Diana Akanho has wide ranging experience of working in data and analytics. She has worked as an insight manager at her previous two employers and at the end of March moved to national entrepreneur network Tech Nation to become a senior insight manager.
She has also worked as a data analyst, market researcher, biostatistician, and research and events analyst. Akanho seems to have a plan for her career mapped out. So what advice would she give to junior data professionals who are early in their careers? This is what she told me.
Surround yourself with people you can learn from
It can be hard being the only data person in a company when you are early in your career because there is no one to turn to if you are stuck or have trouble. Go to a company that has a data team where you can learn from other people. If you’re just starting out, while it is good that you can learn by yourself, it is not really going to help you grow.
Stay close to people with more experience than you or who have different skills set within the same area. They can help you look at problems from different perspectives. Without that, it is hard to know if you are growing or going in the right direction.
At meetups you get helpful advice and you can extend your network. You never know who you will come across, who you can speak to. There are always recruiters there. You could get a new job. Or you could ask for inside information about how the teams work in a certain company, or if there are opportunities for training, or the type of people that they hire and how diverse the team is.
Find a mentor
Especially if you are starting out, it is important to have a mentor. When I was in my first few jobs, I had a mentor who is a really good friend. We have a very honest relationship so he gave me very constructive feedback. It is a good idea to find someone that you generally get along with and who you can speak to and they won’t just answer with fluff.
Set attainable goals
Having a target that you can work towards is a good idea for everyone, from those starting out to mid-career to C-suite. Even if they are small goals such as learning a new skill for 30 minutes a day. You need some sort of purpose when you’re at work so that you know what you are working towards, what you want to achieve and where it is going to take you.
Coming in, doing the work, going home and then coming in and doing the same thing; I don’t work like that. I need to progress. I like to feel like I am achieving and I like to work to the best of my ability.
Understand your landscape
You need to be up to date with what is happening in your field, because things move really fast and you don’t want to be two years behind trying to catch up. At meetups you can hear about what projects other people are working on and the techniques they are using. Stack Overflow is really helpful in terms of coding tips. You might have an error that you don’t know how to solve and you can get a better understand from just talking about the concept.
Be proactive and put yourself out there and get involved in other areas of the business to understand its landscape. Some businesses are organised in strictly siloed functions where, for example, the marketing team won’t talk to the insights team, even though it could be useful because they could help each other. It’s good to have your key area, but in terms of general commercial awareness, it is also good to get involved in other areas of the business.
Hone your communication and presentation skills
Working in the data and tech field, you find a lot of people that don’t like presenting. But if you do it, you are able to show the amount of time and effort you put into a task, for example, taking dirty data and putting it in nice clean format before doing the analysis. I like to present my findings and my work and be proud about it. As opposed to doing all that and giving it to somebody else. Not everyone will like presenting but even presenting to a small audience can help to give people more of an understanding of your skills and what you do.
Akanho understands that it is difficult when you are fresh out of university and don’t have much experience, to know how to navigate yourself through data workplaces. But these tips should make it easier to get better oriented within the data and analytics landscape and find the path to a successful data career.