Have you ever thought, at the end of a busy day, that you didn’t do any work? You had a full day, and the evening came in a flash, but when you turned off your laptop, you had this sinking feeling that you hadn’t had a chance to do any work at all?

This happened to me and reflecting on my day later, I realised that it was a productive day after all. The only thing I felt was off, was that I hadn’t analysed any data.

Data Science and Data Analytics are highly technical career paths. This means our work should be technical, right? We should be analysing data, creating impactful dashboards, building predictive models, classifying customers, etc…

Yet, here you are, advising stakeholders on the best approach, thinking about the business’s objectives, looking for ways to increase the team’s impact and performance, supporting others in their development… Thinking you will never have time to do this analysis that’s on your to-do list.

You have mixed feelings: excitement, frustration, and a bit of concern!

You may have started your career in data by being hands on, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Some will be highly technical, and progress in that direction, others will choose a different path.

If your role has shifted away from doing, chances are that something else has caught your attention. Embrace it!

Gaining clarity on your newly found path

In the episode 757 of How to Be Awesome at Your Job: How to Find the Career You Love, Marcus Buckingham, author of Nine lies about work, and Stand out, suggests that you should see that the world is trying to show you many different things and that your response should be to ask yourself which of these are things that you love, that energise you? According to him, the way to answer this question is to identify what you find yourself instinctively drawn to, that others are not necessarily paying attention to. He calls these “the red threads of your world’s fabric”.

For example, growing up, I was always attracted by teaching. I would round up my sisters and cousins during school holidays and help them with their homework. I would also jump at the chance to share knowledge, sometimes unsolicited.

I’ll leave you to imagine the “Who asked you?” moments I used to get.

Later, when wanting to make a bit of pocket money, I would tutor. When I wanted to give back to the community, I would tutor. Today, I recognise learning and development as one of my strongest values. My red thread is supporting others in their development.

What is your red thread?

Once you have identified your red thread, you can see how it relates to the recent shift of focus in your role. For a couple of weeks, track what you spend your time on. Label each task and look at what % of your time is spent in each category. Where does your red thread stand? You can then take this to your manager and discuss how your role has evolved, what you would like it to look like, and what this means for your career.

The fear of letting go

As you move away from a hands-on, technical role, it’s likely that you will experience some fear or concern.

What if it’s a mistake?

Technology moves so fast, if you were to change your mind, would you be able to use the new tools, understand the newest programming language, be able to find a job?

Yes, you will!

A Carnegie Foundation report states that only 15% of a person’s job success is attributed to their technical knowledge. The other 85% is a product of interpersonal skills, including leadership. So, it’s safe to assume that you will be ok.

Just like you did in the past, you will be able to learn a new programming language or a new technology. On top of that, the non-technical skills you will have acquired will make you even more valuable. To make things easier for you, you could try to incorporate some high-level technical training to your learning and development. This way, you stay relatively up to date with the latest development, and if the path you chose is that of a people manager, you will perform better as you will understand the challenges faced by your team.

As Caroline Pankhurst, funder of Be Braver, says:
We often will fear what is uncertain and unfamiliar, but it is where all our growth happens. Personally and professionally. There is a certainty that comes with having the technical know-how. Leadership moves you into the spaces of questions, uncertainty, and not knowing. To a place where the application of what you have learned is to ask the right questions instead of providing the answers. The shift that happens with leadership is your role is to allow the technical expertise that you grafted at learning, to shine in others. It allows you to practice generosity and build trust. To embrace the not knowing as an opportunity to allow others to step up and share their knowledge.

We often will fear what is uncertain and unfamiliar, but it is where all our growth happens.

What do you say? Are you ready to take a leap?

Written by : Karen Jean-Francois

As an Analytics Manager, Karen is passionate about helping data analytics professionals ace their career. Her work in this space led to an industry award as a Twenty in Data and Technology in 2020.

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