A marketer who lost their fear of coding
How to discover your personal ‘data science’ elephant in the room and make him go away
By Dmitry Khavanskiy
I am not a programmer and I have no technical education. In the past I was a journalist, marketer, PR manager and journalist again, and for the last three years I’ve worked at Skyscanner, taking care of media relations for Russia and Poland.
You will probably agree that it might seem as far from tech stuff as it could possibly be. And I should confess that I did not take our Skyscanner COO at the time, Mark Logan, all that seriously when he first mentioned that everyone in Growth must start coding eventually. How could stereo-typically ‘arty people’ become ‘science people’? Impossible! Now I recognize that it was one of my biggest personal ‘elephant in the room’: it’s entirely possible. Here’s my own story of losing my fear of coding.
In the Skyscanner Growth Tribe, we’re constantly looking for and at data, on a range of topics. Based on that data, we educate customers with smart travel advice, we share market insights with media, we create timely and highly relevant content since we know where, when and how people travel. There are plenty more ways to use it, but all rich data comes at the expense of education. And if you happen to work in a marketing as opposed to engineering team, it requires some up-skilling to acquire the proper set of skills to work with data.
Of course, an easy way for marketer would be just to ask those people who do know every time we need something specific. But that creates great dependency, bottlenecks and a lot of wasted time — quite the opposite to what we’re really looking for. So I decided to chose another path — to learn SQL, which is the most direct way of accessing our main databases inside the company.
My learning curve was steep. I knew nothing about SQL, but I read somewhere that programmers are quite sensible people and SQL is pretty much like normal English, but simplified. Instead of buying a book on SQL and spending days to read it from beginning to the end, I followed my colleague and Principle Data Scientist Ewan Nicolson’s advice and explored a few online courses. The easiest was www.w3schools.com/sql/ . It contains a short series of exercises with a few notes that help you understand how SQL is generally structured. You don’t have to learn everything by heart and memorize tonnes of commands and expressions — the site has a handy vocabulary how-to, using the most common ones. And if you go more inventive and create something sophisticated — Google it in simple words and in most cases you will find an easy solution. This is how you start.
After I got my head around the basics, I plugged in to one of databases and started to play with simple queries with literally just a few lines of code. Seeing the first real data fetched with SQL was very encouraging. Then it was just a question of time and practice to come up with more and more sophisticated templates. I understand this is not something truly remarkable for a proper data scientist, but bringing this knowledge into country squads means that we have the tools for endless data customization on our side. In squads we know best what markets need, so it seems just logical that we have some means of delivery. And if we need to go beyond it, at least we better understand any limitations and can properly formulate what we need from any other team or external party.
So, in conclusion, it is clearly just the beginning for me. I want to keep mastering, learning and teaching others with what I’ve learned so far. Obviously, I encourage others to take this path and tackle those fears. If it comes to data, start small, use ready-made templates, ask questions and gradually you will lose this fear of new things even if you feel it is far beyond your capabilities… it certainly won’t be for long.
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About the author
Hey! My name is Dmitry Khavanskiy. I work at Skyscanner in Russia and Poland squad. Until recently I would continue ‘…as a PR manager’, but the reality now is that we all became truly T-shaped and act in many roles. It was not easy to embrace this change, but it’s proved to be the only right choice in embracing a growth mentality.
Be careful though — seeking out your own professional ‘elephants in the room’ is contagious!