September 25, 2015

Can start-ups, students & innovators challenge you?

By Paul Laughlin

@ScotDataSciTech Last night, I was presenting to over 40 tech start-ups, data science students and innovative data leaders within corporates. Hosted by MBN Recruitment & Edinburgh’s Data Lab (which builds bridges between academia & industry in this field), it was a great evening.

Held at the TechCube Incubator, the whole experience felt very start-up culture from the beginning. A problem with one power source meant I had to speak with a power cable hanging from the ceiling (you might just see it in the photo). Amazingly, for me, I managed to not trip over this all evening!

It was even more challenging as a speaker because, in true start-up style, we all had plenty of beer & pizza before my presentation. A fun, relaxed culture here.

The subject I was sharing on was “The Softer Skills that Data Professionals need to make an Impact“. This compliments the more widely available technical training for data specialists, analysts & researchers with an overview of the other skills needed to drive action as a result of insight. The presentation is a summary of some of the key points from Laughlin Consultancy’s most popular training course and I’ve shared the slides on SlideShare for those who are interested:

As with most effective events, there was plenty of time for Q&A, plus longer conversations over more beers later. During the Q&A two themes emerged in the questions, especially from students and those nearer the start of their data science careers.

The first was concern as to which degree to study & the prospects for Data Science graduates. It is interesting how Data Science courses have taken off, especially within Computer Science faculties. Whilst not wanting to be a damp squib, I did feel the need to moderate some of hype surrounding the real demand for true data scientists. Although a number of tech & innovative companies really do need these roles & advanced data programming + machine learning skills, I shared the reality that most businesses actually need broader analyst roles. My experience is Economics degrees & those teaching broader analytical & critical thinking skills are at least as valuable as Maths/Stats/OR/Data Science.

The second line of questioning also interested me, it was how to handle the situations when no-one in the business is interested or you are ignored as too junior. Part of the answer I gave here is to emphasise some of the material in this presentation. My own experience is that often, when analysis is not being heard & acted upon,the problem lies in either how it was presented (be more visual & tell a compelling concise story) or lack of stakeholder management (secure buy-in and sign-off to join forces to drive action).

If no-one is listening to your #analysis, how did you tell your #story? Be more visual, concise & emotional + actively manage your #stakeholders. Click To Tweet

With regards to the second part of that question, I was reminded of the power of being new to a role or business. Too often we feel the responsibility to appear knowledgeable too soon & miss out on the power of “playing the new boy/girl card“. I encouraged them to take advantaged of this and ask apparently naive questions, as these can have a way of revealing the “Emperor has no clothes” if done well. Don’t be afraid to ask why, with the charm of apparent innocence.

I hope that helps & encourage others with experience in analytics, customer insight & data science to get involved with such events. There is a growing tech start-up culture emerging in this field in the UK and such events help keep the conversations & innovations flowing between academics & business.

Now where’s the rest of that pizza…