Navigating Change In Data
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Charles Darwin had it all wrong.
There are quite a few chinks in the English Naturalist’s theory of evolution and the infamous term “Survival of The Fittest.” Turns out the mechanism of inheritance and variation were not known until 50 years after the theory was published.
Perhaps it’s not the fittest that survives but rather the species that ADAPTS to their environment the best. Natural selection may be decided on this premise.
Who knows? We’ll let the Evolutionary Biologists hash that one out.
In our case, this provides us with a perfect segway into the concept of change.
How should you approach change not only to survive but to thrive?
As I continue to forge my career path in this world of tech, I’ve been fortunate enough to garner several interests for senior-level data roles in recent months.
Companies are inherently pretentious, so most job specs include industry buzzwords like innovation, implementation, and development. I get it, it pays to appear competent in this sector.
When drilled-down, all these terms are fancy masks for the word, Change.
A common interview question I’m often inundated with is, “How do you usher change within an organization?!”
Cut the bullsh*t. We’re trying to achieve X, what change do we need to make this happen?
I’d usually rattle off a script about identifying the business’ data strategy. Then follow up with some helpful suggestions of key tools to assist the process. Don’t forget your buzzwords because we all love those. Finally, a detailed plan of attack to ensure successful execution.
All relevant to the business, of course.
But that’s only one side. It’s a completely different animal entirely to be THE person to enact said change.
Now ask yourself,
Is it possible to facilitate change in others if you are not equipped to handle changes in your own life?
It’s not impossible, but it would be bloody hard.
For all the ambiguity surrounding this notion of change, there are steps you can apply to ensure you are at the forefront of the action. When unexpected change rears its ugly head, you have the dexterity to pivot and thrive.
№1: Know Your Space
As the world of data continues to surge, there seems to be an influx of new vendors popping up every Tuesday with claims that their “Cloud Solution” is a sure-fire way to streamline your company’s analytics.
While it’s not feasible to keep track of every minute innovation, it pays to have a general awareness of what technological changes are occurring in your data space.
You might say,
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
— Bert Lance
Yea, tell that to Blockbuster.
There is very little use being stuck working on a MySQL Server from 2010 when the company you’re interested in working with is rolling out test scripts of Snowflake as their go-to data warehousing alternative.
In the case of Tableau, the company recently hosted a seminar where they spent a third of the time introducing their plans to marry their existing BI platform with Einstein Analytics.
The move is set to offer businesses powerful analytics in conjunction with custom reporting through the seamless integration of Salesforce data.
You can hazard a guess as to what I’d be attempting to get clued up on over the next few months.
Luckily, MOOCs is flooded with courses with a two-week trial period. If you are deliberate enough, two weeks is all you need.
When it comes to addressing a changing data landscape, it can help to:
Know what you know, know what you don’t know, and TRY to know what you don’t know, you don’t know.
— Anmol Sunsoa, Sr. Tableau Consultant
It’s okay. I had to read that a few times myself.
Facebook does an exceptional job of codifying this further in its project management framework.
“Understand, Identify, Execute”
№2: Adopt the ‘M’
Piggybacking off the last section, in your quest to amass knowledge of your chosen field, be sure not to fall into the trap of having no specialty.
Right, it might sound as though we’re backpedaling here but hear me out!
For starters, the world of tech is so convoluted that it is highly unlikely that you will encounter an individual that knows everything about everything. Even if you do, it is often the case that such a person is not specialized in any particular area.
“Jack of all trade, master of none.”
In a conversation I recently had with renowned Zen Master, Toan Hoang, founder of Tableau Magic, he describes being “M-shape” in your approach to learning data.
Have two subject areas in which you are extremely deep and a broad understanding of a wide range of topics.
In its simplicity, his theory was rather profound.
The two-pillars are your forte in which you can always fall back on if an unexpected change occurs. Broad knowledge equips you with lots of ideas and the ability to take a multitude of approaches to tackle a specific problem.
As a data-storyteller, I decided on Python and Tableau as my pillars. I utilize Python and its Pandas Library for the majority of my data munging — taking data from unusable and erroneous forms to the new levels of structure and quality.
And of course, Tableau for creating insightful visualizations. It is phenomenal to witness some of the stories you can wrangle up with a clean dataset.
Here’s a look at one of my most recent end-to-end projects on Activist-Scholar, Angela Davis.
With that being said, I am certainly no expert at data modeling but I have the aptitude to hold my own in a room full of data engineers.
Be the “M”
Like building a house, how can you possibly rationalize further development if the pillars used for the foundations are rickety?
Moreover, in a principle as complex as change, having no specialty makes facing new challenges extremely difficult as you are not grounded. Lacking any real direction, you will struggle to decipher where to apply the needed change.
Identify the two areas, and smash those. It will make handling change not easier but much smoother.
№3: Big Fish
Connecting with industry leaders is HUGE.
They essentially sit as gate-keepers and have immerse power to push changes, which inadvertently trickles down the chain.
I once spoke about learning from the mistakes of others as you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself. The same rule applies here.
During their tenure, in most cases spanning decades, it’s likely that these industry leaders have seen waves of change sweep across their sector numerous times. Some good, others far more damaging.
Yet they still stand.
Clearly, these individuals have devised blueprints that equip them to mitigate the threat of unwanted change. Placing yourself in their company will only strengthen your resolve in identifying how to approach tricky situations.
They were all more than happy to relay their experience about their journey with Tableau.
Turns out Kevin is a Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan. Pity!
As I slowly gain momentum within the DataFam community, I’ve found myself exploring new ways to use my platform to resonate with others.
Suppose I’d like to create an initiative centered around datasets in Africa to galvanize users from that part of the world to engage more in the Tableau community.
Pretty big change, right?
Well, I can tap in with these industry leaders who have led similar projects in the past and establish what the blueprint to make this happen would look like?
If you’re struggling to find avenues to re-invent yourself and bring about lasting change, connect with those who have blazed a trail before you. You won’t regret it.
Think of it like asking your highschool crush to prom. The worst they can say is, “No”. Actually, they might respond with;
“Eww” is certainly worse than “No”. Regardless, it's always worth a go.
If you do get in front of a leader, don’t forget to ask how you can add value to them. This can be as simple as resharing their work, writing a blog post for their page, or dropping them a referral.
Ask how you can facilitate change in their journey.
“As others are pouring into you, be sure to reciprocate and pour into others.”
That’s all there is to this notion of navigating change in data. Apply these three lessons and you’ll do just fine.
I’d be doing you a massive disservice to present such as a culmination. Change is highly volatile and often shrouded in smoke. Unless you have a magic ball that peers into the future, it’s difficult to accurately forecast the outlook of any implemented change.
Furthermore, change can occur spontaneously leaving you feeling displaced in this noisy world.
Hence why I thrust change in a column along with, fear, uncertainty, and time — all topics I’ve addressed in the past.
A 6-minute blog doesn’t come close to exploring the full scope of change and how to embrace it.
But it’s a start.
These lessons have served me well these past few months as I continue to journey in this ever-changing playground of data. I feel as though I am on the verge of a monumental breakthrough.
Ultimately, the constant variable amidst all of this noise is YOU!
“Respond to change, don’t brace for a catastrophe”
Know your space, adopt the “M” and connect with leaders to build your blueprint. However, don’t clutch too tightly to this blueprint and be open to it changing.
Because everything else does.