About six months ago, I took my seat within iProspect’s national Data and Analytics team. Being a complete newbie, you could say that I was stepping into unfamiliar territory.
I’ve never seen myself as a numbers guy, but when stepping into my role I knew that numbers were only one part of the big picture. This is what drew me to the industry in the first place. I knew data was going somewhere and it sparked my curiosity to jump right into it. Since then I’ve never looked back.
Coming into my sixth month within the field, I thought it might be helpful to write a quick guide for anyone new looking to take the step into data. Here are a few pointers based on what I’ve learned so far.
1. Learn the fundamentals
First things first, if you’re new to the field of data, you need to learn the fundamentals.
It’s not particularly fun, but it has to be done. Building up your foundations will help you in the long run. You can’t just dive straight into looking at huge data sets within Excel or jumping into a Google Analytics account and expecting to be able to identify groundbreaking insights. Let’s be real, you’re a beginner.
For me, the first few weeks was all about building that foundation. Knowing almost nothing, I stuck my head into all things Google Analytics and gained all the certifications and on-the-job training I could. Yes, it was a long and repetitive process – there were times where I would walk out of the office and still have the trainer’s voice in my head on the bus ride back home. But looking back at it now, I’m glad I was given the time to build up the basics before tackling the serious stuff.
2. You don’t need that many tools
There are a lot of tools out there to help you, but you don’t need to master every single one.
When you work in data, you quickly realise that there are countless tools available, all of which claim to be able to make your life easier. However the majority of them do the same things; for newbies like me, it’s more important to get good at interpreting the data, rather than chasing the next shiny new tool.
For most of us, there are three basic categories of tools we need:
- Data Trackers (e.g Google Tag Manager)
- Data Visualisers (e.g Google Data Studio)
- Data Analysers (e.g Google Analytics)
Data trackers are part of the setup to gather the data you want. While I wouldn’t call myself an expert in data trackers yet, I’m familiar with the basic concepts around what they do and how they work. So when someone asks a question and I happen to be the only data guy in the office, I can still provide some kind of meaningful response.
Next are the data visualisers. These tools pretty much make data look like a piece of art. With these, you can design your own dashboards that will allow you to display your data in cool interactive formats. The best thing about these tools is the automation that they enable – they can be set up to automate reporting and time-specific data pulls, but how you use them is of course for you to figure out as you go.
For those who are new to data, I strongly suggest getting a good grasp of our third type of tool, the data analysers, before jumping into the other two, even though they technically come after the tracking and visualising. These tools allow you to view data in a structured format and allow you to manipulate it further to uncover further insights. Anyone looking for an initial starting point on their journey within data should begin with analysis tools, as they provide an excellent structure from which you can learn how you can chop and slice your data to find the truth hidden within.
3. Be an open book
Be open to learning about other aspects of digital media from colleagues and collaborators. Trust me – it’ll help hugely in conveying the stories in your data.
Being receptive to other disciplines will only strengthen your ability to find and communicate the insights your data holds. You’ll be surrounded by a lot of smart people with a few more years’ experience under their belt, so it’s definitely worth having a chat with these guys and learning as much as you can from them.
For me, I was lucky enough to be involved in some Paid Search work, handling the reporting of some SEM accounts within the team. This allowed me to better understand the workflow, terminologies and platforms for different aspects of the digital marketing ecosystem. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any of these related fields, but I know enough to identify what can be useful for a client when having their data dumped on my plate or into my spreadsheets.
4. Ask questions
Data is confusing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
Asking questions is a lot quicker and more effective than trying to figure something out yourself. Data can be confusing, scary and complicated – even if you’re a genius, you’re unlikely to be able to work out the best way of doing something in less time than if you just asked someone. I’d go as far as to say that as a newbie, it’s your job to ask questions. Ask away and learn from the people around you.
5. Enjoy the journey
To sum all of this up, the main final piece of advice is to just embrace being a newbie. Use your initial months to soak it all in, learn, ask questions, and play around with the tools. And have fun doing it.
Use these first months to discover the aspects you find fun and interesting, and work from there. It’ll be a long and arduous journey, but it’ll be an enjoyable one, and sooner or later when you realise that all the learning and practice has solidified in your head, you’ll be able to proudly call yourself a data specialist.