Being a Female Data Analyst
Hours: per week
Starting salary: Entry level salaries are around £25,000. Graduate schemes at larger companies can start around £29,000 to £30,000. Experienced, high-level and consulting jobs can command £60,000 or more.
Qualifications required: None required but a first degree is often in demand. A degree in a relevant discipline like business information systems, computer science, mathematics or statistics can help.
What's it like being a data analyst?
Megan is Canadian and lives in San Francisco with her dog Kal and soon-to-be-husband Tyler. On the weekends you can find her hiking with Kal, playing golf or watching baseball. She also loves to read fantasy novels.
Job title: Lead Data Analyst
Current employer: Fitbit
Industry: Data Analysis
Hours: 40 hours per week on average
How long have you been practising in this field? 5 years.
Where are you based for work or which regions do you cover?
I'm based in San Francisco, Fitbit's HQ, and my work covers an international global base of customers.
What’s it like being a data analyst?
As a data analyst I get to answer questions and solve puzzles. At Fitbit we collect lots of data about how active our customers are. My job is to explore that data and make sense of it. I look for patterns that help us understand what our users are doing, what they're interested in and how we can help them lead healthier lives.
Being a data analyst is exciting because there so many different skills to learn. I get to put on my engineering hat and write code. This involves adding logic or rules to the data so that non-engineers can understand it better. I also get to put on my science hat and work with statistics and occasionally bigger machine learning algorithms to look for broader patterns in the data.
Lastly, I get to put on my design hat and build visuals. Oftentimes, the best way to explain something is with a visual aid like a picture, diagram or infographic, to help others understand it and what it means. Combining all these different skills together allows me to tell stories with data that can really make an impact.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day for me is getting up super early around 5:30am to exercise and play with my dog (Kal). I am usually the first one on my team to arrive at the office at around 8:45 am. I like to get in early because its nice and quiet so I can plan the day.
I typically have 1 to 2 questions or problems that I am exploring at atime, and then on a day-to-day basis there are lots of smaller projects that keep me busy. My work tends to go in cycles, varying in length based on the difficulty of the question I’m trying to solve.
I work with project managers to discuss their questions (that they want me to help answer), perhaps making some suggestions of my own before finalising which question(s) to explore. This involves lots of meetings and interactions with my colleagues to make sure we’re all on the same page. Once we have a question finalised, it’s a lot of "heads down" solo work to explore the data and come up with some answers to present.
Are there any specific qualifications you are required to have in your field?
I have a background in economics which I find really helpful. There are no specific qualifications you have to have, but most successful data analysts/scientists I know are good at teaching themselves new skills. There are always new tools, systems and techniques surfacing so being able (and excited) to teach yourself new skills will definitely help you be successful.
What did your career journey look like - how did you get to where you are today?
I knew I wanted to work as a data analyst/scientist after a summer job as an admissions coordinator where I was tasked with creating spreadsheets and organising data for incoming applicants. I even started predicting which applicants would get into the program based on their application and background as a personal project, so I knew I was hooked on data science!
I finished school and did an internship as a research analyst with the Ontario Government where I grew up in Canada. After graduation I moved to California to work for a small tech start-up in the "education technology" space. Working at a small start-up (40 employees) was inspiring. The data I presented would help the CEO make decisions about how to run the business. It was an amazing opportunity and I feel felt like I was making an impact. After a few years I joined Fitbit, it was a bigger company so I'd have more opportunities to work with other data analysts/scientists to learn new skills.
Was there anything you liked doing at school that helped you get to this career?
I actually had no idea what I wanted to do for a long time. I started University in a general education program since I couldn't decide on a specific track. I took a class in school where we study Malcolm Gladwell's 'Freakonomics' book, that definitely got my excited about the power and possibility of using data.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Maths - I liked that there was a set of rules for a particular problem.
What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?
I wanted to be a teacher.
Can you remember what your parents reactions were to that aspiration?
My parents weren't surprised at all. I started "working" at my dance studio when I was only 10 years old assisting my teachers in their classes with the young kids. I volunteered to tutor my classmates who needed help and signed up for after school programs to help younger kids at school with their homework.
Can you remember your parents or teachers wanting or encouraging you to go into a specific career when you 'grew up'?
I remember my parents being supportive of me being a teacher. I was good with young kids, it came naturally to me and I enjoyed it. I don't think it was gender specific, but I do remembering thinking other careers like engineering or science were beyond my reach and so I never went for them or seriously considered them until I was older.
Has anyone ever been surprised when you told them what your job was?
Yes and No. There are more female data analysts every year in the US, so while it's not as surprising for females to be analysts, I notice that people underestimate my skill set because I am a female. For example, when I walk into meetings with male counterparts (especially ones who don’t know me) they don't look at me or direct any of their questions to me, assuming I won't have any valuable input. This usually changes once people realise I do in fact know what I am talking about!
My only real experience with some gender stereotyping in my role has been people assuming I'm not going to have any input on the topic being discussed. This might be because I am female, or because I am young, or both. In my experience in data analytics, peers judge you on your abilities and expectations are the same across gender.
I occasionally get a response like "Oh wow, good for you" when I tell people I work on the data science and engineering team. I am lucky however to live in San Francisco where people are open minded.
What are the challenges and benefits of being a data analyst?
One of the challenges I see is many people who have a strong statistics background from school often have trouble applying those techniques in the real world in a way that makes sense to others. It’s not just enough to understand the statistics, you need to be able to clearly communicate what the data expresses to non-statistical people.
I have seen great ideas fail because there wasn't a clear understanding of how to interpret the data. Getting as much practical experience as possible working with real-world data and use cases is important. In the real-world there is rarely, if ever, a ‘perfect data’ set, so you need to know when to make concessions and properly caveat your results.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
There are SO many interesting questions to explore, and we're collecting new data everyday which means the sky is the limit. Each question feels new, so the work never gets boring or repetitive.
What are 3 things you have to like to do your job?
1. You have to be excited about solving problems.
2. You have to be okay with failure. Not every analysis goes as you expect sometimes you reach a dead-end and that's okay!
3. You have to be self-motivated - often times the job is what you make it, what questions you think of dictate what you're going to be working on.
What advice would you give to young girls who are aspiring to be in your role, or who maybe haven't even considered it as a career?
Data is the future! Data analytics is a fast growing career. If you dream of making an impact and making the world a better place I truly believe you can do this using data! There are so many opportunities to use data to make people's lives easier, to make the world safer. If you can think of it, it's likely possible to use data to help solve the problem.