How I Got Into Data & Strategy: 5 Pros Share Their Path
Number-crunching may not sound like the most exciting field out there—until you realize just how big of an effect data analysts can have on a company and its future.
Turns out, a career in data analysis and research isn't about meaningless strings of numbers—it's a way to pursue your passions . Because whether you're interested in education, entertainment, or anything in between, those industries need to know what's going on with their clients and consumers. And the way to that information is through data.
But the most exciting part is, you don't just hand over the numbers at the end of the day; you'll use that data to help determine how a company can move forward most successfully and build strategy around that. In short, you'll get to influence a company's next steps within the big picture of its entire mission.
To learn more, we sat down with five data analysts and researchers to find out exactly how they turned their love for numbers (and other passions) into their current careers.
Director, Finance & Strategy, Teach For America
Jace graduated from Texas A&M; University with a degree in accounting—but instead of diving straight into a finance role, he decided to try his hand at teaching. He joined Teach for America as a second- and third-grade teacher, but he found that he missed number-crunching. To get the best of both worlds, he worked his way into a corporate role at TFA, where he is now able make an impact on the program's students by utilizing his original passion: "I love data and I love numbers, and I love that they are associated with helping children."
In his role as the Director of Finance and Strategy, Jace assists the TFA regional offices with grants and fundraising opportunities. Internally, he works with the finance and development teams to make sure the company is using all available grants and funding most effectively. For him, crunching numbers is anything but boring: "From the data side, the thing that I get to see the most is the number of kids that we impact," he shares. "It's what makes those projects really have value."
Associate Director of Research, Heartland Alliance
Like many college students, Amy was an undeclared major for most of her first two years. When she finally settled on an area of study—social work—her mom didn't quite share her enthusiasm: "It was radio silence on the other end of the line," Amy remembers. After that initial reaction, she took some time to educate her friends, family, and herself about exactly what a career in that field would look like.
Confident she was headed in the right direction, she ended up earning both a bachelor's and master's in social work, eventually landing her position at nonprofit organization Heartland Alliance. Her main focus is collecting and analyzing data, which helps her pinpoint problems that need to be addressed and then, of course, to help develop solutions to those challenges.
Ultimately, she actively influences issues dealing with housing, jobs, healthcare, and justice. “I'm doing work that matters for literally hundreds of thousands of people in this country and around the world."
VP, Revenue Management & Merchandising, Groupon
"As a kid, I frequently had lemonade stands," Julie recalls. "I've always liked the concept of making money and figuring out how to make more money." And from that young start, it seemed like a natural progression for Julie to make her way into revenue management—starting by studying finance in both undergrad and graduate school.
Julie first discovered Groupon as a consumer. "I was extremely passionate about what they were doing," she shares. She admired that the company served more than just itself: There was value in the deals for both consumers and merchants—and because those groups were so well-served, there was an obvious value to the company as well.
Now, Julie gets to use her fascination with making money on a much bigger scale by making sure that Groupon hits its revenue goals throughout the year. By analyzing the data, she can recommend ways for the company to speed up or slow down business and new strategies to manage email campaigns.
Visual Information Specialist, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Jay's interest in writing initially led him to work as a journalist in the Marine Corps. But as he gained more experience working with papers, he realized that it was the artistic side that drew him in, like layouts, charts, and infographics.
Without any experience in economics, Jay never expected to work for the Department of Labor—but he found that it was actually a great fit and the perfect way to use his passion for the creative side of data analysis. His role as a Visual Information Specialist allows him to collect and analyze data and then transform it into easily-digestible charts and maps for the public. He also gets to collaborate with several job functions across the company, including economists, web designers, editors, and artists, working on projects ranging from website improvements to composing the company's Twitter updates.
Research & Development, SeatGeek
"I knew I wanted to work somewhere where I could get up every morning and play around with numbers," Steve shares. In fact, it's been an interest of his since he was 10 years old, entering numbers on a spreadsheet circa Excel '97.
Now, in the research and development department of SeatGeek, he can put that passion to use on a daily basis. As he analyzes transactional data from ticket prices, he helps the company better understand customer behavior and improve user experience.
"I spend most of my time staring as massive arrays of numbers," Steve admits. And he loves it. "My favorite thing about working here is that as long as I'm doing what I like doing—which is playing with numbers," he explains, "I'm doing my job."
And it certainly doesn't hurt that his other passion is attending concerts. He'll often (82 times in the past year, to be exact) use SeatGeek to find last minute tickets for live events.
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