How to begin a career in data analytics

A group of colleagues in an office discussing market trends with a data analyst.
A group of colleagues in an office discussing market trends with a data analyst.

What are some of the reasons that a person would seek a career in data analytics? First and foremost is the well-publicised fact that it’s the career of the future. Demand, already overwhelming supply, will only continue to grow as the digital race gathers pace. So what exactly does this mean about how a data analyst’s career can be shaped over the coming decades?

First, it means that data analysts are not restricted to just one industry or one type of job. If your passion is sport, there is work for data analysts in the sporting world. If your passion is health, there is work for data analysts in health. The same goes for banking, retail, fashion, academia, not-for-profit, telecommunications, defence, humanitarian, agriculture, engineering, and any other industry or arena you can imagine.

Then there’s the fact that the role of a data analyst will always be one that garners respect. It is already understood to be a strategic role in the business world, rather than a back-office function. In other words, data analysis creates brilliant businesses and drives great decisions.

Next is the fact that the role itself is enormously varied and is constantly changing. This means there will always be career progression, new skills to learn, good problems to solve and more benefits to offer to your employer or your own business. Of course, this all adds up to greater job satisfaction.

Finally, it’s a very well paid field of work. A recent report by SEEK placed the most common salary for an entry-level data analyst between $85,000 and $95,000 annually. For a mid-career data analytics manager with five years’ experience, the average salary is $121,000. 

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Finding a way into data analytics

So we’ve established data analytics is an excellent field in which to build a career. How exactly does somebody make their way into this ever-evolving field?

Here are four great ways to make a head start with your data analytics career: 

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree: SEEK’s analysis of data analyst job ads revealed that employers are looking for people with a minimum of a bachelor degree in a relevant field, such as computer science, mathematics, statistics or information technology (IT). 
  • Continue to upskill: Employers are looking for candidates who’ve continued to upskill and who’ve taken up opportunities to learn on the job. 
  • Try an internship: Also recommended is experience interning in a related role, gathering valuable knowledge from real-world experience. 
  • Obtain a master’s degree: A master’s degree in data analytics or a related field gives candidates a boost when it comes to job opportunities as well as new ways to advance their current careers.

Build your data analytics tool kit

Unsurprisingly, much of the work carried out in the data analysis field uses specific software packages. These are vital tools of the data analytics trade.

Tools data analysts need

As our use of technology grows, so too does the list of tools that data analysts should master to excel in their role. Data analysts should have at least a working knowledge of the following 10 tools: 

  1. Microsoft Power BI
  2. Tableau
  3. SAS Business Intelligence
  4. Sisense
  5. TIBCO Spotfire 
  6. SAP BusinessObjects 
  7. Qlik
  8. ThoughtSpot 
  9. Google Data Studio
  10. Metabase

To master these tools, experiment with them in your own time. Take courses. Seek guidance from colleagues and friends who use them daily. Watch YouTube tutorials. If you don’t thoroughly understand these and other tools, you can’t speak the language of data analytics.

Understanding how systems work together

As with any tool or software package, expertise isn’t just about knowing how they work; it’s also about learning the shortcuts and becoming properly proficient in their use. Once you’ve reached a certain level of skill and knowledge, you’re better able to recognise ways to create a more powerful analytics tool kit. After all, a skilled tradesperson uses more than one tool to get the job done.

Understanding the role of AI in data analytics

Understanding data analytics tools, and how they work together, will always be required in data analytics. However, with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), the data analytics game has changed. 

In the past, analytics tools were simply facilitators of data analysis. Now, with AI and advanced machine learning, many tools are capable of performing analysis that data analysts used to have to do manually. 

For this reason, data analysts need to ensure that they understand how AI works, so they’re able to complement its functions and insights and draw maximum value from working alongside it.

Key soft skills data analysts need to succeed

In addition to technical tools and skills, data analysts need the following top three soft skills to succeed in their careers:

1. Critical thinking

Data analysis isn’t so much about the data itself, but understanding it, and expanding its implications beyond the numbers. For this reason, critical thinking is important. 

As a critical thinker in data analysis, you should be able to analyse data, identify patterns, and extract actionable insights that go above and beyond what you have on hand.

2. Business acumen

Another critical soft skill for data analysts is business acumen. Business acumen is the ability to understand business processes, including how a business operates and makes a profit.

Data analysts need this skill so that they’re able to focus on sharing insights that make the business more profitable. 

3. Communication skills

The third critical soft skill for data analysts is the ability to communicate well. Data analysts need to be especially good at translating technical findings into clear presentations, communicating actionable business insights. 

Presentation skills and good written communication skills are also important because data analysts will be working with numerous different stakeholders.

Network with data analysts

There are plenty of groups of like-minded people, both online and offline, who are working on interesting projects and happy to share their knowledge. They were all at your stage of career, once.

Perhaps begin with online forums, including StackExchange and Reddit, and ask around about groups that meet offline for data-themed gatherings, events or hackathons. There’s a steadily increasing community of data scientists who come together for various purposes, and most offer great support for less experienced but passionate individuals.

Also ask around about who to follow on social media. Many of the data analytics world’s greatest stars have enormous social media profiles. Their feeds can offer hints as to new directions and trends in the industry, and therefore new opportunities.

All of these professional contacts, both online and offline, are potentially your most powerful tool in the hunt for a way into the data analytics industry. And once you’re in, they’ll remain a vital source of information, consultation and collaboration.

A data analyst presenting his findings to a business owner.

Work on your own project

So you want to be a data analyst? Then be one! As long as you’re familiar with the tools and know how to get your hands on a few open data sets, you can create a project of your own and start building a portfolio

This could be carried out as a hobby in your spare time, but preferably it might instead be something you can do in your current workplace. 

How can your employer use data to improve services, boost customer experience, create more efficient processes around marketing or product development, chart the customer journey, etc? This is what the job of a data analyst is all about. Why not volunteer your time and talent to demonstrate the power of data within your own office?

Turn this project into a case study attached to your CV and you’re on your way. You’ve proven to others that you’ve got what it takes to begin a productive career in the field of data analytics. And more importantly, you’ve also proven it to yourself.

Finally, never stop learning. Those who are already deeply involved in the industry say they’re constantly amazed by the pace of change and the intensity of the innovation they see around them on a daily basis. 

The industry of data analytics has only just been born. It is still finding its feet and preparing itself for a journey into a future that it will have a significant role in shaping. It’s a thrilling time to be involved.

Learn more about UNSW Online’s Master of Analytics. Get in touch with our enrolment team at 1300 974 990.