Keys for a Successful Career as a Data Analyst

Congratulations, you have just started working as a data analyst in a corporate environment. You think that hard work and performance are enough to get noticed for promotions and salary increases. Well, this is not the case. In this post I am happy to share some knowledge with you that I have painstakingly gained as a career data professional that will help you succeed. It is the kind of advice I wish I had when I started my first job out of college. In actuality, this advice can be tweaked by anyone trying to navigate corporate America. The reality is that hard work and technical acumen are important, but they need to be supplemented. Here are some keys to the game.

Be aware of the P.I.E Theory as coined by Harvey Coleman. Make sure to perform exceptionally well (10%), cultivate the proper image (30%) and manage exposure so the right people will know who you are (60%).

Focus and become an expert in your area of interest. Learn the technical skills required to solve problems others cannot. Do not just be “good enough” to not lose your job. Be exceptional! As companies cut back on training programs, you must close the training gap on your own time.

Learn from “Virtual Mentors” online. The internet and more specifically YouTube can be a true Library of Alexandria when it comes to technical resources.

Show what you know. As you learn and gain new experiences, share your knowledge with an online audience and promote yourself. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that is sincere in helping others. If you produce high quality content, you will get noticed and opportunities will follow.

Build a reputation. In the words of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”

Be Aware of the P.I.E Theory as Coined by Harvey Coleman

  • Perform exceptionally well (10%)
  • Cultivate the proper image (30%)
  • Manage exposure so the right people will know who you are (60%)

I first learned of Harvey Coleman’s P.I.E. Theory while working on my MBA at the Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller School of Business. As a pure technical computer science undergrad, the political and organizational rules for success were not apparent to me.

Mr. Coleman in his book “Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed” assigns a weight to each one of the principles that indicates its impact on long term success. One would think that performance would constitute most of the weight, but curiously it does not. Performance is simply the price of admission, table stakes and the minimum expectation for employment. If you are not performing, your image and exposure will not help you (unless you are royalty or your last name matches the owner of the company). Nothing else matters if you are not good at your job.

Image at 30% has three times the weight as performance with respect to climbing the ladder. It serves as an important tiebreaker amongst a high performing candidate pool. Image can consist of the clothes you wear, your demeanor, your manner of speaking, ability to be a team player, etc.

Be aware that you are sending signals at all times of your appropriateness for success at the next level. If you are a hoodie and jeans diehard while the next level is sport coats and slacks, you may want a fashion makeover if you have higher aspirations.

Exposure will have the greatest impact on your career at 60%. You cannot ascend on your own. Someone at the next level or higher (i.e., sponsor) will have to champion you for a disruptive career enhancing move. The risk to the sponsor is having to explain to others at their level why they championed an unqualified individual, which can reflect poorly on their judgement.

You can minimize your would-be sponsor’s risk by volunteering for internal projects, assuming more responsibility within your job role, being a team player and learning new skills. Make your manager feel comfortable advocating on your behalf when she is speaking with the other power players in your organization.

Focus and Become an Expert in your Area

We look to experts to solve our problems and provide advice within certain domains. If we have vision problems, we might seek advice from an optometrist, not necessarily an auto mechanic. The same dynamic is in play when we look for people within an organization to solve a particular problem.

If you have a reputation as one of the few SQL experts or Tableau experts (or any other in-demand skill) that can relieve specific pain points, then you will increase your reputation. People will begin to seek you out for assistance in solving their problems which enhances your image and can lead to the proper exposure.

Data analyst appropriate technical skills include knowledge of database languages such as SQL, R, and Python. Let me emphasize that you MUST learn SQL if you consider yourself a data professional. Master Microsoft Excel because it is not going anywhere anytime soon. When the next 50 mile wide asteroid impacts Earth, the only things left will be crocodiles and spreadsheets.

Sometimes all a company has for “reporting” tools is the basic combination of Excel and PowerPoint. Therefore you better be ready to pivot, VLOOKUP and write customized VBA functions at a minimum. Sometimes we go to war with the tools we have, not the tools we might want or wish to have at a later time, to paraphrase a former government official.

Learn data visualization software such as Tableau (solid visuals and strong community), Power BI (Microsoft stack) or Qlik (data load scripting). It does not matter if your organization uses the tools or not. Learn them now and use them later to solve problems in a novel way that your peers may not consider. All three tools have free versions that are available for experimentation.

Other useful data analyst skills include Alteryx, SAS and statistical skills. As a data analyst your role is to help gather, organize, analyze and report data. Deep expertise will help you stand out from others and build your internal reputation.

Learn tools and skills even if you do not currently use them in your role. When I first started learning Tableau I was turned down for opportunities because I did not have any Tableau project experience on my resume. I made it a point to skill myself up on nights and weekends and combined that effort with visible displays of credibility (my blog and YouTube channel).

I learned basic Tableau skills using Tableau Public because I did not have a current Tableau license at the time! Now that I have acquired recognition as a Tableau authority, opportunities come to me from within and outside my organization without me explicitly seeking them out.

Do not just be “good enough” to not lose your job. Be exceptional! If that means learning skills on nights and weekends, commit yourself to that goal. Learn as much as you can as fast as you can to make an impact.

In Michael Porter style parlance, you want differentiation to be your competitive advantage. You do not want “low cost” to be your differentiator, at least not for a substantial period of time.

Find “Virtual” Mentorship

There is always someone or a group of people that we admire for their proficiency at a given skill. When I started work on my first job, I had a wonderful manager who took me under his wing and taught me the technical skills I needed to succeed at the job. Shoutout to John Jarosinski!

Sometimes we are not lucky enough to establish personal connections and mentorship at the same time. However, thanks to the internet we can follow experts online. When I decided to start learning Tableau, I learned much from Andy Kriebel. I have never met the man, but I count him as a virtual mentor in learning the Tableau game. As my proficiency increased, I followed others in the Tableau community like Luke Stanke, the Flerlage Twins, Ryan Sleeper and Lindsay Betzendahl.

On the Power BI side of the house consider Guys in A Cube, Sam McKay, Ruth Pozuelo Martinez, Parker Stevens and Spencer Baucke (who is also excellent in Tableau). For Qlikview I seek out Udemy classes by Shilpan Patel. Excel standouts include Leila Gharani and Oz du Soleil.

The internet and more specifically YouTube can be a true Library of Alexandria when it comes to technical resources. Learn what you can and support creators through their paid online classes and merch when available!

The reality is that you will need to learn more and more on your own as companies have pared back on generous training programs for this generation of workers. A number of organizations believe that training dollars are wasted on employees who will simply jump to the next company after they have received training. If you work for one of these companies, you will need to skill yourself up on your own time to standout.

Show What You Know (Promote Yourself)

In past roles, I performed well but outside of my specialized cohort, no one knew. As typical with data roles, if reports were generated on time, there was no issue. If there were interruptions, then everyone suddenly took notice. Don’t remain underappreciated!

One of my talented ex-co-workers who I still consider a friend started publishing and sharing what he knew online for others to consume. He developed training courses and started posting articles regularly on LinkedIn. He is a humble person but highly skilled. His self-promotion activities were not vanity endeavors, he genuinely wanted to help people learn.

I noticed that people both inside and outside of the organization took notice and his star began to rise (he was a high performer as well). He was able to leverage his performance and the subsequent image and exposure boost to obtain a significant raise. He eventually moved on from the organization into another organization with a greater increase in salary. The reputation he built from performing at a high level AND establishing visible displays of credibility online smoothed the path for his transition to greener organizational pastures.

Meanwhile I was underpaid and underappreciated, yet diligently performing my tasks. As the saying goes, “If you don’t have your own plan, you will fall into someone else’s plan.” I’ll add, “You may not like the alternate plan.”

From that point on, I decided to follow my friend’s blueprint and started publishing what I knew on social media. We all have something to say in our unique voice. There are gems that you know that you take for granted, but others would benefit from that knowledge. So share them!

Start a WordPress blog, post to Medium, LinkedIn or Twitter. Create visualizations on Tableau Public or collaborate on GitHub projects. If you have the discipline and afterwork/weekend time commitment start a YouTube channel!

As you learn and gain new experiences, share your knowledge with an online audience and promote yourself. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that is sincere in helping others. If you produce high quality content, you will get noticed and opportunities will follow.

Combine your social media efforts with certifications in your desired area to establish your bona fides.

This is exactly what I did. Today I am in a new organization, I make more financially (greener pastures, pun intended) and have been promoted multiple times. Combined with excellent performance (i.e., table stakes), I picked up recognized business intelligence and Tableau certifications. I also learned visualization skills that helped my manager look successful. I made everyone I could be aware of my new Tableau and visualization skills by leveraging social media to exhibit my passion for data. Thus, I mitigated the risks associated with my manager’s sponsorship.

Currently, my YouTube channel has just under 11 thousand subscribers and 1.4 million views. That’s not a bad subscriber count for a niche data channel. Leverage social proof to your advantage!

If you are searching for your first or next position in data, recruiters (or hiring managers in your current organization) will search for your online body of work. If they cannot find any evidence of your credibility, you are at a disadvantage. When your portfolio of work can be found online, it affords you an advantage against others in the candidate pool. Your reputation speaks for you before your initial conversations.

In Conclusion

Data analysis is a fun and interesting career for those who have the technical chops and dedication to continually better themselves. Technology does not stand still, and minimal training and work effort do not move the needle. Learn as much as you can as fast as you can, earn certifications, promote yourself (this is key) and give your would-be sponsor a reason to advocate for your disruptive career progression.

If you agree or disagree, let me hear it in the comment section.

Do Great Things with Your Data

Anthony B. Smoak

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You Don’t Need an MBA to Use Net Present Value

Net Present Value (NPV) and Discounted Cash Flow Analysis (DCF) are financial/MBA wonky terms that may intimidate a majority of people. But in actuality they are simple concepts to understand. Once you realize that a dollar received in the future is worth less than a dollar received in the present, you’re halfway home.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “One today is worth two tomorrow.”

Why Should You Care?

The basics of NPV and DCF are not just applicable to CFOs and financial analysts, they’re also applicable to the small business deciding whether to purchase additional equipment, or the person deciding whether to lend money to a friend. These tools help you determine if an investment is profitable considering the time value of money.

If someone offers you $10,000 today, you can immediately invest that $10K in order to start earning money. If someone offers you the same $10,000 one year from now, you have missed a year’s worth of time to take that money and start earning interest.

What is the Discount Rate?

Consider if you will the concept of a “discount” interest rate. If you take your cash and simply invest it at this “discount” rate, you will have earned some return.

What is the discount rate you ask? The discount rate (or r) is the minimum rate of return that you require of an investment in order to take action.

  • For example, you believe that $10,000 invested in the stock market today will offer you a 10% return in one year’s time (i.e. $1000)
  • In order for you to consider an alternative option for investing your $10,000, it has to at least return greater than $1,000 in profit (i.e. return higher than the discount rate that you have established)

A Discount Metaphor

In this example, think of money as a collection of items from a high end clothing line that you are considering purchasing. If you buy the clothes today at present value, you are fine with the current price. But if someone tries to offer you the exact same set of clothes 1 year in the future for today’s prices, you would demand a discount to compensate for the indignity of wearing outdated clothes.

You might have paid $200 for a pair of Jordache jeans and a Member’s Only jacket in 1982, but if someone offered you those items for the same price 36 years later, you would demand a steep discount to compensate for the passage of time. Similar to cash received at a future date, the clothes are valued less the more years you move into the future.

Members Only

Are you still a member?

Receiving $10,000 5 years in the future is not the same as receiving $10,000 today. You would need to discount that $10,000 future payment to reflect the passage of time. Applying your selected discount rate of 10% to the $10,000 received 5 years in the future, you would value that money at $6,209.21; i.e. $10,000/(1+0.1)^5. Don’t worry about the math yet.

If someone ever asks you for a $10,000 investment today only to repay you $10,000 in 5 years, please decline because you would be losing money. The $10K received 5 years in the future would be identical to $6,209 received today. This is because you can immediately invest the $6,209 today and let it compound for 5 years at 10% per year, and have the same $10K in 5 years’ time. Hopefully I haven’t lost you.

Here Comes the Math, Don’t be Scared:

Present Value Example:

  • $10,000 in Present Value * 1.1 = Future Value of $11,000
  • This is the same as saying that $10,000 today returning 10% interest is worth $11,000 in one year

Alternatively, to reverse the scenario:

  • $11,000 in Future Value / (1+0.1) = Present Value of $10,000
  • This is the same as saying that $11,000 received in one year has a present value of $10,000 at 10% interest

In both scenarios, receiving $11,000 in one year would be identical to having $10,000 today. Like those 80’s Members Only jackets, you are essentially applying a 10% discount off of the $11,000 received one year in the future, in order to value those future dollars in present terms.

Present Value Formula2

FV = future cash to be received in year n

This formula is simply plug and chug. Remember that FV = the dollars you expect to receive at some point in the future (i.e. a future cash flow).

Years

You don’t have to limit yourself to evaluating a cash flow one year in the future. The variable n is used in this formula to represent the number of years in the future that you wish to evaluate money received.

Present Value with Years:

  • $10,000 in Present Value * 1.1 * 1.1 = Future Value of $12,100 in two years’ time.
  • This could also be expressed as $10,000 * (1.1)^2 = $12,100 where 2 represents the number of years in the future.

This is the same as saying that $10,000 today at 10% interest is worth $12,100 in two years.

Alternatively, to reverse the scenario:

  • $12,100 in Future value / (1+0.1) / (1+0.1) = Present Value of $10,000.
  • This could also be expressed as $12,100 / (1+0.1)^2 = Present value of $10,000

This is the same as saying that $12,100 received in two years has a present value of $10,000 today at 10% interest.

Net Present Value Scenario (Rolling in NPVs)

Now that you have an understanding of Present and Future Value, we can broach the concept of Discounted Cash Flow analysis or DCF. Again, don’t let the fancy wording intimidate you. This is simply a way of applying the Present Value formula we learned above to multiple cash flows (i.e. money that you receive at different years in the future).

Suppose that you are a financial analyst at the very prestigious Wu-Tang Financial investment firm. At this firm, cash rules everything around you so you have to make the right decisions in order to maintain your job. The firm is considering the following option in regards to investing its money and they’ve come to you for a breakdown of the analysis after firing the last financial analyst.

  • Option 1: The firm is considering investing $10K in a Brooklyn Zoo. This option requires a $10K upfront investment and pays out cash flows as follows over the course of 5 years

NPV

In our example, the firm invests $10K today (i.e Year 0) and receives $2K in one year, $3K in two years, $4K in 3 years and a final payment of $3k in 4 years’ time. The initial $10K investment is represented as a negative number to indicate that it is a payment and those funds are no longer available to the investor.

The previous financial analyst would have simply added all of the cash flows together and determined if the sum of those cash flows were positive. He would have recommended that the firm move forward with the Brooklyn Zoo investment because it returned $2K to the firm over the course of 4 years.

You immediately recognized that this approach does not consider the time value of money. You determine that if the firm were to simply diversify its bonds, it could earn an easy 10% per year on that initial $10K investment. You choose 10% as your discount rate and protect your neck by applying a discounted cash flow analysis.

You proceed to calculate the present value of all of the expected cash flows in the year that they are expected.

Cash Flow 2

With an NPV of -$648.18, this investment is a money loser

By taking the Cash Flow numbers in column B and individually dividing them by (1+.01)^Year, (where .01 represents the 10% discount rate) you were able to calculate the present value (column D) of all the cash flows by the year in which they were received.

For example, the expected $2,000 received in Year 2 is only worth $1,818.18 today. That’s because $1818.18 invested today at 10% interest will produce $2,000 in one year. This same concept applies to the cash flows represented for each year.

By adding and subtracting all of the present values in column D, you’ve calculated the Net Present Value of the Brooklyn Zoo investment (considering you could have earned 10% compounded yearly in an alternate investment).

NPV Formula

When calculating NPV, initial investment is typically a negative number

By evaluating the investment in this manner, you’ve easily determined that a potential investment in the Brooklyn Zoo would lead to a loss of $648.18. If the firm were to simply take that initial $10K and collect 10% interest per year compounded for 4 years, it would have collected an additional $648.18 in profit.

You decide to tell management “Shame on you if you move forward with this investment.”

Summary

Hopefully if you made it this far, the following summary will make sense. If you need to analyze the profitability of a potential investment, take the following steps:

  1. Pick an interest rate as your “discount rate”. Investing your dollars at this rate of return will always be your default fallback option
    • The discount rate (or r) is the minimum rate of return that you require of an investment in order to take action
  2. Calculate the Present Value of all cash flows received in the future (i.e. Future Value) with the following formula:

NPV Formula

  • This method is known as a Discounted Cash Flow analysis. Summing all of the Present Values of Future Cash Flows determines the Net Present Value (NPV) of the investment
  1. If the NPV returns a positive number, then this initiative should be pursued as it provides value over and above dollars invested at the discount rate of return
  2. If the NPV returns a negative number, then the initiative should not be pursued as it subtracts value in comparison to the same dollars invested at the discount rate of return. You should instead invest your dollars at your initial discount rate.

Tableau NPV Dashboard

If you follow my blog, you know Tableau has to figure in to my post somehow. Here is the sample dashboard used at Wu-Tang Financial to present the results of our Brooklyn Zoo NPV case. The bar chart discounted values or present values are highlighted in yellow (e.g. $1.8K, $2.5K, etc.), while the expected future cash flows are a muted color and labeled above the present values. As you change the Discount Rate Parameter slide, the NPV is recalculated and the bar charts are updated.

Feel free to download and/or interact with it on Tableau Public.

Dashboard 2

Always remember, as with any analysis, the results are only as good as the inputs!

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