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More Than Just a ‘Data Geek’ – Emerging Skill Sets for Data Analysts

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The stereotype of the Data Analyst is changing, and businesses now have an increasing need for Analysts to not only have the technical capability, but also the ability to analyse data and present it in a way that can be easily understood by non-technical members of the business. As systems and processes evolve, it is important for Data Analysts to be able to add more value across the spectrum of the project, especially in a visualisation and storytelling sense.

If you’re looking to pursue a career in data analytics, here is why being more than just a “data geek” can make you more attractive to future employers and ensure you’re equipped to continue helping them make effective business decisions in the long term.

Key Areas of Value-Add for Future Data Analysts

As you’ll probably know, Data Analysts are responsible for collecting and organising data, and then using that information to help solve problems and questions – however, the reach of this role is expanding. Gone are the days when the role was solely about crunching numbers – there are now so many ways you can add value within the scope of a project or objective:

Context

One of the key areas Data Analysts can provide insight is in the project context, where you can help to understand contextual issues such as “what are we trying to achieve?”, “what data do we need?”, "how do we get this data?” and “how do we present it?”.

To do so, you will need to employ a variety of languages and tools to marry systems together or try to identify opportunities to acquire new data from other systems.

Some of the technical aspects and systems that are important for Analysts to understand context include:

  • SQL
  • Tableau™
  • Data warehousing
  • Python™
  • SAS®
  • Project management
  • Extraction Transformation and Loading (ETL)
  • Oracle® Database
  • Data mining
  • Data modelling

Analytics

Since data analytics is the science of analysing raw data and making conclusions about that information, these techniques help to reveal trends and metrics that would otherwise be lost in the mass of information, which can then be used to optimise processes and increase the overall efficiency of a business or system.

Today, many of the techniques and processes of data analytics have been automated into mechanical processes and algorithms that work over raw data for human consumption. As a result, there is a growing demand for Analysts who are able to understand the data in order to spot patterns and correlations that an algorithm may not necessarily pick up on.

Understanding what the data is, how to gather that data and how to present it is where the market is heading, so being skilled in this area is vital for the long-term success of your career.

Visualisation

Another area where Data Analysts play an important role is the graphical representation of information and data through data visualisation. By using visual elements such as charts, graphs and maps, data visualisation tools provide an accessible way to understand trends, outliers and patterns in data.

It may seem obvious, but in the world of Big Data, data visualisation tools and technologies are essential to analyse large amounts of information and make data-driven decisions.

Data visualisation is like a form of visual art that grabs our interest and keeps our eyes on the message. When we see a chart, we quickly see trends and outliers. If we can see something, we internalise it quickly. It’s storytelling with a purpose. If you’ve ever stared at a massive spreadsheet of data and couldn’t see a trend, you know how much more effective visualisation can be.

Tools such as Power BI and Tableau are becoming increasingly sought-after systems that clients are looking for their Data Analysts to have experience in, so familiarity with these tools will significantly boost your employability.

The Importance of Soft Skills for Data Analysts

To succeed as a Data Analyst in today’s world, you need to be able to bridge the technical and the non-technical. Some professionals may be incredibly good at analysing data but may not necessarily be able to relay that effectively to a Minister or Chief Executive.

That’s why the big push is for Data Analysts to have soft skills and the ability to tell a story using the data, which can be easily interpreted for a board meeting or policy review.

Some of the soft skills that are essential in today’s less technical analysts are:

  • Communication – Including written, verbal and using specialty visualisation software.
  • Problem-solving – When technology fails, it’s important to be able to understand why, how to fix the issue and how to effectively capture the data that is required for the overarching context.
  • Collaboration – Analysts who cannot effectively communicate with other team members are not going to drive innovation to big picture thinking. You need to be a team player who can work well with data warehouses or liaise with graphic designers who are designing visuals that illustrate the data for presentations.

Summary

At the end of the day, there will always be a need for specialist technical Analysts, however, it is those that are able to add value in multiple areas of the project or process that are likely to be the most attractive to hiring managers in the future. With this in mind, nurturing a well-rounded suite of non-technical skills will give you a wider range of career opportunities and ensure you’ll remain a valuable asset to your employer.

If you’re looking for a new Data Analyst role or would like to discuss your next career move, feel free to reach out to me.