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Why Data Hobbyists Are the Rising Stars of Your Business

Most data-driven organizations already have data hobbyists on their teams. Here are three ways to empower them and nurture the analytics movement.

By Paul Ross, Vice President of Product and Industry Marketing, Alteryx

For some people, data is magnetic. Its force draws them irresistibly in. For these people, data is like an ancient code combined with a multiple-choice question: the promise of revelation wrapped in an objective answer. These dataphiles crave enlightenment and seek it in hidden patterns. They find it by playing with, by working through, and by living, breathing, and communing with data. There have always been such devotees of data, and they have always made an enormous impact on the world. Just this year, a self-described "data geek" won a data-fueled £900 bet on the Scottish Referendum.

Today we encounter these data gurus more frequently because our professional and personal lives increasingly depend on data and the artful unraveling of its elegant inner structures. A few weeks ago, a colleague showed me a personal project he was working on -- a set of detailed data workflows for comparing NBA statistics. Let me remind you that, in true data hobbyist form, he did this for fun. His design was clever, and, according to him, the results were extremely revealing. He couldn't wait for his basketball fantasy draft -- and I couldn't wait to put him to work on our latest analysis projects.

The Age of Personal Data Experiences

Almost everyone I meet these days is getting excited about (or, if you prefer, geeking out on) data. Analyzing data used to be complex and time-consuming, but revolutionary new analytic tools make data easier to blend, more accessible, and increasingly fun to use. The latest user-friendly analytics tools are empowering a new wave of business users to embrace analytics, and as a result, data hobbyists/analysts are distinguishing themselves as company and industry leaders.

These folks are tracking, measuring, and analyzing an unprecedented amount of personal data -- whether they're tracking the impact of every move they make in Words With Friends or optimizing their choice of vegetarian restaurants while on vacation in Maui. Fascinated by the numbers that surround them, data hobbyists discover how to make data meaningful, then turn around and apply these insights at work. This drive is essential as new phenomena such as wearable data-tracking devices and apps such as Apple's iOS 8 Health app make the personalization of healthcare data a mainstream practice.

The hobbyist movement broadens everyone's perception of analytics' potential. The technological ability to track and measure every aspect of one's life is pushing us all to dig deeper into the data that's driving innovation. Where some business users follow the classic 80/20 rule for decision making (80 percent of their decisions are based on fact and 20 percent on instinct), dataphiles shoot for 95/5. They know that the more data applied to making a decision, the better they can predict the outcome of that decision. As data hobbyists continue to spearhead the 95/5 rule, their organizations improve their ability to make the best business decisions.

Data Hobbyists Drive Success

In our data-driven economy, the mindset of a data hobbyist adds tremendous strategic value in an enterprise setting. First, data hobbyists are constantly improving their analytics skills. They use personal projects to strengthen their analytics muscles and explore new ways of data problem solving. With each off-the-job project, data hobbyists increase their ability to process a question from multiple angles, making them wiser, more agile employees.

Next, data hobbyists dig deeper. New user-friendly data blending tools help them get straight to the heart of what they love, which is understanding what the numbers have to tell them. Happy data hobbyists enjoy mining through as much data as they can handle to uncover valuable insights, resulting in the rapid application of critical solutions to your organization's challenges.

In addition, their passion is contagious. Outside of work, data hobbyists are proud of their side projects. They share these projects and collaborate on more within a talented global community -- learning valuable insights from intelligent peers. Inside the organization, data hobbyists share their findings, methods, and new tools with their teams, giving everyone -- from C-level officers to marketing managers to business development directors -- the ability and desire to successfully use analytics and drive better performance.

How to Capitalize on the Data Hobbyist Movement

Most data-driven organizations already have data hobbyists on their teams. Here are three ways to empower your data hobbyists and nurture the analytics movement in your own organization.

Arm data hobbyists with new tools: Provide easy-to-use, fun tools that foster creativity and let data hobbyists do what they love -- analyze data. Chris Love, a well-known data analyst, observed that "it's important for people to feel a sense of worth in what they do and to go to work with a smile. ... [H]aving fun leads to innovation and growth. If people are having fun with data we'll learn more about what it can offer, and build richer models and better insights."

Create a community in your organization where data hobbyists inspire one another: Encourage your data hobbyists to learn from one another's creativity, thought process, and problem-solving skills by discussing their insights and experiments with their peers. For a working model look at the Alteryx and Tableau programs where advanced data analysts challenge and learn from each other. These interactions result in a smarter pool of data hobbyists and a better connected data community.

Recruit new data hobbyists: Millennials are great potential data hobbyists. They were born in the big data era and inherently understand that data is a key part of decision-making. Give them intuitive, easy-to-use tools and watch them deliver data-driven insights you might have thought impossible.

Companies live or die by their ability to extract insights from data. Foster curiosity, creativity, and productivity broadly across your company by embracing the data hobbyist movement. You will be amply rewarded.

Paul Ross is vice president of product and industry marketing for Alteryx. Paul has spent the past 15 years of his career helping users and decision makers connect with the value of technology, especially the value of making analytics and using data as simple as possible. You can reach him at

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