As the professional equivalent of a monkey with a typewriter, I have been watching the news about AI chatbots with both wonder and an ever-present, underlying fear that I will soon be replaced by our machine overlords. The future, it seems, is a mystery to almost everyone in nearly every industry imaginable.
The people on the streetcorners screaming, “The end is nigh!” when it comes to AI (or, as I like to call them, my entire LinkedIn feed) would have you believe that a chatbot will replace 99% of all jobs in the next 10 minutes. On the other side of the aisle, there are also ostriches with their heads in the sand pretending that AI won’t change anything substantial. (Fun fact: Ostriches don’t actually do that when they’re scared.)
The truth? Well, no one knows.
Yes, a groundbreaking, red-hot take for sure.
However, whether I get replaced by HAL 9000 or not, there’s one thing I can still do that AI’s (at the time of writing at least) can’t do: generate new and original thoughts. To flex on my eventual replacements, I’m going to exercise this advantage and ask my colleagues in the data consultancy sphere what aspiring analysts can do to excel in an uncharted, ever-changing future.
Because, of course, if AI is getting the spotlight, the pedestal it’s standing on is made entirely of data.
The Experts Weigh In
Now, you may be wondering why I’m turning to data consultants for explanations of skills benefiting data analysts when I subjected you to several paragraphs about my fears for the marketing space as a marketer.
Up first, I asked Keith Dykstra, an analytics lead here in the US, about some of the skills he looks for with new applicants:
One of the key attributes we screen for when hiring new consultants is a passion for learning. We love to find people who can quickly go deep on a topic and become an expert. Genuine curiosity will take you very far.
I also got the chance to chat with Sebastian Deptalla, an analytics lead based out of Germany, about the qualities he thinks will be beneficial in the future:
- A good analyst needs to ask good questions to get to know what the stakeholders want, exactly. That takes several rounds of questions, sometimes.
- Communication skills are paired with that. Asking questions is important, but also delivering/explaining the answers and outcomes, plus receiving feedback for those answers, is just as learnable.
- A good analyst knows the business or sector they are working for. That includes understanding and coming up with business-specific questions.
- Especially for those people who may not be analysts by training, but need to fill that role to help run their department: they need to speak the language of data and understand the terminology. This baseline isn’t just to work with data, but also to do effective research and grow their skills.
- Seeing the world as it is, but being able to put on the “data glasses” and view the world instead as a collection of data points helps enormously.
- Familiarity with the tools used in their company to implement the mechanics used/necessary for analysis in the first place.
- They should also know what the tool landscape looks like outside their company to be able to suggest/recommend alternative tools and better evaluate their own tools.
- Spotting data errors, coming up with business questions and improving existing analysis/visualizations without waiting for the go ahead from others is a key to staying relevant.
Sebastian also wanted to note that there are a lot of different analysts in the world — data analysts, visual analysts, BI analysts, etc. — and that they may have very different perspectives into the data world and the needs of their business.
No stranger to the InterWorks blog, I wanted to also pick Madeline Cook’s brain on her thoughts as an analytics consultant:
As our options for “picking the right tool for the job” continue to evolve, it’s easy to feel like your toolkit is lacking if you don’t boast a robust skillset in each tool. And yet, the best analysts will tell you that being a pro at it all isn’t a reality (nor an expectation) for anyone. Instead, find your niche in analytics by building the widely transferrable skills of curiosity, critical thinking and willingness to learn. These tool-agnostic strengths will support you as you navigate the rapidly changing analytics landscape.
My recommendation for analysts looking to stand out in today’s ever-changing business landscape would be to focus on the “power skills” that go beyond the technology we work in. The best analysts I’ve worked with not only have honed their technical skills but are strong communicators and critical thinkers. They are concise and clear in their communication, and they do what they say they will do. They think beyond what is being asked and stretch the constraints to explore “what’s possible,” providing excellent results that exceed expectations. They have impeccable attention to detail and ensure their work is correct, well-presented and actionable.
Because I have access to some of the world’s best data consultants. That’s the answer to my “great question” up above. I could spitball all day about marketing, but, as you can see from their answers above, the leads, architects and consultants who, combined, have been working in data for nearly as long as I’ve been alive, have much better insights for you, the data professional.
While the quotes speak for themselves, there is one aspect I want to draw attention to: the question I asked each of these professionals was, “What skills do you need to be a good analyst in today’s market?” None of their answers were about learning AI. They weren’t about learning Tableau, or ThoughtSpot, or Dataiku or any other tool. They weren’t about anything you’d find in a job description.
They were about the qualities within you.
With the advent of new technology, there will always be an underlying fear, just as powerful as the excitement that comes with the potentials unlocked by whatever particular advancement is made. You see it with the Industrial Revolution, electricity, the printing press, probably harnessing fire if we had written records then.
Take heed of the advice above and hone the skills within yourself, and you’ll persevere, whatever the uncertain future has in store for you.
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations