What are some of the most important resources a Data analyst needs to know about?

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This question was asked on Quora and here’s my answer:

I will list resources broken down by three categories.

  1. Business Knowledge: As a data analyst, you need to have at least basic knowledge of business areas that you are helping with. For example: if you are doing Marketing Analytics then you need to understand basic concepts in marketing and that will make you more effective. You can do so one of the three ways:
    • On-the-job: Pick up knowledge by interacting with business people and using internal knowledge bases.
    • Online resources: Pick up basics of marketing by taking a beginners course online on a platform like Coursera OR from resources like this: Business Concepts – Bootcamp | PrepLounge.com
    • College/University: If you are at a college/university then you can either audit a course or depending on your major/minor, core business courses might just be part of the curriculum
  2. Communication skills:
    • Public Speaking: Toastmaster’s is a great resource. if you don’t have access to a local Toastmasters club, you should be able to find a course online. Check out Coursera.
    • Data Storytelling: Just listening to someone like Hans Rosling can be very inspiring! The best stats you’ve ever seen . Also, If you search storytelling with data on YouTube, you will see few good talks: storytelling with data – YouTube
    • Problem structuring: If you are able to break down the problem into core components to identify root cause, you will not only increase your speed to insight but your structure will also help you communicate it more effectively. Learn to break down your problems and use that in communicating your data analysis approach. Imagine this list without the three high-level categories — wouldn’t it look like I am throwing random resources at you? By giving it a structure — Tech, Biz, Communication, I am not only able to structure it but also communicate it to you more effectively. More here: Structure your Thoughts – Bootcamp | PrepLounge.com
  3. Tech skills: Read Akash Dugam’s answer: Akash Dugam’s answer to What are some of the most important resources a Data analyst needs to know about? — it’s a nice list. Also, check this out: Learn #Data Analysis online – free curriculum

A great data analyst will focus on all areas and a good data analyst might just focus on tech. Hope that helps!

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Introduction to Goal Seek & Solver capabilities in Excel:

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What-if Analysis is a pretty common analysis done by decision makers. Often, they would just create simple excel tables and adjust their variables manually until they get an answer that works. But instead of doing it manually there are features available in excel that will make your life much easier and analysis much more accurate. So, the goal of this blog post is to introduce you to the Goal Seek and Solver feature to help you do what-if analysis in Excel.

#1. Goal Seek:

Let’s say you are a CEO of an e-commerce startup and wondering about what factors you need to focus on to increase revenue. Here’s what the data (*assume per month) looks like when you start out:

excel-goal-seek-1And you want to increase the Revenue to $150K from $125K. The three levers you can pull are website visitors, conversion and revenue per customer.

Now you could manually tweak the values for this variables till you get to $150K but as I promised earlier, there’s a better way!

Let’s start with Goal Seek.

You need to set two variables for Goal Seek.

a. Your goal — which in this case is 150K

b. The variable that needs to be changed to achieve that goal — note that you can specify just one variable to do so. So you need to choose out of the three above what you would like to focus on. Let’s say you want to focus on conversion rate.

So once you have these two things — from the Data Tab in Excel, Go To What-if Analysis, Goal Seek:

excel-goal-seek-2Now, specify the values. For this example, we want to figure out what should be the new conversion rate so that our revenue will be $150K. So here’s an example of how that would look on Goal-seek:

excel-goal-seek-3After entering the values, you will see the status — you can click “OK” to keep the solution and cancel to go back to what you had:

excel-goal-seek-4Perfect! So you need to increase the conversion rate from 1.25% to 1.5% to get to the goal that you had set!

#2: Solver add-in

So, you worked on improving the conversion rate for next month or two and you & your team found out that it’s getting really hard to increase it above 1.35% — And also you found that with the less effort you can move the needle on other variables (website visitors & revenue per customer). Now Goal Seek allows you just set one variable so if you more variables than it doesn’t serve the purpose that well! That is where Solver add-in helps.

Think of Solver as advanced Goal seek where you can set more than one cell that can change. You can also set constraints on what the values could be for all the variables that can change.

Now, for our scenario, the conversion rate is at 1.35% but you want to see the possible changes that you can make for website visitors and revenue per customer to reach $150K.

You also know that you can’t above 1,100,000 Website visitors per month and also need to have less than $11 as revenue per customer.

You will need to enable the Solver add-in in Excel and once you do that you will see that in the Data Tab.

Once you have it, open it and fill up the information needed in the dialog box:

a,. Set objective to Total Revenue with value of 150000

b. By changing cells to: Website Visitors and Revenue per Customer

c. Constraints. Website Visitors <= 1,100,000 and Revenue Per Customer < $11

solver-excel-1After that click on Solve.

if it found a solution, it would show you that on Excel and also give you additional options to whether you want to keep the solver solution or restore it to original values:

For our scenario, it suggesting that with website visitors to 1,010,101 and revenue per customer to $11, we should hit our goal.

solver-excel-2Click on OK when you’re done.

Conclusion:

In this post, we saw how you can use Goal Seek and Solver add-in using an e-commerce scenario but you these techniques can be applied to wide variety of data analysis problems that can be solved using “what-if” techniques.

Hope this was helpful and I would love to hear from you about how will you use this in your work? Or if you use it already then what do you use it for?

As a data analyst for the CEO in an e-commerce company, what kind of reports are expected of me?

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Someone asked this on Quora and here’s my reply:

As a data analyst, you should work with the CEO (or other decision makers) on a quarterly (or more frequent if possible) and learn about #1 Strategic objectives and initiatives — #2 after that, you should work together and figure out how analytics could help these initiatives.

So why is learning about strategic initiatives from the executives important?

  1. Because analytics could be applied to lot of problems but you and your team might just have limited bandwidth.
  2. Also, executives want to stay focused on what’s important now and so if your priorities align then you are much likely to succeed in the role.

Let’s take an example:

Scenario 1: As a data analyst, you create bunch of reports from let’s say Google Analytics and throw them at the CEO! It has everything like visitor stats, acquisition stats, retention stats, behavior stats, conversion stats among others! Now by doing so, executives might get what they asked for but then they will still have to go through the reports and map it back to their strategic initiatives and figure out the recommendations on their own. Also, executives might not have the time to do this and may miss critical insights.

Scenario 2: You know that the one of the strategic initiate for the quarter is to improve the conversion rate from landing pages to order-complete page from 1.25% to 1.40% — so your analysis that you send to the executive would not only be focused on just that but also include “recommendations” — like it seems that there is a significant drop-off after customers learn about shipping cost. Then the executive could use those recommendations to drive actions. There’s also another benefit: Any ad-hoc data request that doesn’t align with the strategic objectives can be postponed (or de-prioritized) and let’s you focus on what’s most important for the company.

I prefer scenario #2. And try to create this culture wherever I am working. Executives should be open to sharing strategic initiatives at high-level with everyone in the company and help align everyone’s priorities.

Note: This doesn’t mean that you don’t create reports, you still do that for broader consumption — especially the Key Performance indicators that are key for success but you should look at automating most of that and focus on data analysis and find recommendations that the executives could take some action on.

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How to remove line feeds (lf) and character return (cr) from a text field in SQL Server?

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I was doing some data cleaning the other day, I ran into the issue of text fields having line feeds (lf) and character returns (cr) — this creates a lot of issues when you do data import/export. I had run into this problem sometime before as well and didn’t remember what I did back then so I am putting the solution here so it can be referenced later if need be.

To solve this, you need to remove LF, CR and/or combination of both. here’s the T-SQL syntax for SQL Server to do so:

SELECT REPLACE(REPLACE(@YourFieldName, CHAR(10), ' '), CHAR(13), ' ')

if you’re using some other database system then you need to figure out how to identify CR and LF’s — in SQL Server, the Char() function helps do that and there should be something similar for the database system that you’re using.

How do I pursue career in data warehousing?

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Someone asked this on quora, and here’s my reply:

In the data world there are two broad sets of jobs available:

  1. Engineering-oriented: Date engineers, Data Warehousing specialists, Big Data engineer, Business Intelligence engineer— all of these roles are focused on building that data pipeline using code/tools to get the data in some centralized location
  2. Business-oriented: Data Analyst, Data scientist — all of these roles involve using data (from those centralized sources) and helping business leaders make better decisions. *

*smaller companies (or startups) tend to have roles where small teams(or just one person) do it all so the distinction is not that apparent.

So, it seems like you are interested in engineering-oriented roles — the role that focused on building data pipelines. Since you are starting out, I would suggest that you broaden the scope to learn about other tools as well. While data warehousing is still relevant and will be in some form or another for next few years, Industry (especially tech companies) have been slowly moving towards Big Data technologies and you need to be able to adapt to these changes. So learn about data warehousing, may be get a job/internship as a ETL/BI engineer but keep an eye out on other data engineering related tools like Hadoop ecosystem, spark, python, etc.

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How Marketable is R programming?

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Someone asked this on Quora: How Marketable is R programming?

Answer:

Let’s step back!

Why do you want to learn R? OR why do people learn R?

To solve problems that R can address. Right?

What problems do you have? OR what problems does your COMPANY have? OR what PROBLEMS your Dream company that you want to join have?

<< LIST THEM DOWN HERE>>

example:

  • I want to predict customers that are going to churn next quarter.
  • I want to identify Marketing channel that drove the revenue growth last quarter.
  • etc..

What’s Next?

NOW, take all of these problems and find ways to solve them.

R may or may not help.

You could just do it in Excel. Then do that.

OR R helps you a little bit in the process but you need something else.

In some case, R is a perfect solution! Like building a model to predict customer churn!

So, What?

you see, learning R is important and you might get a job by showing that you have “R” chops but that will not be enough for career growth. You should be focused on learning to solve business problems using data. use R sometimes. use Excel sometimes. use Python sometimes. use SQL. use Tableau. use << INSERT A TOOL HERE>>. Learn them. Apply them. Figure out their strengths and weakness. BUT learn to use all of these technology platforms to solve problems! Solve problems that are thorny. Solve problems that move the business needle. Solve problems that get your bosses boss promoted.

If you do that, marketing your skills wouldn’t be a concern anymore.

It’s NOT easy. And it WILL take time.

TL;DR: Go for it! Learn R! But more importantly, learn to solve problems with data.

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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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