its the Salesforce Analytics Query Language and lets you do everything you can’t do with point and click tools.
The back end of your dashboards will typically run on JSON. Its an easy to learn and easy to read syntax that keeps everything organized.
With these languages, you can transform a dashboard into an interactive application for your end users – taking data to the next level!
Data Structure & Relationships
I probably should have put this one first, but you need to understand your data before you start playing with it. Things like where it’s coming from – meaning the connected databases – but also where in those databases – who is interacting with it, how it is getting filled – how much of it is null values, that kind of thing. The more you understand your data, the more you can have opinions on things like data governance and security too, which opens more doors in your data career – going from analyst to architect.
A great way to learn more about your data is to
- Ask questions form data owners
Chances are, you’ll have connected data coming from lots of different databases, and even in one database there could be lots of different data owners. Marketing, Sales, Sales Operations, Product, etc. Get familiar with who these people are and don’t be afraid to ask what the data is for, how its structured, and why they are collecting it.
- Start clicking around in your databases and see how things are related. Check out primary keys and relationship fields – what are the different objects and tables that really give your data context?
Storytelling & Presentation
This is where those English class outlines and essays you never thought you’d use again come into play. The assets you build need to have a good flow and they need to tell a story and be easily digestible for your end users. You might have pulled together a lot of great data, but if no one knows what it means or what to do with it, what did you really build? Skilling up on UX and UI would be good, and a great way to visualize good design is just by looking at good design. Google around for examples, visit your favorite websites and take notes about what you like and dislike. And learn how to outline your build beforehand. A dashboard, for example, should read like a newspaper: headlines, imagery, and then the story details.
Another piece of storytelling is actionability. Someone is looking at your data assets, they are telling a good story – now what? Think about how you can make your data actionable, whether that is embedding the analytics on CRM records or in other applications, or enabling quick editing features, etc. A great way to skill up in this area would be to familiarize yourself with your company’s CRM and/or talk to different departments about how they use their data.
Don’t forget about your soft skills!
These are the things that no one can teach you. These are the things you bring to the table that have nothing to do with the data, like critical thinking, communication skills, and project management. You’re going to need to be able to think outside the box, be a self starter and self motivated, and have a passion for learning. The industry is always changing, always delivering new tools that you can use to keep developing and elaborating and updating the assets you design. When I’m looking for someone to join our team, I’m looking for someone who isn’t afraid to ask questions, who can communicate clearly with different groups of people, and can adapt quickly to changing environments.
Where do you start?
Of course there are many different career paths in Data now, and these are only a few of the skills you’ll need when you get started. To help narrow your focus, look up some job descriptions of the types of data jobs you want and see which certifications they are requiring or saying would give you bonus points. That will give you a great starting point to work towards and give you an idea of the type of skills you’ll need to have when you finally start applying for jobs. Another great place, of course, is Trailhead – which has lots of modules on both Tableau and Tableau CRM!
Once you decide what types of job you want, you can look at the tools used for that position and see if there are certifications available. Pro tip: there are! Lots of them! I think every BI platform I’ve ever used has their own certifications and training programs – giving you lots of tools and options for growth.
I would also recommend joining local user groups – Tableau has wonderful user groups with great presentations on a wide range of data topics. They might not be useful now, but you’ll be glad to learn about them anyway! Again, each BI platform will have their own groups and communities full of users just waiting to raise you up and help you get connected. Don’t be afraid to reach out to user group leaders for connections and ask questions during meetings.