As we're counting down the days to Westminster STEAM Week, where our Data Analytics team will be inspiring young people of Westminster to become the next generation of leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths - it seems the perfect time to share Alison's own inspirational story as a Senior Data Analyst!
Tell us about your career path and your role at Ecovis?
After graduating with a Masters in Maths from Durham University I worked as an analyst in the public sector before joining Ecovis Wingrave Yeats 2 years ago. Since then I’ve progressed to a senior position and now take technical lead on client projects. I oversee every aspect of the data exploration and development work that we do for our clients and coordinate the work of our more junior team members. Being part of a growing team has given me invaluable opportunities early in my career.
If someone had told me ten years ago that I’d be working at Ecovis in this role I’d have been stunned! I didn’t have a fixed career plan when I left school; I’d taken a mix of arts and science subjects and chose to continue with Maths because it wouldn’t close any doors. It wasn’t until I started in the workplace that I realised what a desirable skillset I’d developed and saw that I could use this to help people.
Data Science is perceived as a fairly male dominated profession, how has this affected you?
Honestly, I’ve found it to be much more balanced than stereotypes suggest. Maths recruits evenly at university and I’ve worked with an equal mix of men and woman analysts in my career, if you look at the industry there are senior women doing fantastic work in a multitude of sectors. What I will say is that many attributes cast as ‘female’ are vital to our work; I need to empathise and understand our clients just as I need to use strong deductive reasoning.
What skills do you need for your job?
The most important thing is sound logic, with that you can reason your way through pretty much anything to find the best solution. That said, it’s also helpful to be able to think outside of the box and a creative approach will often provide the edge you need to get the most out of your data and deliver real value to clients. Good attention to detail is paramount as is a thorough understanding of programming techniques but it’s also important to see the bigger picture and understand the human implications of the work we do. Finally as a consultant it’s not enough to just analyse the data, you have to disseminate it too. Whether we are talking to a CEO or junior user we need to be able to explain our analysis in an understandable way and enable them to take ownership of the results. There’s some fascinating psychology behind how audiences interpret numbers and a good analyst has the knowledge to present the data in its best light using appropriate visuals and UX design principles.
What attracted you to Ecovis?
From the moment I walked through the door at Ecovis I knew it was a good fit for me. There’s a real family feel to the team here and the role is diverse and challenging. Working as a consultant means that I have experience across a variety of sectors and get to appreciate the reporting intricacies in each one. As an SME ourselves we do every stage of the data journey with our clients and they deal with the same team throughout the project. I love getting to know our clients and their businesses; we’ve never worked with the same setup twice so it keeps me on my toes!
What sort of projects do you work on and how do they progress?
We undertake a variety of analyses for our clients, from traditional statistical reports to dynamic business development tools and machine learning solutions. The first step is to meet with the client and go through a scoping process with them. Once we know which solutions will deliver most value to their business my team and I will work out exactly what information we need to deliver the project and liaise with the relevant stakeholders to access the data. We’ll often need to layer different data sources to get the full picture and use programming to extract the data we need. Then it’s over to statistical analysis, using skills I learnt in my degree to uncover relevant trends and insights for our clients. Once we have the data story we present our findings in a finished report. This can take a number of forms but we are seeing a particular interest in live dashboarding solutions at the moment and I’ll work with the team to make sure the data is presented in the best way. We also offer support with the implementation phase so we’ll often present our results to key stakeholders or run training sessions with users to make sure the deliverable has maximum impact. Throughout the project I’ll keep in regular contact with our clients and guide them through every stage. I love seeing their data journey unfold and recognising how our insights influence their business and empower their staff.
What do you wish people knew about your role?
I’d say the most unexpected aspect of my job is how creative it is. Since each client set up is different I’m always problem solving and the rigour of my academic background has been invaluable in helping our clients realise their reporting aspirations. Maths is at its heart a creative subject and it’s rewarding to work in a job where this is celebrated. People are often surprised by how little I use Excel and in fact I often joke that my job is to get rid of excel – clients generally have a litany of spreadsheets holding various reports and we can take all of that and build it into a single dynamic report with intuitive visualisations and a great user experience. I think there’s a perception that analysts are ‘back office’ staff and yet, whilst computers facilitate much of our work, customer interaction is vital. We are always talking to our clients, meeting new teams, and I wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s this strong connection with our users that ensures our reports deliver value and I love opening people’s minds to the value that their data holds.
If you were going to offer any advice to school leavers or graduates thinking about going into DA as a profession, what would it be?
The reality is that there’s a greater breadth of careers than you can possibly imagine so don’t panic if you can’t see the ‘perfect’ career for you, keep trying new things and have your eyes open for opportunities. Don’t be put off by stereotypes (nothing is that simple) and have courage to express an interest in maths if you have one. Increasingly analysis is such a powerful business tool that professionals have no option about whether to engage with it or not so if you have a predisposition for logical thinking or design then make the most of it and get ahead of the curve. Even if you don’t want to study maths full-time consider taking elective maths modules as part of your course; a basic statistics course will stand you in good stead no matter your profession.
If know that you want to work in data then consider applying to a relevant university course, apprenticeship, or corporate graduate scheme. If you’re new to programming then you can get experience with languages such as SQL and Python through online courses or study centres. Once you’re ready to take your learning to the next level websites such as Kaggle offer a wealth of resources to get you started on your own analysis projects. Companies are hungry for good analysts at the moment so consider which sectors you’re interested in and see what opportunities are available with your favourite brands.