Case study

Data analyst — Elisabeth Quayle

Elisabeth graduated with a degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Manchester. Discover how she took on the role of data analyst at business technology company The Access Group

How did you get started in data analysis?

I initially joined The Access Group in a business development role, before the opportunity came up in the marketing team for the position of marketing operations executive. Although I hadn't done anything like this before, and had no experience in coding, my scientific background showed I had good analytical skills and the right kind of mind for the job.

I assist the group's marketing department with data analysis and maintenance, as well as provide visualisations and evaluations using our own data trends and figures.

To gain the experience I needed in coding, I started a free course with Codecademy and I studied for a business analysis nanodegree via Udacity.

What were your first few weeks in the role like?

There was a lot to take in during the first few weeks, from learning code in two different languages - SQL and Python, to really understanding Big Data.

As my role covers the whole of The Access Group, I also had to learn how the business works across our multiple divisions.

Describe your job in five words.

  1. Challenging.
  2. Varied.
  3. Cooperative. I am often working on large projects across numerous divisions, so you need good communication skills to allow you to work collaboratively.
  4. Progressive. There are many options about where you can go and what you can do with skills in data analysis.
  5. Flexible. You can work from anywhere if you have a laptop and an internet connection.

What's a typical day like as a data analyst?

My daily work is quite structured, and I use Team Gantt to orchestrate my workflow and plan my tasks for the day ahead.

Over half of my day is spent working on tasks like creating smart lists so they can be used to send out emails, uploading data and managing the databases we have.

The rest of the time, I gather data, cleanse it and then give it back to the data handler or work through briefs from the team to find out things like how many leads we have had from a certain campaign, discovering emerging trends or exploring insights further.

What three skills do you need for your role?

You really need to be logical to work with data, but people don't realise that you also need to be creative. A key skill for this job is to be able to think outside the box to find a solution. It isn't just about cold logic all of the time, it's also about thinking around a problem to solve a puzzle.

Once you have your findings you have to be able to discuss them, so I would say that communication is another key skill. We have to evaluate what we've found, and explain them to the team so they can use our findings to help the wider business.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

The job can be very personal, and it is really satisfying when your findings and recommendations are used to help the team make their job easier and more efficient.

What are the challenges?

Once you have your findings it can sometimes be hard to communicate what you have discovered with the wider team. You really have to think about how you are presenting your findings and not overuse jargon to ensure people can clearly understand what you're showing them.

It can sometimes be difficult if you're working alone as you don't have people to bounce ideas off. It's much better if you are working as part of a team. 

What are your career ambitions?

I really enjoy the wider business analysis side of things and this is where I would like to progress my career, looking at the overall company strategy.

My next step is to become a data scientist, which requires more experience and more in-depth understanding of how the business works, which will come with time. There are also a lot of courses out there that will help me progress, from Udacity and Udemy for example, and these make it very easy to carry out external learning.

If there were an extra hour in the day how would you use it?

I would use it for personal development and take as many courses as I could. I have already learned A/B testing in my nanodegree and I would use the extra time to practice.

How do I get into data analysis?

There are a few paths you can follow and my own route was actually quite unusual. I came from a logical and scientific background and then learned how to apply this to business via online courses. A lot of what I learned was actually through doing the job.

I would recommend getting as much work experience as you can and investigating the online courses available. There is a lot of information out there and some courses don't cost anything - for example the Open University has lots of free resources. You can also find out more by logging on to GitHub, or joining Slack groups.

For a more traditional route, look for degrees in data analysis and business insights, and keep an eye out for internships. If there is someone you would like to work with then pick up the phone and ask.

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