Thursday, May 22, 2014

Late Career Moves to Analytics

I recently read this article: Planning a late career shift to Analytics / Big data? Better be prepared!

Kunal Jain gives a sober perspective on the issue that hit close to home for me:

Non technical experience will not count in your analytics jobs – the only benefit you might get is that the interviewer can expect you to be more mature with your thought process / decision.

I came to this painful realization several years back. As a former Marine and non-commissioned officer, I had 3 "direct reports" before turning 21 and had significant formal leadership training and experience. I knew that much of that wouldn't count getting my first job out of college at 27, but that I could use those experiences to quickly rise in my career. Indeed, this is what several of my former military friends did. (One became a project manager 4 months after graduation, a feat that would normally have taken several years at best.)

This was my plan until I discovered economics--beautiful beautiful economics--at the end of my sophomore year. Suddenly, that past leadership experience counted for very little. Stata, SAS, and SQL did not care that I could turn objectives into plans and delegate. They cared only that my syntax was correct. My professors, and later employers, needed me to have solid foundations in calculus and probability. My public speaking skills would not matter if I couldn't produce analyses worth talking about. The learning curve was steep, especially since I failed algebra the first time, eked by with a D in geometry, and stopped taking high school math as soon as I could. Math is hard.

It took years of formal and self-guided education, coding, and real-world projects before my analytic capabilities were at a level where I could be trusted to design and lead analyses in the real world. It wasn't just a full-time job, it became a complete lifestyle. It has, however, paid off. Years of frustration and feeling as though I'd  set myself back have given way to some of the most intellectually fulfilling work I've done. And at 32, I no longer feel as though becoming a Marine had "set back" my career. (Even if it had, I wouldn't have done anything differently.)

The learning curve can be steep. Those that would move into an analytics later in there career should consider their motivation for doing so.

As Kunal points out:

Take this up only if you tick all the boxes below:
  • You are absolutely crazy about this industry. You can’t help but analyze any numbers you come across – I play with numbers on the number plate of any vehicle which passes me.
  • You have undergone a few courses on Coursera / eDX and have excelled at them. You have submitted all the assignments and have scored extremely well.
  • You have the perseverance and motivation to undergo 2 – 3 years of arduous work learning about a new knowledge intensive domain.
  • You are willing to spend a lot of time as Individual Contributor


  1. Replies
    1. Fixed! I'd also attributed to the wrong author. Good catch, thank you.