Case study

Director of data strategy and implementation — Simon Wallace

Simon is passionate about sharing his understanding of data with others. Find out more about how he uses his statistics degree in his job working for a global media firm

How did you get your job?

I studied for a BSc and a PhD, both in statistics. The applied nature of statistics appealed to me, and I wanted a job where the challenge of solving a mathematical and coding problem had an immediate use.

I saw an advert for my current job in data strategy and implementation for global medial firm Mindshare and applied. I went to a couple of interviews, completed a data analysis task and was offered the job.

What's a typical working day like?

My days usually include a blend of analysis, research and reporting. I work with a range of data, from campaign performance to survey data. I'm either working for clients or on internal research and development. I meet with other teams or clients to explain the analysis or data in a way that they can understand and action. It's crucial in my role that I communicate in an effective manner.

Statistics in practice isn't always machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). At times, it's as important to extract insights in a way that is most readily understood by your target audience.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I love finding a way to make the data accessible and understandable to a range of audiences. My passion for statistics is affirmed when people who aren't familiar with data understand the results and implications of an analysis, as well as the potential their data has.

What are the challenges?

Remembering that what might be interesting academically is not always immediately interesting or usable in a business setting. With an interesting data set you can start going down analytical paths that are fascinating but don't answer the initial question posed. This isn't to say that we shouldn’t explore these avenues, but it might not be the right time to do so. The challenge then is finding time to explore the potential benefit to the business these research questions may have.

How is your degree relevant?

One of the most important aspects of my job is taking an analysis and describing it in a way that's readily understood by a wider audience. This democratisation of results is instilled in statistics degree courses - the final stage of an analysis is always about applying the results to the initial problem.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

Encouraging as many people as possible to become engaged with the data at their disposal. In my current role I'm hearing phrases such as 'I would love to get involved in data' more often, and am being asked about how to do so.

The role of data has changed a lot in a short period of time and it's only going to continue doing so. I definitely want to be a part of that.

What are your tips for choosing a postgrad course?

Find a department producing research that you're interested in. A postgraduate course is a huge undertaking and very different from an undergraduate degree. Having a genuine interest in your course makes it much more enjoyable.

What advice can you give to others interested in this area of work?

  • Context is key to a great analysis. The influence your work can have is limited if only a handful of people can understand it.
  • Be familiar with as many aspects of data as possible. Remember that the latest techniques aren't always the best.
  • Immerse yourself in the work that different industries are doing with their data. This can help develop your ability to place your own work in context and give you ideas for future projects.

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