What skills should I learn? (and where to focus)

Knowing what to learn to improve your earnings as a data professional is not easy.

Here is how to focus on what matters, including 7 specific questions to work through to get you started on the right track.

So your situation maybe like this:

  • You are doing great at work.
  • Learning the tech you find easy.
  • There is an opportunity (desire) to learn more to enhance your CV.
  • You are stuck.
  • There are so many options the choice almost impossible.
  • You want to decide but you’re not sure what to do for the best.

More tech skills?

It is possible your head says more tech skills.

After all:

  • These would compliment what you currently know.
  • Tech courses are easy to access.
  • There is lots of material online.
  • You know you’ll succeed.
  • New tech is interesting.
  • And, developing your tech skills has got you this far after all.

Unfortunately choosing what tech to learn can be tricky.

There are so many opinions and options.

The tech world is also rapidly changing with things quickly going in and out of fashion.

To make matters (even) harder, the choice can be compromised (or confused) by your current company needs (i.e. what is the point in learning a new BI visualisation tool if you can never use that at work?)

You really don’t want to waste time learning something of no relevance. After all, how will that help you become more valuable to your employer?

So you want to make sure the time you spend is going to be worthwhile.

Where to focus?

What if I knew exactly where to focus?

What difference would it make if you could learn something that would not go out of date as soon as you’d learnt it?

How about learning something that would exponentially enhance your earning potential – now and for the rest of your career?

Whilst more tech skills are certainly a valid option, what I find many people overlook are the things that really make projects successful.

Spoiler: It is about people not tech.

I’m going to suggest that you consider that to increase your future earning value you invest in your ability positively succeed with people.

Specifically, understanding people.

As data professionals we are in the service industry.

Our customers are our senior leadership teams, clients, colleagues and (many) other (often) less-technically comfortable users of our work.

To maximise the value we can offer them, we need to work to better understand them, their challenges and their frustrations.

7 question thought experiment.

Start by putting yourselves in the shoes of your customer: your senior leadership team.

Then try this thought experiment:

  1. What does it take for your organisation to be successful?
  2. Describe their challenges right now (and how well defined are they)?
  3. What is in their control to change (and what is not)?
  4. Identify 5 critical decisions are the leadership making?
  5. What information do they rely on (and how can you get this faster)?
  6. Is there any missing data that would really make a difference (and what is it?)?
  7. What experimental/innovation/research project could you suggest to get them these answers? (“data science-eque”)

Write out the answers and put them to your team.

Explain that you are looking at ways to develop your skills. To increase your contribution.

Rather than just learning another technical tool you’re first looking to understand the real needs of the business.

You’ve decided to first seek to understand what is going on. Then to develop ideas that could solve the issues and add value to the business.

Your personal aim to become better at working to understand and define solutions that solve peoples problems.

The reaction you get from your team will tell you how successfully you’ve done this.

Your team may even ask you to put some of these ideas into practise, so you will get the tech boost too, but the primary goal is to start to level up your ability to determine the right things to be working on – just like those well paid senior leaders in your team.

Data is about service. You’re in the service industry.

To succeed in the service industry you need to really really understand your customers.

That is what these 7 questions will help you to start to do. They put you in your customers shoes and guide you from understanding through to logical conclusions of what will improve the situation.

The big transition from a relatively junior role to a senior role doesn’t revolve around your technical ability alone.

It is your ability to understand business situations and translate them into meaningful, high value, projects that will become increasingly critical to your career success.

Start with this exercise and you’re taking the first step in a really valuable personal development direction.