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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

This Data Analyst Reveals the Must-Have Skills to Succeeding in the Field

Robby Snitkof, a senior data analyst at Riskified
Robby Snitkof, a senior data analyst at Riskified.
| Courtesy of Robby Snitkof

Robby Snitkof did not set out to become a data analyst. In fact, the Spanish major and cognitive science minor “had no career plan” in college. “My attitude was to take as many varied courses as possible to soak up as much as I could,” says Snitkof, who today is a senior data analyst at Riskified. “Where I would land in the working world was a mystery to me.”

Post graduation, Snitkof landed in advertising in New York, focusing on digital strategy. But after a few unfulfilling years on Madison Avenue, he took his newfound knowledge in marketing and sought out roles at more mission-focused edtech companies—which is what eventually led him to his true passion: data.

While working at a small but fast-growing startup, Snitkof learned “everything I could about our data and how we could apply it to marketing and sales,” he says. “Through online courses, books, and YouTube videos, I taught myself SQL, R, and Python, and familiarized myself with the key tools I would need to make use of the data at hand.”

In this process, he discovered a new path forward in his career—one that led him to his current role at Riskified, which helps e-commerce companies avoid fraudulent purchases. “My true passion was in understanding data and translating it into useful, actionable insights for clients and key stakeholders within my organization,” he says.

Here, Snitkof talks about the exciting work his team is doing, Riskified’s approach to employee development, and the two essential skills for succeeding as a data analyst.

What led to your job at Riskified? How did you know the company would be a good fit?

After several years of freelance consulting in the data analytics space, I knew that I would benefit most from working at a well-established organization with a proven track record of excellence and where data was ingrained as a strategic pillar of the business. Riskified checks all of these boxes.

From my conversations during the interview process it became clear that the Merchant Health team—and data analytics in general—was valued within the organization and played an important role. Moreover, everyone I spoke with was upbeat, enthusiastic, and incredibly energized by their work. There’s a wonderful culture here brimming with smart and talented people from a diverse set of backgrounds. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this team.

What are you responsible for as a senior data analyst?

I am responsible for ensuring that Riskified’s client merchants are always operating at peak performance. This means identifying fraud patterns, forecasting changes in future customer behavior, and highlighting data gaps to devise both technical and strategic solutions to optimize their business. The complexity of the job lies in balancing the prevention of fraud while ensuring merchants’ end customers enjoy a seamless e-commerce experience.

What might surprise many people, and certainly surprised me when I joined Riskified, is that the delineation between a fraudulent transaction and a completely legitimate transaction is rarely black and white. It takes a combination of sophisticated machine learning and a nuanced understanding of customer behavior by a data analyst to deliver on our guarantee of stellar performance. Every day presents me with a new and exciting challenge and the opportunity to flex many different skills, including data wrangling, scripting, dashboarding, and project management. There’s never a dull day!

Tell us about the Merchant Health team. What is a recent project and how has it impacted the company?

An important focus this year for the Merchant Health team is automation. We are building out a suite of tools and capabilities to turn routine yet labor-intensive tasks into those that can be executed with the click of a button or automatically according to a predefined schedule. One recent example of this is a project to enable self-service production of client-facing charts, graphs, and spreadsheets. The idea is to arm Merchant Health, account management, and other groups within the organization with the ability to generate perfectly formatted visualizations and data outputs with minimal effort and maximum speed.

Beyond the automation, what’s so amazing about this project is that each member of the Merchant Health team contributed to identifying the key reports and writing the scripts to produce the proper visualizations. This type of collaboration is rare within most organizations, and I feel it’s made our team stronger and closer in the process.

One of Riskified’s operating principles is “always learning.” In what ways has the company helped you continue to learn and grow?

On a regular basis, employees are offered sessions with experts both internally and across the globe on a variety of topics. Within the last two months alone, I’ve taken part in sessions on how to become an effective storyteller, how to present complex data to non-technical clients, and how to harness the power of personality types among colleagues. Each of these has been tremendously enlightening, and I know the learning and development team has much more coming down the pike to keep enhancing my career.

For those considering a career in data analytics, what would you say are the most important skills to develop? What does it take to succeed in the field?

If you were to Google what you’d need to know to land a data analyst job, you’d find thousands of articles and forums all pointing you to become skilled in SQL, R, Python, Tableau, PowerBI, and the like. While there’s no question these are very important to the day-to-day life of a data analyst, there are two critical areas that often go unmentioned and under-appreciated that are essential tools for succeeding in this field.

First is having a hunger for solving puzzles. Each day presents new and interesting challenges that reveal themselves in the form of a massive amount of data to be teased apart. Why did the numbers shift? Is that expected behavior? Is it based on seasonality? Did yesterday’s mention of a product by a TikTok influencer suddenly drive up sales volume? Has an organized fraud ring taken hold? Getting to the answer—and the solution—requires a passion for diving deeply into complex problems and loving the journey.

Second, you need to be able to present data to non-technical stakeholders. Our roles often require us to make sense of what others see as foreign territory best left to “numbers people” and distill this information into simple-to-understand, actionable insights.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

“Come to the table with solutions, never problems.” When approaching a manager, client, colleague, or anyone else about a challenge or difficult situation you’re facing, always come prepared with a solution in mind.

I’ve learned never to shy away from raising an issue, but to think through the desired end result and work backwards through the problem first. Doing so will not only demonstrate that you are a conscientious team player, but will also arm you with crucial skills in problem solving and introspection. The solution you present need not be the silver bullet for curing all your woes, but I promise walking into the conversation with even one small idea will pay off for you both personally and professionally in the long run.

What are you currently reading, watching, and/or listening to?

Right now, I’m 12 hours into all 22 hours of the audiobook version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi epic Dune. I tend to stick more to history, biographies, and the classics, but I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone recently.

I fancy myself something of a TV aficionado, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and its final season is spectacular in every way.

Remember my days as a Spanish major? Well, I’ve been on a Maná kick recently. They’re a pop rock band from Monterrey, Mexico, and one of the best-selling Latin American bands of all time. Think The Police, Led Zeppelin, Maroon 5, Coldplay, and R.E.M. all in one. I highly recommend listening to Labios Compartidos and Oye Mi Amor.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

A huge part of my life has been dedicated to the performing arts, specifically singing. Starting in middle school, I joined every vocal performance group I could be a part of—school choirs, regional choirs, jazz ensembles, doo wop groups, barbershop quartets, madrigal renaissance choirs, and more. In college I was part of the Penn Glee Club all four years, performing not only around Philadelphia and the U.S., but across South America and Europe as well. Listen closely and you may hear me humming a tune from my college days around the office!