As the world of technology continues to grow and develop, so does the sheer volume of data available to business and governments. To help make sense of all this knowledge, data analysts have emerged with the analytical and statistical tools needed to help their customers or employers apply Big Data to their enterprises. Analysts might specialize in aggregating data for politicians or they could analyze numbers for the purposes of sales and marketing. Others seek out fraud for insurance companies.
This page takes a close look at this profession. If you are intrigued by this relatively new career choice, keep reading. This field is highly technical so might not be for everyone. However, with some hard work and determination you could one day rise to the top as data analyst.
What is a Data Analyst?
A data analyst is a professional who specializes in aggregating and analyzing large troves of data, also known as Big Data. They are adept at assessing the business value of the phenomena they are tasked with. For instance, a data analyst might analyze consumer preferences that relate to specific personal values and then help the marketing team devise sales techniques that target the most popular items. All data analysts work with databases, spreadsheets, and other software packages to model and present their findings.
Steps to Becoming a Data Analyst:
The first step to take is to determine whether or not data science is a good choice to pursue. First, assess your mathematical ability, which is fundamental to the field. In particular, an affinity for statistics will be invaluable. Students who are fortunate enough to have a statistics course in high school should take that and determine their aptitude for the field.
It will also help to have a natural affinity science, technology, and computer programming languages. Other fields launch data science careers including public health and epidemiology, which rely heavily on statistical analysis. In fact, most of science relies on statistics.
Once you've determined that statistics and data analysis is your passion, find a college or university program that offers the coursework you need to succeed. These days many business schools are including relevant courses and concentrations in their offerings. You can also enter the field with a degree in mathematics or perhaps the social sciences.
You will certainly need to take statistics as part of your bachelor’s degree so make sure that the schools you are considering have a strong math department. You can also look for strong curricula in marketing, social sciences, natural sciences, and public health. Since data science is increasingly important in a number of fields, it's vital to determine your long-term career focus.
Finally, don't neglect your soft skills while in college. Expand your communication skills with courses in writing, including technical writing and creative writing. After all, once you've crunched all the numbers, you will need to communicate your findings to a non-technical audience. Strong communication skills make the difference between a good data analyst and a great one.
During your time as a student, seek out opportunities to apply your growing knowledge. One way to do this is to seek out an internship in your chosen field. For example, if your long-term goals include business and marketing, look for a marketing department or consulting firm that works with big data. You could also work with polling firms or your state's public health department. There may even be internship opportunities with your city government, depending on the size of your town.
Since data analysts do most of their work on computers, you might even be able to land a remote part-time job or internship that you can do from your college apartment. To succeed, you will need to have significant skills with databases and spreadsheet programs, such as Microsoft's Excel.
Naturally, computing skills are a large part of working as a data analyst. In particular, you should have expert-level abilities with spreadsheets and databases. Work on learning to create macros in your spreadsheet program. If you can devise a particularly clever macro, you might be able to launch a career based on that small analytical program.
Data analysts are also well-served by learning the coding languages that most impact data science. One language that is often discussed by data science experts is Python. Other languages you should consider learning include SQL, Java, and R.
To launch your career from the strongest foundation, consider a master's degree. These days, there are data science degree programs, but you can also work on a Master of Science in Mathematics that allows you to focus on statistics and probability. Another possibility is a dual MBA program that combines data science along with the business curriculum. Some Master of Business Administration programs also offer a concentration in data science.
What Does a Data Analyst Do?
On a day-to-day basis, a data analyst spends time in meetings with various members of their firm to determine what sorts of issues need to be addressed. From that point they create projects whereby they amass data from a variety of sources such as surveys, census data, inventory, sales data, and more. Indeed, these days there is no shortage of data sources these days.
The analyst then takes all of their data and devises ways to measure certain data points against others to determine if one impacts the other. For instance, they might analyze swimsuit sales relative to the time of year, region, and relative temperatures. They might also work with other data such as that from the internet. Websites can track users and collect data relative to what links they click, how long they remain on a page, and whether they end up purchasing any products advertised on the page.
Once their analysis is complete, data analysts might then take their findings and create a presentation for their firm. They might submit their work to the sales and marketing departments to help them focus their work. They can also present findings to research and development, finance, or even human resources, depending on the nature of the data and the aims of the project.
Skills to Acquire
- Interpersonal Communication: This career surely involves many meetings, so it’s vital to not only express your ideas but to listen and comprehend what others are trying to communicate with you.
- Written Communication: Once your hard analysis is complete, you'll need to communicate your findings to non-technical colleagues.
- Quantitative Analysis: You’ll develop these skills in courses such as statistics.
- Qualitative Analysis: It's important to see beyond the numbers to what it all means.
- Programming Languages: It's advised to learn Python, SQL, Java, and R, for starters.
- Spreadsheet skill including macros: Knowledge of Excel is vital for success in data science. Learn to write creative, powerful macros which will automate and enhance your work product. You can also get started with spreadsheets by learning Google Sheets or Libre Office's Calc program, both of which are freely available.
- Databases: You will certainly need to understand how to sort and search through databases to find the data you need. To be effective with databases you must have at least a familiarity with the language SQL.
- Data Visualization Software: It will be helpful to know programs like Tableau or Qlik.
- Critical Thinking: Without this vital skill it will be very difficult to succeed. You must be able to discern vital data from that which is superfluous for your current project.
- Project Management: No data analyst works alone. Even at the start of your career it will be vital to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates. From there you will be developing as a project leader.
- Research: It will be vital to have experience and ability to create database queries, for instance.
Data analysts are still a relatively new addition to the working world. It is therefore possible to gain the job title from several different angles. Some start out as math majors who then land a job crunching numbers in a marketing department. Others begin in public health, focus on epidemiology, and become fascinated with Big Data and the possibilities it holds. It's also possible to enter the field from the natural or social sciences. Essentially, if you have a strong aptitude for database work, statistical analysis, and probability, you are well on your way.
In fact, if your community college has strong mathematics and information technology departments, you can use an associate degree to get started. There are also two-year degree programs for business analysis or management information systems. However, you will eventually want to complete a bachelor’s degree and, later, a master's degree so that your career can flourish.
For those who have the core skills but haven't yet landed a job, it’s advised that you sharpen your technical skill. You might start with achieving certifications in core competencies such as databases, relevant computer languages such as Python, and spreadsheets. There are plenty of opportunities to learn these skills online without having to pay for expensive academic credits.
Data Analyst Careers & Salary
Where Might You Work?
All sorts of enterprises are seeking someone who can work with the glut of data that is flooding their industries. Governments, for example, need data analysts to assess all sorts of data, from public health information to census information and traffic numbers, too. Businesses are clamoring to gain an edge in the market by streamlining their own operations by way of data analysis as well as anticipate consumer activities based on trends that lie buried deep in the numbers. Thus, a graduate who is prepped and ready to work as a data analyst can surely find work in their chosen environment.
Given the ubiquity of data and its increasing importance, there are consulting firms that specialize in data analysis for independent customers. Smaller firms may not have a budget to pay a full-time analyst, but they might be able to afford a consultant who can tackle specific projects for them. In fact, there are many firms that work in the political arena. They strive to break down which messages appeal to specific voter demographics and help their customers target and convert those voters.
Data analysts who have the proper credentials and experience might even venture off on their own and work as independent consultants. This may be an appealing path for entrepreneurial spirits who have independent ideas about how to crunch the numbers.
Since this career is still relatively new to the working world, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't have an entry that is specific to data analysis. However, they do list operations research analysts, which is a similar career track. For this job title, the 2019 median salary was posted as $84,810 and the typical entry-level worker had a bachelor’s degree. The BLS shows that the field is slated for a phenomenal 25% growth rate through 2029. That is more than twice as fast as the average growth rate.
By comparison, the BLS shows that in 2019 management analysts reported a median salary of $85,000. These professionals help organizations maximize efficiency and their rate of growth is projected to be 11% through 2029. Though their analytical work might not have the potential scope of a data analyst, their skill set is surely analogous.
Data Analyst Jobs
Every data analyst has to worry about the job market at some point. Since a data analyst's skill set applies to such a diverse range of employers, every strong student of this discipline is sure to thrive.
Healthcare Data Analyst:
This position is a vital part of any healthcare system. You'll crunch the numbers and help hospitals and clinics cut costs without compromising patient outcomes. Since this is a healthcare industry job, they ask that you be familiar with work in the industry.
QA Data Analyst:
This position asks that you have experience working with T-SQL and executing complex SQL queries. You'll need to perform database testing and be steeped in the world of quality assurance.
In this position, you'll use the employer's (or customer's) data to assess their business practices, including inventories, sales, research & development, and personnel, too.
Data Analyst SQL Developer:
For this position, applicants need to have extensive database training and experience. You'll need to know SQL and SQL Server and have 5 years of experience with SSIS. Some employers who have jobs of this type are asking for a computer science degree, but they also consider applicants with applicable experience.
Systems Data Analyst:
This job asks that professionals work with customer inputs to the employer’s systems. They will help develop the overall enterprise with analytical assessments of their employer's business practices.
Medicaid Fraud Research Analyst:
In this position you will research Medicaid claims and seek out any instance of fraud on the part of patients or providers. Your critical thinking and investigatory skills will be critical in detecting fraudulent patterns.
Find Data Analyst Jobs Near You
Advancing from Here
Once you start a career in Data Analysis you can go very far indeed. Some choose to work as supervisors and oversee other analysts. Others might join consulting firms, where they often must travel extensively but also receive terrific compensation. As for advancing within a company, you might achieve an MBA degree and join the top brass in the C-suites. Depending on your specialty, you could move from a finance department up to a position as Chief Financial Officer. More likely is that you could move up into a position as a Chief Information Officer. However, each firm is different and may even create a new executive level position for you.
Computer Career Paths