While data science and data analytics are becoming more popular career choices – Datatech saw an increase of 35% in roles in H1 2021 vs H1 2019 – roles are still undefined and job titles are often used as eye candy to attract top talent. For example, in a blog post on their career website, Monzo tested changing job titles from Data Analyst to Data Scientist with the identical job description* resulted in almost twice as many applications for the Data Scientist title.
A data scientist in company A can have a drastically different role than that of a data scientist in company B. Moreover, the changes that the field has seen in the last 10 years mean that leaders often have had a career journey that is very different than that of their team members. Some of them don’t even come from a technical background.
There is surely more to the story, but all of this creates some confusion as to what it means to be a data analyst or a data scientist, and more importantly what our careers should look like. In fact, a survey ran in collaboration with Women in Data found that 70% of professionals in the field felt they were struggling with a lack of career definition.
So, if you feel unsure of what the future looks like for you, of where you should be, or if you are feeling stuck rest assured that you are not alone. While it all sounds daunting, there is a great opportunity hidden in what was just described. The fact that roles and career paths are not well-defined means that it is not one-size-fits-all, and is an opportunity for you to be in the driver’s seat and make your career what you want it to be. This article will hopefully provide you with some tips and guidance to get you started.
Careers in data are not one-size-fits-all. There is an opportunity for you to be in the driver’s seat and make your career what you want it to be.
Defining your own path
Let’s get started!
While you will find later some practical tips, this part is about self-reflection. Defining your own path will require you to sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself.
A couple of questions to get you started:
- How are you feeling about your career right now? (Feeling like you don’t belong? Feeling like you are not progressing as fast as you would like to? Feeling unsure of your next step?)
- Why are you having this self-reflection? (Are you considering changing job? Thinking of changing career? Are you tired of being passed for promotion? Do you have big ambitions but don’t know how to get there?)
- What are you trying to achieve?
That last question is a big one, and depending on your answer you might want to explore a few other things before continuing. For example, if you have a case of impostor syndrome and are trying to overcome that, you might want to focus on that first.
Next, you will want to reflect on your career. There are 3 key questions that you will want to dig into:
- Where you are at today?
- Where would you like to be in the next x years and why? I am deliberately not giving you a precise timeline because we are all different and want to progress at our own pace.
- What’s stopping you from getting there?
Let’s have a closer look at these.
When considering where you are at today, think about:
- Your role and responsibilities
- What is it that you do at work?
- What is your current salary? Is it aligned with the market?
- What do you do well?
- What do you enjoy doing, what do you dislike?
– yes, we all have part of the job we don’t like.
- Your values and motivators
- What gets you out of bed?
- What do you stand for in life?
– This might sound irrelevant, but I can tell you from experience that it’s not.
It can even be a game-changer.
With the pace at which the field moves, it’s easy to focus on our areas of development. Don’t forget to play by your strengths!
Craft your path
As mentioned earlier, roles are still undefined and that means you can make your own. It’s time for you to think about where you would like to be:
- What role and responsibilities would you like to have and why?
- What salary will be fair?
- What do you want your day-to-day to look like?
- What type of companies do you want to work with?
Knowing where you want to be is one thing, knowing how to get there is another. One step that will get you closer to achieving your goal is to know your blockers and how to overcome them.
- What skills do you need to master that you don’t have today?
- Are limiting beliefs or fear getting in the way?
- Are you in the wrong place?
- Do you not have visibility on how to achieve this?
- Are decision-makers not aware of your potential?
- Is your network too limited?
- Do you feel like an impostor?
– Yes, that again!
Studies show that 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at least once in their life.
I felt that way myself, so that’s why I’m putting it here.
Tips and tools to overcome blockers
Your blockers will vary based on your situation, but some are quite common. Here are some tips to overcome them.
You are unsure of what roles are available to you
This might feel like an impossible barrier to overcome. Especially if you are new to the field, but trust me, it’s easier than it sounds.
If you feel comfortable reaching out to people, you can try to have some curious career conversations. Find people with roles that look interesting and ask them about it and about their journey.
If you feel shy, you could do the same with job descriptions. Read as many as you can and write down what you find interesting. You could also listen to podcasts focusing on careers in data science and/or analytics.
A resource I find particularly useful for that is episode 170 of the Squiggly Career Podcast.
Your network is limited
Networking would require an article on its own. But for now, how about refreshing your LinkedIn and going to meet-ups or conferences?
If networking overwhelms you, remember that it doesn’t mean that you must talk with 20 people at once. You can start with one person, follow up with a coffee chat and repeat with someone else later.
When I started networking, the idea of speaking with people I didn’t know terrified me, but I was well aware of how that was limiting my career progression. So, I decided to be brave, go to 1 event a month, arrive early, and speak with the first person that looked friendly. 6 years later, I am still in contact with the first person I approached, and I now feel like my network is strong. Friends and colleagues with whom I shared this tip were able to appreciate networking events too. According to them, the first few times felt awkward and took a bit of bravery, but as with everything else in life, it takes practice.
To start crafting your own path, you will need to:
- reflect on your current situation
- figure out your ideal role and what your blockers are
- once this is all clear, you can then start moving towards your goal.
I hope that by now you are feeling better equipped to own your career.
Until next time…