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  • Unify disparate internal and external teams/agencies around creating clean and uniform data
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  • Going through a digital transformation and not sure where to begin

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Digital Analytics Toolbox

The new decade is in full swing – and so are the top new year’s resolutions for 2020. However, this months’ goals encompass more than managing finances and going to the gym. For many professionals, January is a month of change and reflection, a popular month for many to job search, but also to consider careers and professional development. 

In that same vein, we had the opportunity to talk with analytics expert Anne Saylor about the tools she wishes she had at the start of her career. This includes considerations for professionals wanting a deeper dive into an analytics career and some resources for seasoned analysts looking to develop their skill set. Check out the takeaways from her toolbox below: 

Breaking into the analytics industry

The more you ask questions, the more you realize which skills you need to pursue. It’s a relatively common experience to start with: “Well, where does this come from? Okay, it’s this platform. What can I learn about that platform, and where do these numbers come from?” Sooner or later, you wind up being responsible for that platform. It doesn’t always wind up that way, but for example, at DA Hub, the director of analytics at the New York Times used to be in a position in the newsroom. He was always asking questions about where the data came from. Eventually, he wound up on the analytics team because he asked so many questions.

Multiple Paths

Individual Contributors

I started in the paid search world with basic campaign management, but as time went on, I began asking deeper questions like “How is this performing in conjunction with the rest of the site? How does this fit into the larger picture?” I began to focus increasingly on analytics. Often, people start on the analyst level where they are interpreting metrics and looking at reports that already exist. They’re not implementing, changing, or questioning the numbers necessarily — mostly using the out of the box reports. From there, it’s common to move on to more specialized roles in terms of more advanced analysis.

In my case, I did a lot with SQL and R and advanced Excel to better manipulate the data and combine different data sources. The more that you ask questions like, “How does this work? Where does this come from?” you eventually wind up on the back end. If you ask questions long enough, you end up doing implementations. After performing advanced analysis and helping to administer the Adobe Implementation with my team, there was a sudden departure of the person above me. I suddenly found myself with sole responsibility for the implementation. The implementation side of the house involves technical skills such as JavaScript, understanding debugging tools, network calls, and related technologies.

As you develop that specialization within a single company, it’s common to grow by expanding beyond just the one implementation. In my case, I went on to implement analytics for many different companies; you solve a lot of varied problems that way. The great thing about that is, having seen so many different scenarios and approaches, you can learn from what you do with one client and apply it to others.

Management 

One more note is that during that time, I managed people and enjoyed that as well. If you don’t prefer to go the backend route with implementations, another path is to branch out into people and department management. It’s important for either route to have a broad combination of hard skills and soft skills.

Resources

Community

Be part of the greater analytics community. It’s a very active and dynamic space, so you can always benefit from other opinions and approaches to things. You can also share frustrations since some things are difficult in analytics across all companies. It benefits everybody to participate.

I’ve had so many conversations with people, both individually and in more formal settings, that have helped me on the implementation side of things. I’ve been able to reach out to let people know what I’m encountering and learn what other people have done in that scenario. Forums such as Measure Slack (information at https://www.measure.chat/), resources from the Digital Analytics Association (DAA) such as live events and message boards, individual analytics blogs, as well as informal conversations at various analytics conferences are all great resources.

Mentorship 

Outside of those formal resources, several of my managers and directors have been very supportive of what I’ve done. At every job that I’ve had, there’s been at least one champion in leadership that has supported either my professional development or allowed me to take on big projects that they trusted me with and let me loose. That kind of culture and leadership support is invaluable and begins with building trust and creating wins with smaller projects.

Digital Tools 

I’ve done a lot of free or low-cost online courses to build hard skills. A couple I’d recommend: 

  • Ed2Go (Colleges offer various non-credit courses in key areas such as SQL, Excel, and business intelligence areas)
  • Coursera (Check out the Data Science Specialization for R and data manipulation) 
  • Google Analytics Academy (free, good for those just getting into GA) 

The Adobe Analytics courses are great resources as well if your company can finance them. I have a more detailed list in my blog: The Analytics Bookmark List I Wish I Had When I Started.

…Continuing to develop

This space is always evolving. There are still new things to learn and things that are changing. In the beginning, you’ll likely start out asking basic questions. As you stay active, you’ll become the person that’s responding to the questions. The same is true for the DAA; you may start out just listening, but eventually, you may enjoy contributing more of your own material as you grow in your career. Once you get past a certain point, you’ll likely be working on complex projects that won’t be served by existing resources. There’s not going to be a cookie-cutter way to do things. It’s critical at that point to seek out discussions between colleagues that have a similar level of understanding. You can then develop the next resources for those who stand where you are in the future.

The Law of Reciprocity

There are a lot of people in the analytics community that find ways to reciprocate, mentor, and give back. 

For me, I think of giving back in terms of creating resources where I can. I try to contribute by providing others who are just starting with things that I wish I had known and being around to answer questions.

It’s important for people to have somewhere to go with questions, especially if they’re the only digital analyst in their organization. Responding to questions on Measure Slack from people that are newer and being involved in local Digital Analytics Association events are a few ways I try to facilitate this. I’ve also presented at local meetings in the past as a practitioner.

Professional Constraints 

There are a lot of key people in this field that are very open with their knowledge and expertise. Sometimes when you’re on the agency side, for example, you may be disincentivized from sharing in a lot of detail and not giving away the “secret sauce.”. There will always be people that for personal or professional reasons have to be more closed off. But there’s a counterbalance of people that are in a position to share and offer support. 

Alternatives

If you find yourself on the agency side, you might be professionally constrained from answering questions in detail outside of your formal engagements. For those people who still want to participate more actively in the community with those barriers, there are usually alternatives. For example, presenting at a local chapter meeting on a topic that you know is okay to share. You can anonymize a case study and answer questions where you can. 

There’s also blogging — I don’t have a lot of time right now to maintain my analytics site, but I have documented several things that are things I wish I knew or compiled for others to access more easily. It’s important to be open to working with newer people in your space, even if it’s at your existing job.

Career Takeaway 

If there were a final thought to anyone starting in the analytics field or looking to develop themselves more, it would be: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to ask, even if it seems silly to you or you think you should already know it; there are a lot of things that you can’t take for granted. 

Also, find a way to be a part of the community, either locally or with some of those online resources — ideally both. And then, really own your professional development. Many courses I’ve taken have been on my own time even when my companies didn’t formally sponsor them. Even if your company isn’t explicitly offering something, there are always ways for you to keep educating yourself and growing. 

About Anne Saylor 

Headshot of Anne Saylor

Anne Saylor is an experienced digital analytics architect who has implemented Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics for clients across many verticals. Anne has held positions in hands-on execution of paid media campaigns, analytics reporting, technical analytics, and consulting. She has held roles with the client, agency, and vendor sides of the business over the course of her career. 

Author: Ariana Harris
January 23, 2020

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