A Data Science Central Community
So, every morning, the analyst, from junior to senior to principal, has a choice to make among three possible paths. Do I: increase my technical proficiency by learning to program or some new statistical methodology, or do I improve my knowledge level of the industry I am working with because of a project that is upcoming, or do I work on soft skills to improve reporting and client relations? Presuming that a deadline is not looming, the analyst has an interesting choice: which one improves productivity the most? An analyst is expected to have a high level of technical competence, though not necessarily that of a programmer, they are expected to know their markets broadly, and they are expected to deliver reports that can be acted upon from every level of an organization, from executive to junior, and from multiple different departments, depending on who is receiving the report.
The answer is a critical one for many looking to join the ranks of analysts or for moving up. Many of our new graduates are incredibly technically competent with statistical programs such as SAS, GIS programs like ArcGIS, and are generally technically competent. In fact, they’re usually far more competent with computers than I could hope to be. So, this often puts us folks at the mid-career stage in a panic; the young smart kids are coming to take our jobs. However, panicking helps no one’s career. I will never be as technically capable as the next generation of GIS analysts. They will know more hard skill items than I could hope to. So, I don’t focus on getting skills I will never have. I’m a decent programmer with Visual Basic and I understand enough Python to get by. After that, forget it. So why try? I won’t get anywhere trying to be something I’m not.
So, I turn to improving my industry knowledge. Here is where a combination of LinkedIn and Twitter can be useful, in moderation. There are a number of great follows out there and groups to join. The key is moderation: use Twitter and LinkedIn, don’t let them use you. Keep it focused to the groups and links you need to deliver or improve your competence. If it helps, separate personal from professional twitter, but don’t spend all day on any social media, even professional sites. Carve out time, and make it work. Have a “cabinet” of websites you go to, get the info you need, and learn what you need to. Then turn to your projects.
Finally, it never hurts to understand the basics of good presentation and soft skills. Listen to good podcasts or presentations in your industry. Read white papers and articles that are relevant and proper. Take notes, and learn how to apply the information. An analyst should have a facile knowledge of his or her industry at the ready for any professionally social situation. It helps fill the gaps when one can say “Hey, did you check out Smith’s post on that subject?” You don’t have to be the bearer of all knowledge – that just leaves you looking like a know-it-all. However, knowing where to go or mentioning something interesting on the topic and suggesting places or people to go for “the straight dope” on a topic makes you look smart because you’re giving people the knowledge they need to learn more, rather than making yourself look like the only smart person in the room. Even better, make introductions. Say: “Hi Bob, do you know Jan at this firm? She’s brilliant, and she’s worked with Latoya before to deliver this.” Instant credibility for the people you talk about, and you. This is the heart of soft skills: Knowing about and working with the people that help everyone look better and be more productive.
Here’s your morning cup of analytic coffee… cheers!