Technology and innovation continually open us up to new job positions that no one would have thought of a couple of years ago. Such is the role of a data analyst. As technology exposes us to swifter and smoother ways of collecting data, and as organizations find more and more reasons to utilize the data available around them, the role of a data analyst becomes a hot cake that no one should close their eyes to.
If you would love a job that is high on the tech-savvy side and deals with a lot of numbers, while being neck deep in the business culture, then a career as a data analyst might be a good fit for you. In this article, we will examine in detail what a data analyst is, the possible career paths for data analyst graduates, and the steps that anyone can take to become a data analyst.
What Is A Data Analyst?
In defining what a data analyst is, there are two terms that occur, sometimes hand in hand. They tend to be used interchangeably yet do not mean the same thing. These are ‘data analysis’ and ‘data analytics’. These terms describe two closely related services that data analysts carry out. Sometimes, professionals who are more focused on data analytics are referred to as data analytics professionals, while professionals who are more focused on data analysis are simply called data analysts.
However, both are only specializations that professionals opt for based on demand or what the job entails. Usually, the knowledge of data analysis will apply roughly to data analytics and vice versa. Data analysis tends to involve looking backward into existing data in order to highlight trends and discover what has occurred. Data analytics, on the other hand, tends to utilize existing data and the discoveries made from such data to build models that are helpful for predicting results when similar events occur in the future.
A data analyst can be defined as someone who works with data to solve business problems using relevant tools such as statistical analysis, programming languages and data visualization software.
Your job as a data analyst entails gathering, cleaning and studying data to identify trends that can help guide decision-making. The scope of your role as a data analyst may also include data protection, storage and management.
Possible Career Paths For Data Analyst Graduates
Studying to become a data analyst opens you up to several career options, from entry-level generalized roles to highly specialized positions. Once you become a data analyst graduate, the options before you are limitless. Below are some possible career paths that you can delve into as a data analyst graduate.
A career path in data analysis is one of the easiest you can take up as a data analyst graduate. Depending on your previous work experience, previous degrees, and/or proficiency level in data analytics tools, you can begin with an entry-level role such as a junior analyst, or you may be hired as a core data analyst.
As a data analyst, your job is to analyze data to spot trends. In doing this, you will need to acquire data from available sources, store them efficiently for future use, structure raw data, analyze it, and present your findings to the appropriate quarters.
Data analysts are needed everywhere, from science labs to academic and research settings to business organizations and government parastatals. You may be employed full-time as a data analyst to work on-site or remotely, or you may operate on a contract basis.
Entry-level data analysis roles typically expose you to a wide range of activities. However, some companies may have specific assignments for you. Your role as a data analyst can involve doing some or all of the following:
- Engaging in the collection of data variables, conducting surveys, and sourcing for data from open data sets.
- Compiling, structuring, cleaning and storing data.
- Processing or analyzing data using the right tools. The right tools to use can depend on the nature of the data, the volume, and the kinds of results desired.
- Visualizing data, compiling results, and summarizing them into reports that can be studied and understood by the layman.
Data analytics takes it a step further from just analyzing data and communicating results to making key decisions from such data. Data analytics professionals are mostly employed in business environments, where they are able to use their discoveries from analyzing data to influence business decisions and communicate insights to company stakeholders.
As a data analytics manager, you are able to specialize in different focus areas, and your role will sometimes be named based on what you specialize in. Examples of specialist roles for data analytics professionals are:
- Business analyst: As a business analyst, you will use your knowledge of data and your ability to analyze it to organize a business’s processes, determine what steps the business can take to improve, track employee activities, etc.
- Marketing analyst: Market analysts focus solely on analyzing market trends. This will help a business to learn from its competitors, determine the market potential of products and services, determine price points, target customers, etc.
- Financial analyst: A financial analyst analyzes financial data and financial trends to guide financial activities such as investments, forex, and other revenue opportunities. A financial analyst also works to ensure that a company mitigates financial risks to the barest minimum.
- Systems analyst: As a systems analyst, you are responsible for helping a company identify technological solutions that are efficient and also cost-effective.
- Operations analyst: Operations analysts are responsible for tracking and solving occurring problems in a company’s technical and structural procedures.
- Healthcare analyst: A healthcare analyst uses data from health records, patients’ data, healthcare costs, community surveys, and other kinds of health-related data to identify trends and project solutions that will help healthcare providers to improve their services.
- Research analyst: A research analyst’s best fit is in academia. As a research analyst, you analyze the results and findings obtained from research. There are quantitative and qualitative methods of analyzing data. Most research analyst roles require you to perform quantitative analyses that are beyond what the layman can do. You will be working with tools such as Python, R, MATLAB and SPSS. As a research analyst, you also help to build research models and visualize findings that will be included in research projects.
An added advantage when specializing as a data analytics professional is a relevant degree in the background role. For example, a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in data analytics makes you a good fit for a role in business analytics.
With a data analyst degree, you already have a lead to becoming a data scientist. If you previously achieved a degree in computer science, mathematics or statistics, then delving into data science will be even smoother go you. Nevertheless, your data analyst degree and years of experience working in a data-related role can get you a job in data science. You could, however, work on advancing your programming skills and taking a short course in advanced programming and data science.
As a data scientist, you will do much of what the data analyst does. However, you will also be responsible for determining what exact questions should be answered during analysis or analytics, and you may equally be involved in building models from data.
Data scientists are also on the highest end of the tech-savvy side. They are very good at programming, have a keen interest in mathematics, and are deeply involved in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
As a data scientist, you have many unknowns to deal with, and you will be making a lot of predictions about the future. While you have existing models at your disposal to work with, you may also be responsible for building new machine learning and deep learning models. You will therefore be writing more programs than the average data analyst.
Like every other data-related profession, data scientists require immense analytical skills. They must have a keen interest in unraveling ‘mysteries’ from data and providing solutions that are projected into the future.
With years of experience, you can advance into data-related managerial roles. Data management involves an equal share of leadership, management and data analytics skills. Quite often, you will be leading a team of other data analysts and/or scientists and will be responsible for making key decisions. You will be the face of the data analytics team to the rest of the company’s board, and you will also be involved in much of the business administration.
Examples of data management roles are chief data officer (CDO), director of analytics, and analytics manager.
After you have gained years of experience, you may also decide to work as a data consultant. Data consultants are often employed on a contractual basis by companies that need them. They provide insights from their years of experience and guide businesses in making data analytics-related decisions.
For example, as a data consultant, you can help a company identify what kinds of data sets it should focus on and the kinds of solutions it can infer from its analysis of data.
How Do You Become A Data Analyst?
All of the data analyst career paths we have outlined are in high demand and are well-paid. If you consider that being a data analyst is the right role for you, here are the steps you can take to get started in the field.
Get A Relevant Degree
A bachelor’s degree in data analysis or data science gets you set for the career by providing you with foundational knowledge. This is a particularly good option if you have not yet got a bachelor’s degree.
A few years ago, not so many people saw the need for data analysis. There was consequently no demand for data professionals, and data analysis was not featured among the list of programs available in institutions. If you therefore already have a BSc, there is a high chance that it is not a data analyst degree. Thankfully, anyone can still become a data analyst even without an undergraduate background in the field. In fact, there are more data analysis master’s degree programs than there are undergraduate degree programs in data analysis.
While having a relevant degree in an undergraduate program such as statistics, mathematics or computer science is an advantage, people can now study to become a data analyst by enrolling in a data analysis or data analytics degree, irrespective of whatever field they had their previous degree in. In the interim, you can enroll in short courses on data analysis or data science from platforms such as Coursera to expose you to the basics of the program, boost your CV, and prepare yourself for a more intensive degree in data analysis.
An example of such a program is the online MSBA from St. Bonaventure University. The online Master of Science in Business Analytics prepares students from any background to become data analytics professionals and take up high-demand roles in the field of data. As a program that is fully available online, you can study at your pace, from the comfort of your home, and for a friendly tuition fee.
As an alternative to a master’s degree, you may opt for professional certificate programs to complement whatever degree(s) you may already have.
Learn How To Code
Although coding is not all there is to data analysis, it is a huge part of it. Professional data analysts make use of their coding knowledge to perform high-end problem-solving and provide solutions to problems in the data environment. Although there are now models for solving problems and analyzing data without coding, a true data analyst may not thrive without some coding knowledge.
There are several programming languages, and data analysts have their favorites. The popular programming languages used in analytics include Python, Java, R and SQL. Depending on the focus of your role, you may never have to code to do your job. However, the knowledge of one or two of these programs helps you understand how relevant technologies work.
In addition to coding, there are other technical skills that you should be familiar with as a data analyst. These include data visualization, data cleaning and data structuring skills.
Work On Relevant Projects And Develop Your Portfolio
There are two ways that solving problems with real data will help you. One is that it helps you to hone your skill better as you are able to relate with what you may have learned. Working on projects with real data will also help you to build your portfolio. In your portfolio, you can outline an amazing discovery you made or go ahead to confirm what other data analysts may have identified from the same data.
A portfolio demonstrates your proficiency to hiring managers. When choosing projects to work on, ensure that you focus on those that will rightly showcase your skills. Typically, every data analyst role requires your ability to curate data from available sources, structure raw data, analyze it, visualize it, and communicate your findings. The projects you work on should be able to depict this.
There are several resources online that provide you with open data sets that you can work on. BuzzFeed, for example, is a great resource for news data. Other government and non-governmental bodies such as the CDC and the National Centers for Environmental Information also provide rich data sets on health and climate respectively.
Consider Interning With An Organization
Internships allow you to learn in real-life situations and also serve as a source of relevant work experience. This is particularly helpful for you if you are a fresh data analyst graduate. These days, there are several paid and unpaid internship opportunities advertised on the internet. You can also leverage on relationships with lecturers, mentors and senior colleagues to identify such opportunities.
Some data analytics degrees also include internships in their course offerings. You can leverage on this, such that you are able to land a job smoothly once you graduate.
Get Advanced Certifications
Learning never ends. You could get an extra certification in an advanced course. This will help you to upskill faster and get better-paying roles. An advanced certificate is not a prerequisite to success, but it can take you a long way in your career.
The World Economic Forum listed data analysts as a leading career in terms of the increasing demand. Data analysts are needed everywhere. This particular fact makes it easy to earn a degree in data analytics from any background. Once you have your degree, you have a wide range of options before you that you can explore.