Help me get out of temping and into data analysis?
August 22, 2017 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I want to switch careers. But are there really that many jobs in data analysis?

After three years of bouncing between working as a laborer, then an artist's model, and now a temp while I look for work in the museum/heritage world, I'm ready to throw it all in. (The last job I applied to, I was one of over 150 applicants to a relatively small museum in a very small town. Merit doesn't matter at that point; it's basically a lottery.) I love working in conservation and collections care, but three years of barely getting by while constantly job hunting is ruining my mental health, to say nothing of my financials.

My tentative plan right now is to complete the Udacity nanodegree in data analysis. I like Udacity's teaching style, and I really like that I'll finish it with a portfolio. (It's also relatively cheap and I can do it from home, thus my not choosing a bootcamp. Self-motivation and discipline isn't a problem, incidentally.) It looks like they offer employment help too. I really do enjoy data analysis, especially data wrangling so far, and I think I'd be very happy returning to work in tech, as I did before I got my conservation degree.

I'm curious as to what people in the field think of this plan, and if it really will be possible to find a job relatively easily? My wish-list is:

- a middle-class wage. Anything over 30k/year would be great. Anything over 45k/year is...unimaginable to me right now. Like I-would-start-crying amazing. I just want to go grocery shopping without being on the verge of panic, you know? The average salaries I'm finding are more than okay.

- the chance to pick where I get to live! Philadelphia is amazing, but I am ready for a move. I'm seriously looking at NYC and the west coast, especially the Pacific NW. I don't want my employment to control where I move, preferably. (i.e., I decide where I want to move and then find a job there, not the other way around.)

- a steady job. At least a 1-year contract, with benefits. They don't have to be great benefits, but I also haven't been to a dentist in a decade. It's a low bar to clear.

- the potential to work in non-profit. It's where I've worked my entire adult life and HOO BOY do I have problems with how non-profit work culture is, but it's familiar, and I do like doing good in exchange for reduced pay and increased emotional labor. This is pretty far down the list, but it's there.

Especially if you work in the field -- does any of this sound realistic? Is there really a plethora of jobs, as every thinkpiece I've read claims? Needless to say I'm willing to start at the bottom and work up, but is there even a starting point, with what I've written?

(Consider this a very long-term follow-up to this question. Ha. Ha ha. Ha. DON'T DO IT.)
posted by kalimac to Education (9 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am not a data analyst/data scientist but I have worked closely with and helped hire them. While there are a decent number of people with the skill set, a person who can wield that skill set to provide actual insights about a business is (and I expect always will be) very, very in demand. And if you are one of those people, your salary requirements are easily met.

The most common "no-hire" reason (and what I was looking for as a product
manager when helping hire onto the data science field) is the opposite of that: excellent technical skills that can't be used to generate any actual business value. Given your background in what I would describe as fairly empathetic work, you probably have a better chance of not falling into that trap than most. Feel free to MeMail if you want to talk more about the field.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 5:24 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The most common "no-hire" reason (and what I was looking for as a product
manager when helping hire onto the data science field) is the opposite of that: excellent technical skills that can't be used to generate any actual business value.

As a person who started in the data analysis/research analyst side of things, this is absolutely what helped me get out of entry-level jobs and into more senior work over my colleagues. If your goal is working in the non-profit sector, as you go down the road of building a portfolio as part of your Udacity you should try to find publicly available data sets (open data) from non-profit organizations to use as your examples. The more you can show you understand not only how to run a regression, but also how to connect the results to a bigger picture that's important to the field (such as - preparing a formal report, blog post about the results, or data organized into a presentation), the better you will be able to distinguish yourself from others with similar backgrounds.
posted by notorious medium at 5:48 AM on August 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My college recently developed a new data analytics degree program, so it's been talked about a lot lately. Everything I'm hearing and seeing seems to indicate that this is very much a growing field and if you have a portfolio of work, you're already a step ahead of a lot of folks who might be going in for those jobs. So good luck and go for it!

I will say this--a change of scenery can be great, but I've heard from multiple former NYC residents (some of whom had very well paying jobs) that if your goal is to not feel broke all the time, NYC is probably not the place to go. However, fun fact and shameless plug, there are LOADS of data analytics jobs in Pittsburgh... :)
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:05 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How long ago did you work in tech, and what were you doing?

The most common no-hire reason for a data science candidate may be an inability to deliver a useful business product, but you have to have good technical skills to even be a candidate in the first place.

If you want to be a data analyst, this is what I'd suggest. Do the Udacity courses, but spin them as up-skilling or re-skilling your earlier technical career, if at all possible. If that's not possible, spin them as introductory or exploratory and understand that they will signal interest and commitment but not expertise.

At the same time (like starting today), look for jobs at universities with titles like data assistant, data analyst, statistical assistant, programmer-analyst - there are a lot of these at public health and medical schools. For a data assistant level job, you basically only need a college degree + decent references + willingness to do grunt work. Programmer-Analyst will require CS chops. But any job at a university will have benefits and have a pay floor of around $30k. Some of these jobs will pay much more, but they will also be more difficult to get. All university jobs should also come with some modest tuition remission. Use this remission to study statistics. This is the thing that's quite difficult to learn online because statistics isn't a technical skill, it's a knowledge domain in its own right, and very few real world problems are easily handled with a textbook statistical approach.

Understand that in this first job there will be spreadsheets and maybe even some data-entry involved, but this will be only part of the job and only your first job and your goal will be foot-in-the-door + benefits + free training (that is, unless you have some applicable tech skills from earlier in your career).

If you get a uni job, ask to do things that are a stretch, or ask to ride along on things you want to learn, and build experience in this fashion. Hopefully, you'll also gain professional contacts, get marketable credentials (for free), get access to some mentorship, and find your way forward from there. Also, you'll be able to go to the dentist.

Finally, why would you move to the Pac NW or NYC? These places are expensive and have home-grown talent and also attract out-of-town talent. You like Philly. The above plan could work in Philly. Plus you don't have to pay the cost of moving away from Philly. Plus maybe you could do some conservation side-gigs with contacts you already have in Philly.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 7:35 AM on August 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I can't speak to getting a data analyst job (though I'll be watching this space because it's a field I'm interested in too), but I can talk about non profits. I work in a data adjacent position at a non-profit and I'm seeing a very big shift in my field toward data analysis (donor retention, donor upgrades, asking at capacity, etc.) and predictive modeling. My non-profit recently hired a data analyst and the org. is shifting more towards a data driven model. I just got back from my field's annual conference and a lot of my colleagues are echoing this.

And another shameless plug for Pittsburgh where COL is still low and you could live like a king on $45K.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone -- please, keep answers coming, but I wanted to address a few things quickly:

I worked as a programs analyst from about 2006 to 2008. Even at the time we all knew the job title was, uh, not helpful or possibly accurate. Essentially what I did was take research and existing forms and turn them into software. (I wrote formulas to display questions, trigger actions, manipulate data gathered, and create forms for the user. I did all of this in a Perl-based proprietary language. There were some project management components as well, but the bulk of my job was basically building software modules.)

My soft skills and ability to translate data into usable information are excellent, and that's reflected on my resume/will be in my portfolio.

I've been toying with taking stats classes online, and will definitely look more deeply into that. (I don't have unlimited money for education, but I can swing a community college course, or follow everythings_interrelated's path.)

Philly is great for other people, I should clarify. I recognize that it's me, not the city, but I've been back for three years and am about to claw my own face off in a desperate need to just live someplace else. Call it a desperate need for new experiences. Or climates. Or literally anything :)

HI PITTSBURGH *waves to the blue dot on the other side of the state*
posted by kalimac at 8:59 AM on August 22, 2017

Best answer: I'm not a data analyst but I work with them and have helped hire them. You can definitely do this in the non-profit sector, but you'll be looking at large, often institutional non-profits. Because these are the organizations that can hire data analysts. (I'd say look at NPOs with staff sizes of at least 100)

This means your best job markets will be DC, SF, and NYC. All expensive cities, so please do not settle for 45k/year, even at a NPO.

In addition to large institutional NPOs, I'd also look at fundraising firms, unions, and political consulting firms or organizations. All have need for data analysis skills.
posted by lunasol at 9:03 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work for a large-ish data / evaluation team for a large ish nonprofit. We recently hired a couple of entry-level data analysts, which means that I've recently interviewed a number of data analyst candidates and read hundreds of applications. I'll share what we do, but I'm sure other organizations could work quite differently. For what it's worth, we're in NYC and pay mid 50s for a new data analyst.

Although we do not require a masters degree for the job, most data analyst applicants are recent masters graduates (math, statistics, data science, business analytics, economics, public policy) and have at least some significant data analysis experience (job, internship, class project, etc.)

Because our data analyst roles are quite technical and will require the person to write a lot of code, we screen extensively for coding skills/aptitude and a sense of structured / analytical thinking and attention to detail. Being able to confidently communicate with stakeholders about the data is more like a nice add-on, not a must-have. In fact, candidates who come in with the expectation to do interesting data analysis and talk to stakeholders all the time would probably be "flagged" as having unrealistic expectations about what the job entails.

So what could you include in your application to make me call you up? Make sure you have some kind of coding skills. Explain why you're looking for an entry level job despite having graduated college many years ago. Research our organization and demonstrate that you understand what we're doing and what our mission is (and describe in your cover letter how it resonates with you personally - don't just copy the language from our website). Then, tell me about some interesting data analysis that you did on a topic that meaningfully relates to what we do.

The last part is crucial because otherwise I wouldn't pick your application over those of everyone else with more degrees and more relevant experience. Telling me about some interesting data analysis will make me so curious that I cannot resist reaching out!

Finally, some organizations will have data assistant / coordinator type jobs that involve a significant chunk of data entry. They'll pay less, but probably still above your floor. Anything with data entry would likely attract many fewer applicants with master degrees. This type of job may or may not make you more competitive for an actual data analysis job. If you work with data analysis folks from whom you would build some data skills, it would. If you're hired as the "data person" on a non data team to manage their crazy spreadsheets, it would not.
posted by yonglin at 9:48 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If we're ever in the same city, drinks are on me. I'm serious, this is all amazing support and advice, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I have a much clearer idea of what I need to work on (my learning Python right now isn't in vain!) and this all feels actually achievable and possible.

Many thanks especially for advice on staying working in the non-profit sector. And the reminder that Pittsburgh is actually a pretty cool city.

(I'm marking the question resolved because otherwise I'll forget about it, but if you're coming across this, future MeFite, I'll be checking back periodically to see any updates. The more information I have, always the better.)
posted by kalimac at 4:48 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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