Alexis shares her story on how she gained data analytics and data visualization skills. Make sure to check out the resources that she shared.
Tell us about yourself
By day, I’m a data analyst with a specialty in data visualization; by night, I’m a graduate student and crafty person who loves to spend time with friends and family.
I’m really lucky to be able to say my mother was (and is) my original role model for a kick-ass woman in tech. I learned a lot of critical thinking skills and how to be fearless and independent in work and in life from her.
As far as formal education, I earned my undergraduate degree at James Madison University back in 2014. I was a double major in Computer Information Systems and International Business, and I had an International Finance concentration and a French minor. I’ll also be completing the Master of Science in Analytics at American University this September.
Outside of work and school, I am an excellent cook, and I love all arts and crafts. I can knit, crochet, and sew (all things for which my Grandma is quite proud of me!), and I enjoy a bit of painting, coloring, and drawing every now and then as well. I also love all things space, sci-fi, and fantasy and am an avid reader.
What was your first job like?
For my first two years out of school, I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers doing data analysis for Forensic computing and accounting projects.
It was a wonderful place to start my career. During my time there, I developed both hard and soft skills, including conducting SQL-based analysis, dabbling in open-source technologies, and honing my business acumen.
It was during this time that I met my first truly significant professional mentor. To my unending gratitude, Shay is the person who introduced me to the delight and importance of data visualization. He’s a prolific, innovative, and inspiring person that showed me what it really means to be dedicated in the pursuit of change. He really taught me a lot about (and supported me in) going after what I want in the workplace.
What are the most important skills to have in your current position?
I moved on to my current, data visualization-focused job at Precision Strategies last September. I’d say the most critical skills for my role are flexibility and a willingness to learn; in fact, that applies to both of the positions that I have held in my career.The most critical skills for my role are flexibility and a willingness to learn. Click To Tweet
The second most important are understanding key analytical concepts and key data visualization concepts.
What are you currently working on?
My role requires me to support several clients across different types of projects, but, for most of them, I generally do a blend of ad-hoc reporting and building data-heavy graphics and Tableau dashboards. Making beautiful things with data is my dream job, so it is a treat to be able to do that every day.
My biggest personal project right now is doing my best to succeed at being a part-time student and a full-time professional while taking charge my health and finances. Once this packed semester winds down, I can’t wait to get involved with some of the work that the good people at Code for DC are doing.
What are some resources that helped you in your journey in tech?
For SQL, I actually got my base in school, but what really made it stick was getting hands-on practice. I’d recommend starting with one or two of the many free resources available. I’ve put together a short introductory presentation and list of resources, available here.
My number one, short visualization reference, especially if you don’t come from a particularly artistic background is Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s Storytelling with Data. My second is Andy Kirk’s most recent work, Data Visualisation: A Handbook for Data Driven Design. His blog is also an excellent place to get started and find additional resources.
Finally, a wonderful resource for gaining core statistical knowledge is the excellent ‘Methods and Statistics in Social Sciences Specialization’ on Coursera. It has the best examples, goes at a great pace for beginners, and is quite thorough.
Other ways I like to keep current on analytics tech and concepts is the ‘Data Elixir’ newsletter; it always has handy references and thoughtful pieces about technical concepts and issues.
How did you develop your technical skills?
I built up my skillset pretty incrementally. The foundations for some skills came from formal coursework (i.e. SQL), but most skills have come up as a result of a need at work, followed up by on the job application.
I’ve either raised my hand and said ‘I want to learn this skill, so please tap me when you need someone for a formal or informal project’ or I’ve found myself in a position where it just makes more sense to spend a bit of time to add some skill to my repertoire.
I’ve also kept a list of skills I want to build and when I see an opportunity to apply it, I ask for it (or I just go for it). I know that approach can be a bit intimidating, but it has definitely gotten easier with time and practice.I’ve kept a list of skills I want to build and when I see an opportunity to apply it, I ask for it. Click To Tweet
Something that helps me ask for what I want—one of my first professors in college said this, and it’s really stuck with me: “The worst thing someone can tell you is ‘no’, and they don’t have to be the last person that you ask.”
To me, that means that ‘no’ is just one possibility. It isn’t the last stop and ‘no’ does not translate to ‘you aren’t good enough’ or ‘I don’t care about what you think’. The opportunities are endless when you give yourself a chance to try.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in tech?
Technology is a broad field with so many opportunities to build depth; learning and finding your inspiration will help keep you motivated as you work through tough concepts and seek out opportunities to build and apply your skills.
Though I didn’t list it as a formal resource, I’d highly recommend finding some tie to your local tech community and getting involved. We are so lucky to have the incredible DC tech community here, but even if your tribe is virtual, I’d recommend finding it.
Despite starting my path in tech during college, getting out to events, meeting people, and hearing their stories has helped me to hone my perspective and my understanding of the ways that I could best use technology to make my mark on the world.