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Career Advice for Analysts: Find the Passion

Do you know what skills make different analytics practitioners more valuable to an employer? Here's advice on reaching the next level so you can compete for the most coveted jobs.

The data scientist and business analyst roles are emerging as critical resources within the organization hat drive the information economy. As more people gravitate towards these roles, there is bound to be increased competition for the most coveted positions that encompass the most interesting opportunities. How do you distinguish yourself?

Analytics is now seen as a driving force behind the information economy, but different types of practitioners claim to have experience in analytics. Let's examine several common practitioner types and the value that each brings to an organization. Do you recognize yourself or your colleagues below?

Column clippers: These individuals have accumulated knowledge about a particular capability or skill and are able to adequately converse about the topic.

Column-clippers are good for researching types of technologies and raising awareness of where they might fit within the organization. However, because they lack practical experience using these very technologies, they may be stymied when it comes to practice.

Finger-Smart tacticians: These individuals are skilled at using a particular kind of tool or technology, and they have experience in applying the technology under direction and oversight.

These tacticians are good at getting tools to work, training others on technology, and tweaking tools to improve performance. On the other hand, they may not necessarily know where to start in solving a particular business problem and are best when playing supporting technical roles.

Ivory-Tower academics: These individuals have gone beyond the "book smart" phase and have deeper knowledge about how a tool, technology, or algorithm works. They understand why one approach might work better than others in specific use cases. These individuals can help design technical solutions but may not be the best choice for implementing them.

Experienced executors: These people employ their technical knowledge and skills to solve particular types of problems using a specific suite of tactics. These professionals can be relied on to support ongoing reporting and analytics projects.

Passionate problem-solvers: These individuals interpret business challenges, transform them into well-defined (and hopefully recognizable) patterns, and draw from a wealth of knowledge to assemble the best tools. They then design a solution that addresses the business needs, implement the solution, and tweak it to make sure it delivers the best outcomes.

Clearly, the most valuable type of practitioner is the passionate problem-solver, whose skills and talents encompass those of all the other types. This type of professional ultimately becomes a "go-to" person for analytics.

How do you become a passionate problem-solver and compete for the most coveted jobs? You can grow into it by "leveling up" through the other roles. Use these best practices to guide you:

Never stop learning. There is a constant flow of new technologies and tools, and although it's impossible to be an expert in all of them, it's good to be aware of what the technologies are and how they add value.

Get your hands dirty. Once you find technologies that interest you, don't be afraid to play around with them. Set up a sandbox or a lab environment, install the tools, and put together a prototype or proof-of-concept application that forces you to get hands-on experience.

Go deep and long. If you find a skill or technology that interests you, take the time to get a deeper understanding -- its history, the underlying algorithms, how it works, when it works best, and when alternative approaches are needed.

Get practical experience. Take the skills that you have accumulated and see where they can be applied within your organization, then do it again and again.

These are the prerequisites for success, but none is a substitute for being passionate about what you do. That last step is self-motivated, and it's driven by your excitement in using the tools and knowledge at your disposal to figure out new ways to solve problems.

However, getting to that point requires putting in the time to hone your skills and apply them in different ways -- that will help establish your credentials and move you to the next level.

About the Author

David Loshin is a recognized thought leader in the areas of data quality and governance, master data management, and business intelligence. David is a prolific author regarding BI best practices via the expert channel at BeyeNETWORK and numerous books on BI and data quality. His valuable MDM insights can be found in his book, Master Data Management, which has been endorsed by data management industry leaders.

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