Can I be a data analyst at a tech company without a degree in computer science?

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Yes — it’s not a must have to work as a Data Analyst. In fact, a lot of people come from a non-CS background and succeed in this role!

Let’s look at the pros and cons of having a computer science (CS) degree and this should help you evaluate where you fall:

Data Analyst computer science degree

Pros of having a CS-degree:

  • If the data analyst position requires you to have this degree in CS then you qualify! Fortunately this is not that common and usually it says bachelor’s required in cs, business administration or related field so as long as you have bachelors for positions that require it then you should be fine
  • you might already have the basic tech skills that are needed for data analysis jobs and the CS degree might be used to validate that.
  • you can pick up new tech concepts and tools fast(er) — with the cs background, it’s easier to pick up new concepts & tools — and you need to continuously do that to stay relevant.

Cons of having a CS-degree:

  • Not enough business problem solving experience and/or lack depth in business knowledge — so if you have a degree in business then you come ahead! Especially if your background aligns with the role. For example: if you focused on Marketing in your bachelors and the role is focused around marketing analytics then you might have an edge
  • I have a CS degree and then I followed it up with a masters from a “business school” — so this is just based on my experience but few CS students (without real world experience) are inclined to focus on “automation” and “bleeding-edge” instead of focusing on what the problem needs. Lot of data analysis doesn’t need to be automated or shouldn’t be automated and not every company needs <<insert the latest tech trend here: big data, deep learning>> — but CS students tend to do that. That’s what they feel most comfortable with so while that doesn’t stop from getting the job, this would impede their growth as a data analyst within the org.

Conclusion:

So as you can see even if you don’t have a CS degree, you can still find roles that align with your other skills and in fact, you might be able to come out ahead if you can prove that you have basic quantitative and tech skills needed to get the job done.

Related: Paras Doshi’s answer to How do I prepare myself for a career in Data Analysis?

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What are the reasons why developing a data dictionary is so important?

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data dictionary

Let me first define “Data Dictionary” — It’s a document that lists data fields/metrics and their standardized definition to be used across the org.

The key here is: Standardized.

Imagine this:

Imagine that a management team meeting is going on and you have CEO, VP of Sales, VP of Marketing, CFO, COO among others in the room.

Meeting Agenda: why they didn’t hit the $100M profit goal in the first quarter. So each of them start with the reports they had access to.

VP of Sales says they missed it by $5M

CFO says that they missed it by $9M

COO says that they missed it by $7M

VP of Marketing has three different versions on her report and she is confused!

No ONE talks about the “Why” they missed the goal but instead spends next hour reconciling the numbers!

It was a hypothetical scenario but these things happen all the time! Of course it could be any team meeting and the metric could be something else or it could just that someone is working on something on their own and end up spending a lot of time digging through all the metric definitions and trying to makes sense of it all. This is where data dictionary could help! Let’s take this a step further:

What’s one of the most important characteristic of a good data analysis/science?

It needs to be Actionable.

It needs to help business decision makers take action based on the insights that they found or were shared with them. And before they take that decision, business decision makers need the data they can TRUST!

For data to be trusted, it needs to be understood. It needs to have a definition that everyone agrees upon.

This is what data dictionary is for. It lists data fields/metrics and their standardized definition so that everyone in the org understands what the field/metric means and don’t have to worry about aligning their meaning. They could focus on Analyzing and extracting insights that would change the business and the world!

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What are the differences between big data developer and data analyst?

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It depends on how the Analytics & Data Science team is structured in an org but usually you will see following trend:

  1. “Big Data Developer” usually rolls up under the Engineering org. They are responsible for building the data pipelines that feed data to the “data platform” — they use things like Hadoop, Spark, Custom Code, ETL tools, etc to build data pipelines and are responsible developing and maintaining the data platform. And to succeed in this role you need to have deep technical chops. Other titles for this role: Data engineer, Software engineer, etc.
  2. “Data Analyst” usually rolls up under some “business” team like strategy, operations, growth, product, marketing, sales, etc. Data Analyst are the link between the “data platform” and the “business” — these guys are primary consumer of the “data platform” (sometimes you might see shared ownership of data platform between engineering and analytics). They help solve business problems using data and pull data from the “data platform”. These guys need to have a good balance between business and technical skills to be successful in this role.

View the question on Quora.

What is Descriptive Analysis?

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I classify analytics into four kinds:

  1. Descriptive — Reporting “What” Happened
  2. Diagnostic — “Why” is Happened
  3. Predictive — What’s going to happen next?
  4. Prescriptive — How can I use all these things to take business decisions/actions.

With that overview, let’s look at Descriptive analysis a little bit more. This is usually the first step for any organization to start getting value out of all their data. They should be able to answer questions like: What were my sales last quarter? How about same quarter last year? Then compare them to see if they made progress. They can also report on sales (Actual vs goals) for last n months and see if they are trending in the right direction. Things like this! Once you have a good process and platform to get this right then the organization is ready to advance to next step which is diagnostic and this is where you start analyzing the key drivers and underlying reasons to figure “why” it’s happening. But you need start at Descriptive!

Hope that helps!

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Does data analysis and machine learning go hand-in-hand or are they mutually exclusive activities?

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Originally published on Quora. Link Here

“Machine Learning” is a subset of “Data Analysis” — it’s just one of the activities that you could apply to solve a data analysis problem, you just need to find a problem that can use machine learning wizardry! What kind of activities?, you say — well, to answer that we will need to step back and categorize what problems could be solved by Data Analysis. There are broadly three kinds of problems:

  1. “What” Problems. Few example: What are my sales number for last quarter? Can we compare it to same quarter last year? Now, can we break it down by Regions and Product Categories? — you see all these questions could be answered by a querying your data stores or by your Business Intelligence platform. Yo do NOT need machine learning for this. Moving on…
  2. “Why” Problems: Few example: Why did the customer cancel their contract? Why is the profit in region A declining Quarter over Quarter? You see this is little bit more challenging than “what” questions — you will need to structure the problem and pull data from multiple sources. Why did customer cancel? You may want to look at internal (e.g. customer complaints) and external (e.g. bankruptcy) data. Usually you won’t need to apply Machine Learning here — you might benefit in some cases where you “cluster” all churned customers and see if you can find some patterns but again Machine learning is not you primary tool here. Moving on…
  3. “What’s next” problems: This what you have been waiting for — this is where Machine learning could be applied. Example: Which customer accounts will cancel their account this fiscal year? — This is where you train a machine learning algorithm to predict which customers will churn this year. Note that the work you did for “why” problems where you identified some characteristics of churned customers will still be applicable here — and that brings me to: Most organizations don’t usually jump from “What” to “What’s next” stage — every organization is at a different stage depending on their maturity and you can’t apply machine learning to every data analysis problem. Also, with more and more companies using “data” to gain competitive edge, if you are not using machine learning then chances are high that your competitor is and they may out-compete you and that’s why it’s important to continuously invest and reach the highest level — more and more companies and executives are realizing this and it’s a great thing for the data community!

To conclude: Depending on the analytics maturity of your organization and the business problem at hand, you might have to use Machine learning to solve a data analyis problem…And it never hurts to pick up Machine learning basics along with other data analysis skills that you might have.

Hope that helps.

Why are there so many analytics startups?

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Originally published on Quora: Why are there so many analytics startups?

Question:

Why are there so many analytics startups in the past 2 years?  With Google Analytics getting better every year (for FREE!), what is the value proposition?  I understand the need to augment with some new perspectives such as Clicktale, but I’m not sure I understand the value prop of KissMetrics, SpringMetrics, etc?

Answer:

There are two main reasons:

  1. Features gap between google analytics (free) and google analytics (premium aka 360 now!) — there are a lot companies (esp. with multi-million customers) that want to use premium features but still cant justify the ROI of GA premium. So there are analytics startups out there that try to cater to these “gaps”. Even though GA is improving, there will always be some feature gap(s).
  2. Access to venture capital for these startups — so these startups found a market and they went for it. They also had access to venture capital (easier two years back then it is today!) and it also helped them that “big data” and “data science” was (and still is!) a highly discussed tech topic.

I believe we will see some consolidation in next few years.

How do I prepare myself to be a data analyst?

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Originally published on Quora: How do I prepare myself to be a Data Analyst?

Based on how you are framing your question, it seems that you currently don’t have “Data Analysis” Background but want to build a career in this field. Here are three things you could do:

  1. Learn Tech Skills: You will need technical knowledge to be successful at analyzing data. SQL and Excel are a good starting point. You could do a lot with these tools — then depending on the bandwidth that you might have you could explore R. How do you learn this? Here’s a learning pathway: Learn #Data Analysis online – free curriculum ; Also search for free courses on Coursera or other platforms.
  2. Learn Soft/Business Skills: This is as important as tech skills (if not more!) when it comes to Data Analysis. Finding Insights from your data is half the battle, you will need to put the insights in a context/story and influence business decisions and sometimes influence business change. we know change is always hard! So your soft/business skills will be very important. Also, you will benefit a lot from learning about how to break down problems, communicate your solution by using “business” language vs tech-speak.
  3. Apply them (and keep improving): Now that you have picked up some tech and soft/biz skills, apply them! Get an internship, Help out a non-profit in your free time (Data Kind, Statistics Without borders, Volunteer Match are good resources to find a non-profit) and start applying your skills! It would also help you get some “Real” world experience and applying what you have learned while “learning-on-the-job” is arguably the BEST way to pick something up!

Hope that helps!