10 Skills You Need to Become an Analytics Professional

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I’ve been working in Analytics for nearly 14 years now. Over that time, I’ve seen the measurement landscape change dramatically.

Coding packages come and go. New ‘exciting’ areas of analytics come and go. So it can hard for aspiring analysts to know where to focus.

However, I’ve found a number of core skills that are the foundation of any solid analytics career.

Here are 10 skills that have I’ve relied on from my early days in analytics and continue to be highly relevant both now and in years to come.

Presented in no particular order.

  1. SQL — SQL is the coding language of databases. There are variations like Presto SQL, Hive and Server SQL which keep things interesting. This language has been around for a long time and is a basic foundational skill set needed by every analyst. I use SQL every day, without fail. It’s the workhorse of the analytics industry.
  2. Statistics —Basic statistics skills are essential for analysts. Without them, analysts are restricted to data munging and basic metrics. A good knowledge of tools like regression, machine learning, Bayesian statistics and descriptive statistics give analysts a strong foundation to perform solid analyses.
  3. R or Python or Statistics Software —Knowledge of a statistics software tool is essential in today’s world of Big Data and open source mania. Analysis of big data sets is just not possible without knowing one of these tools. Most analysts I meet are in either the R or Python camp. SAS also has a big community of analysts. Personally, I prefer R because of the brilliant, cooperative community that contributes packages to the R codebase. I suspect Python is just as flexible. Other options include MatLab, SPSS, Sage and Mathematica.
  4. Visualization — Data visualization is a fundamental skillset for analysts in order to communicate results with the wider organization. This isn’t about creating beautiful charts. This is about visualizing data in a simple, accurate and concise way so that your audience can digest and act on the information. This is harder than it sounds and is a skill I’m continually trying to improve.
  5. Writing — Writing is probably one of the most under-estimated skills for the modern analyst. The ability to write insights in a concise and simple way is a must-have. I also strongly recommend analysts learn and use active-voice as much as possible. It was make your writing clearer and less verbose. This is also a skillset I try to continually improve and still have a lot to learn.
  6. Presenting — Presentations are a regular part of communicating results. A good presentation can mean the difference between the organization using the data or not. A good tip I once received was to always use a specific example (e.g. this city on these dates showed X, Y and Z) when explaining results. I try to give presentations to different audiences when I can to help build this muscle.
  7. Design Thinking — The practice and methods behind Design Thinking have a lot of practical uses in the world of analytics. First, it’s solution-based meaning the focus in practical solutions. Secondly, the critical driver of Design Thinking is the user. So Design Thinking can have be beneficial for analysts designing dashboards, developing visualizations and creating measurement tools . For more on Design Thinking, I highly recommend this short course by IDEO and Acumen.
  8. Business Analysis — Business Analysis is a skill-set whereby you learn how to breakdown business problems, outline relevant business processes and think about ways to improve/make the process more efficient. Business Analysts are a professional body in their own right but a basic understanding of business analysis techniques has a number of benefits for analysts. Ultimately, an analysts job is to provide insights that will improve a component of the business whether it is marketing efficiency, product launch or branding. Analytics professional can draw on business analysis techniques to think through ways to apply insights to a business problem. More on business analysis here.
  9. Time Management and Prioritization— Most analysts have more work than time available in the day. So time management and prioritization is a crucial skill to be productive and maintain sanity. At the moment, I use a task sheet and two-week Sprints to manage my projects. The task sheet is available to all of my stakeholders and partners so that they have a clear line of sight into my workload. My partners also use this to help me prioritize, if necessary. I try to pro-active with updates so that stakeholders keep up-to-date with progress so that everyone is clear on priorities.
  10. Learning — Analytics is ever-changing industry. While this ten skills are great foundations, there’s also a need to continue learning and professional development. Even as analysts move into managers, it’s important to stay in touch with the industry and common tools. A healthy dose of ongoing professional development has always worked in my favor and something I highly recommend to other analysts.

These are 10 skills that I’ve come to rely on daily throughout my career. They are tried and tested — each one standing the test of time. And depending on your background and experience, some of these skills may come quicker than others.

I’ve found these skills have been crucial throughout my analytics career. Each one of them has been universally relevant and necessary regardless of where I’m working or the projects I’m asked to support.

Written by

Head of Decision Science + Analytics @ Instagram. Tinkerer. PhD. Social Scientist. Conservation, paddleboarding and smoothie fan. Views are mine only.

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