CRAIG - THE DATA ANALYST - Transcript
"If you like solving problems, this is the kind of job for you"
Craig is a Senior Data Analyst at an European IT & Business consultancy firm. He has just over 4 years of experience within the Financial Services industry. His key responsibilities include designing processes to streamline customer/bank processes, analysing data to inform strategic and business decisions and building models to drive efficiencies in work intensive areas. As part of a consultancy he is also responsible for developing propositions and increasing business for the company.
So today we're asking what exactly is a data analyst and what do they actually do? I'm joined by my co-host Pier. Hey Pier, how are you?
Hey, Gillian, how you doing?
It's been one of those days. When everything that can go wrong goes wrong. I'm still traumatised from seeing the blue screen of death on my computer this morning. Just gathering myself.
Whenever a bad incidents happens, something good happened too. So hopefully this interview is one of them, and hopefully we can get some understanding of our guest today.
Exactly. So what are you most looking forward to finding out from Craig today?
Honestly, today, I'm literally just going to sit down at the back of the class as a student and just learn about his journey because I honestly can put my hands up and say, I know nothing about data analysis. I don't know what they actually do, and how they actually impact my life on a day to day basis. I'm sure they do, but I'm not quite sure how. So I want to find that out. What about you?
Yeah, you and many others I reckon. I would like to know, again, if you need to be super good at maths. I'd like to know, you know, how long the working hours are. I'd like to know what the difference is between a data analyst and a data scientist. This is gonna be a good teach in session for us. Call him Mr B!
What comes to mind when you hear the words data analyst or data analysis?
They live down in the basement.
Honestly, that's because they're just these like super nerdy guys who just in the basement just analysing everything, just, I don't know, is that? Haha. Is he a super nerd? I don't know like, I mean, it's not a bad thing but...
I can confirm that Craig is a bit of a nerd, but I can also confirm that he does not live in a basement. So we actually met in Florida when we were doing this internship through this really incredible organisation called the Saltire Foundation (Entrepreneurial Scotland) and sadly they did not provide us with a basement but Craig did do data analysis. So today I'm excited to welcome one of my good friends Craig. He's a data analyst.
Craig, he's gonna telling us about data handling, some of the terminology you use within the industry itself, and whether you need to go to university to become a data analyst.
Hello! [In a very Scottish accent]
Thank you for coming. How are you?
I am great thank you very much.
Are you sure?
I'm really not actually, I really am not. I'm injured from doing manual labour. I have the world's worst build from lockdown and erm yeah, that's me.
Quick Fire Round
So first section is a quick fire round. We just tried to get to know you a little better. So we'll ask a few random questions and all you need to do is answer as quickly as possible with the first answer that comes into your mind.
Morning or night owl?
Did you attend a government school or a private school?
If you could have any food right now, what would it be?
Favourite word and why?
Coffee because I really want one right now.
introvert or extrovert?
Can I be an extroverted introvert?
Name one thing on your bucket list
except for podcast errrrm...travel to Asia, which may take a little while now but that's something I wanna do.
Tell us one thing that you're really bad at running, running. I look ridiculous and I injur myself everytime. I concur!
That I look rediculous while running? Yeah, yeah, that's just a fact.
All right, this next section is just going to be about you. Where are you from and what city do you live in?
I'm from a tiny tiny place called Wilsontown which is in central Scotland, I think has got a population of about 140 people tops...tops like I might be overestimating there, and I currently live in Edinburgh. So the capital of Scotland.
So why did you decide to come on this podcast?
Basically, it's a case of you explained what it was, you know, it's to help people go into careers, maybe get ideas of things that they didn't know about, and how would you do it? And it sounds like a really good thing. And at my current job, you know, we're mentoring grads, we're managing graduates, you know, we're trying to help people like new joiners as well. So to actually be able to reach out more to people who have never done it before would be a great thing.
Tell me exactly what kind of organisation you work for and some of what a data analysts does in a sentence or two.
So I work for a consultancy. The idea behind that is we go to a variety of different companies and help them with short term projects, sometimes long term projects. But the idea is it's something they would maybe not want to have an entire workforce for, a permanent workforce for. They would maybe just want temporary staff and so we go into build something or work on something or deliver something and then we leave again and then go somewhere else. My role is a data analyst, probably the best way to describe it as problem solving. We go in, we have an issue, we need to figure out the quickest way to deal with it, or sometimes they just go, what would happen if we did this, and we have to figure out the answer to that.
What projects might you work on? And what kind of problems are you solving for organisations?
Data exist everywhere right now. You phone up Vodafone and they've got nine pages of data on you, you know, your transaction data is in banks, that kind of thing.
Yeah, not concerning at all.
Yeah, I mean, everybody's they phone calls are recorded so that's great. But basically, what I'd say the analyst does is try to find insight from it. If we use a phone company for instance right? If they have a certain segment of the population phoning five times a week, that probably means that there is something wrong with them. And it's identifying who they are, you know, can we offer a better product can be do things...I think a lot of the time it's actually just helping the business but the way they're doing it is to help the customer...that's what I found anyway. And for problem solving, sometimes mistakes are made is the best way to describe it. Sometimes a mistake has been made in the past. They want to find out how many people do that effect? How did that happen? How do we stop it from happening? Do we need to help the customer now because of it? So that's primarily what I've been working on for the last two years.
Did you know what you wanted to be when you were at school?
Absolutely not. I didn't even know I wanted to be about six weeks in this job. So it's one of those weird ones where I'm not saying I fell into, but it just played to my strengths. Like I think from the ages of 12 to 15 I wanted to be a doctor. Then I wanted to do something to do biology. And then I was completely disgusted by biology, turns out people are horrible. And then I was always good at math so I started doing more maths based things and then one of the things that I think I consider myself quite good is problem solving. So, once I started looking into what an analyst does...because like when I started my job, I didn't even know I was going to be a data analyst, because there was two career options. It was business analyst or data analyst. And it was the person HR actually told me "oh you do all the same courses as a data analyst as a business analyst but you also do a few extra ones". And that was the reason which was data analysts just because I'd had the choice to switch between the two.
What are those extra courses exactly?
It's learning how to perform data analysis. So there's programming languages, there's one called SQL Structured Query Language, you know, for looking at there. What I would say is a lot of the time we take the data and make a presentation to explain how it works, you know, that kind of thing. And then a business analyst would take that presentation, maybe look at it, see how it should be implemented into the world. How do we take what we've learned here and apply it? Document process, tell people about it, whereas, the data analyst is one that has to find the insight in the first place. Like you can look at data and find nothing. Oh, it's completely random what's happened here, we can't really help you. But you know, sometimes there is a question, would offering this product help the customer more? The answer is yes or no.
So would you say your skills of problem solving have helped you to become successful as a data analyst?
Yeah, I'd say that's the biggest thing. The things that we do in data is like we use programming or some sort of programming language, SQL, SAS, R, that kind of thing. I didn't know SAS or SQL anything when I joined the company, it was effectively how to solve a problem. The people that I was with, a lot of them didn't have any kind of like statistics or computer science background or anything. Mostly it was just people doing their own thing. Some of them had science degrees, some of them had biology degrees, and I think one person I know had a history degree. And yeah, they just all had the same thing.
What were some of the resources that helped you along your journey in terms of family, friends or any other sort of resources that you used along the way?
So basically the family have been a great help. They've supported me when I wanted to do stuff. Even if they didn't understand what it was I was doing they were always really helpful. To be honest, before I started here, none of my friends had actually gone into this kind of business. So they weren't so much...actually, I suppose Gillian yourself! And you know the people we met through the Saltire Programme are probably the biggest ones that were helped for this.
Wooo! Shout out to me!
Yeah, that's actually what got me probably more into this job than I realised, because I went over to Florida as a finance analyst, which had been told was looking at spreadsheets and stuff but my boss at the time, Ryan Dunlop, he had different ideas. He wanted us to get any data analysis, data science, that kind of thing he wanted us to actually build models and work and stuff. So I went over and did a job that I probably wasn't expecting but it turns out I thoroughly enjoyed. Kinda lucked into it!
So I'm actually loving our teaching. And I'm gonna bring some questions for you touch on programming languages and programming software. I heard a lot of like letters and acronyms. An SQL here and an R there, please, can you a) explain the difference between a programming language and data software, and b) can you maybe just tell us a little bit about both?
Yeah, sure. So well, SQL, if I give you an example, Structured Query Language is probably the base of a lot of data analysts work. Now there may be like little offshoots, you know, people use R now, people use Python, people use SAS, but pretty much SQL was one of the first and easiest to use. So what that's doing is if you think of data as like an Excel sheet with millions and millions and millions of rows and about 50 columns, then what happens is it just allows you to quickly look through the data. So say I only need two columns and I want to find what the aggregates are or something like that. Rather than clicking through things that would take ages, you just go "I'd like the aggregate of that", or I want to look at "if I join this data set to another data set, what does it give me?" You know, "can I find this, this, this and this information?" And it's a very quick way of looking through information.
How would you explain data to somebody who is not a data analyst? Because all people just see just graphs and numbers and everything? How do you simplify that and explain to somebody in a more simple term?
That's a good question. If you think of, if I had a list of names, that's data. So if I had the column header saying "names" and then I had my name, Craig, Gillian, Pier, right? That is data. Then if we added another part that said "age", right, then age was attached to it as well. That's more data and then you can have it just building out from there. So you start with a very simple...you can start with one data point, which is just one piece of information, "Craig". And then you could turn that into a column of data, which would be other people's names, then you can add more columns to that. It's it's a way of storing information basically, I would say data is. Now, don't get me wrong, it's very rarely in a good position, which a lot of the job is actually making any position that you can use it. But yeah, that's pretty much the most basic way I can think of explaining it.
Thank you, Mr B! I say that because we earlier established that this was mostly going to be a teach in for Pier and I. Are we good students?
Oh, great. Absolutely brilliant.
We're listening, that's what matters.
You're still laughing you know, that's always a good part.
Haha...I definitely know what this means...haha. In this third section we're going to delve a little deeper into your current role. Briefly, can you tell us what your route was from the age of about 16 to where you are now career wise.
Sure. So 16 Scotland means I'd started doing my Highers. Aye, I'd have finished my Standard Grade at a time, which was just showing my age right there, but we went onto Highers and then from there, it would be University. Now that was for me, that was for me. There was actually not that many in my year that went to university, but you know, it was it was something I wanted to do. So I got my degree. And then from there when I was at University of Strathclyde, they recommended I go to something called the Saltire Programme, which is when I went on my internship and met you. So it was basically a way of taking what we've learned and applying it to real world. It's all very well and good being in a classroom five days a week, but they wanted us to actually be good at getting a job. You know, they wanted us to actually be career orientated. From there, I sort of got the idea of what I wanted to do. And during my final year, I started applying to jobs. So there was lots of grad programmes. There was entry level jobs, you know, that kind of thing. And fortunately, I got the first one I applied for so...
is it necessary for individuals who want to become a data analyst to go to university? Or is there some programme that can be complete for individual to get to the top?
Yeah, I kept saying graduates, but it's no longer graduates or anything. I know one of the companies I work for, they don't need it is required. You can actually go from about the age of 16. You start as an apprentice data analyst, you can start as an apprentice business analyst. And what happens is because I think the thing that people think to be a data analyst you have to be doing a certain type of course at university apply, and then you become a graduate. I was the kind of person who broke computers at university, I was not good with computers. As I said before, someone I know that's a data analyst did a degree in history. I would say you don't need a degree to do it. I know for a fact you don't need a degree either because a lot of places don't require you to need the degree anymore. All you need to be able to do is prove that you can problem solve, because like once you know the techniques, you can learn how to programme you can learn how to apply rigorous methods to things. It's just a desire to actually want to do it is what people are looking for now.
So you might not need University, but are there any particular qualifications that you needed to gain along the way or are useful to gain along the way?
So no, as the gist of it, you don't have to have qualifications. Now they will always help, it's experience! So a desire to actually do it will get you through the door. And to progress it the job is experience in different things. So because of how fast data analytics, data science, that kind of thing has moved, when I first started, platforms that are now being used were never used and I only started four years ago. Like, it's not like I've been doing this for a decade or anything and everything has changed. Like when I came in, I came in on a particular platform and I have used that maybe five times. Like I came in as a specific type of analyst and I've never used it because people have stopped using that kind of platform. They're all moving on to things like Python and R, which are seen as more modular and easier to use. And you can use it in a lot more different situations. And they offer courses on how to do it but a lot of the time, you'd see people doing a course on Python, that they've got no real world application of it. And then you've got someone who's never used py...well, who's never been qualified in it before. And yet, they're effectively an expert on it because they were doing it at the start.
And you mentioned that you work for a consultancy what other organisations hire data analysts.
Thankfully, everybody does. Retailers hire data analysts, banks hire data analysts, phone companies hire the analysts, insurance companies, everybody these days. Everyone's hiring basically. I think it was voted the fastest growing job the last two years in a row.
Oh, wow. How easily are the data analysis skills transferable?
So there's, there's a lot you can do. Like I don't know of training programmes, like I think it's probably okay to mention it, Code Clan for instance, It's a six week programme, you can sign up for it, it cost money and they teach you the fundamentals and they will put you through. Having said that, like my intake when I joined my first company, there was a 64 year old woman, who is retraining, I think I...so I came at what? 26 and I was one of the youngest ones in my intake. Because it's a fast growing job, there's a...there's a higher demand than what, like new people entering the field can do. So a lot of people are switching over to it. You've got a lot of business analysts who are wanting to become data analysts, you've got data analysts who want to become business analysts, or project managers and stuff. So you know, there's a lot of cross connection.