Self-Promoters Score! Why Analysts Can’t be Shy Anymore

October 6, 2011
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It’s 2011. Analytics is hot! Does that mean we analysts are hot, too? Well, no.

 

“Hot” isn’t a term commonly associated with data analysis professionals. Data miners don’t appear on the cover of People Magazine. Fairy tales never end with the virtuous maiden marrying a handsome statistician. There are no analytics groupies.

 

When I tell people I’m in text analytics, everybody says, “Wow, that’s interesting!” Nobody says, “Wow, that’s hot!”

 

It’s 2011. Analytics is hot! Does that mean we analysts are hot, too? Well, no.

 

“Hot” isn’t a term commonly associated with data analysis professionals. Data miners don’t appear on the cover of People Magazine. Fairy tales never end with the virtuous maiden marrying a handsome statistician. There are no analytics groupies.

 

When I tell people I’m in text analytics, everybody says, “Wow, that’s interesting!” Nobody says, “Wow, that’s hot!”

 

Perhaps the New York Times rocked your world on August 6, 2009 when The News That’s Fit to Print included this: “I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.” That unlikely remark appeared in a piece titled “For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics,” an allusion to the moment in the 1967 film “The Graduate” where a middle-aged man offers the new graduate just one word of advice: “Plastics.”

 

Plastics was a good field to choose in 1967. Demand was taking off, expertise needed, jobs were steady and paid well. That situation continued for decades. Even now, a search on Monster.com for the term “plastics” returns 1000+ listings. How about “statistician,” the next decade’s sexy job? 146.

 

That doesn’t mean much – truly sexy jobs aren’t the ones found in online listings. They’re the jobs you dream that you (or perhaps your fantasy lover) will have. The CEO of a company that just went public has a sexy job. A race car driver has a sexy job. Rock stars have very sexy jobs. If there’s a reality show where thousands of people apply to be publicly humiliated while competing for a job, that’s one sexy job. Think celebrity chef, haute couture designer or supermodel. Tell me this: would anybody watch The Analytics Apprentice?

 

We’re not sexy. (I’m speaking of the professional sense of the term.  No doubt all my readers are, in the literal sense, very sexy.)

 

We who choose data analysis as a profession are not highly motivated by the promise of fame and fortune. We prefer certainty. Steady work for good compensation appeals to us more than the glimmer of a chance to become a filthy-rich celebrity. Yet there is one element of the sexy job that we all want, and want it very badly. We want the ability to control our own careers and lives. 

 

So I ask you – is the data analyst of 2011 in control of his or her own career?

 

A professional is in control when she is in demand and has a choice of positions, a choice of projects, and chooses the ones that best suit her career plans. If ever she hits a rough spot, when the right work isn’t available, or no work is available, she has the financial means to weather the storm, and meaningful ways to build her own value until the moment is right for her next move. And she doesn’t find herself in that situation often. She’s never desperate for a job or a client. That description does not sound like many analysts I know (and I know quite a few analysts.)

 

How is it that some people have so much control, while most of us have so little? We all know that the most successful people in analytics may or may not have raw talent, excellent education or great work ethics. The most successful people in analytics are something that most analysts don’t want to be – self promoters.

 

In case your inner censor blocked that message, I’ll say it another way. The most successful analysts are S-E-L-F  P-R-O-M-O-T-E-R-S.

 

Marketers are fond of a metric called the Net Promoter Score, a measure of the degree to which people would recommend your company or brand. While I do not suggest creating a formal metric for the reputation of an analyst, I do think we should each run with that idea and ask ourselves a few hard questions. For example,

 

How many people have any idea what I do for a living?

What do people who work outside my current company know about me?

Who is aware of my successes?

 

Go ahead, think over the answers. Nobody’s watching. Now, imagine you’re Lady Gaga and answer those questions again (If you prefer, be Bruce Springsteen, Justin Bieber, Yo-Yo Ma, it doesn’t matter). Very different answers, right? That’s why she’s in control, and we’re not.

 

Hiring in the 21st century is a keyword-driven, impersonal buyer’s game. You may not require the fame of a pop star, but you don’t want to be just another online application, either. The analyst with the most control (indeed any control at all) over her own destiny in the next decade will be the one who becomes a name brand.

 

Wait a minute! What about the shortages of analytics talent? What about rising demand for “data scientists?”

 

You tell me – is anybody banging down doors to hire you?  Have you had calls from recruiters who then rejected you for lack of a few keywords in a job description that obviously fit you? Have you read job descriptions for “analytics” positions that were obviously written by someone who knew absolutely nothing about analytics? Have you – heaven forbid – declined to apply for a job you wanted because you lacked a just a couple of the requirements? Mark my words: employers will not be seeking you out at your desk, wooing you with attractive offers. Not this year, not in your lifetime.

 

Fellow analysts, we can’t afford to be shy anymore.

 

I know it doesn’t come naturally to us. I know it forces us to exercise some of our weakest skills. I know that many of you find it downright, well, wrong. It’s downwrong! But any analyst who wants to have some control, some career choice in the years to come must find a way to become known and desired for his or her personal gifts and accomplishments.

 

I’ll say it once again: we can’t afford to be shy anymore.

 

This post is one of many that bloggers will share today as part of the very first Analytics Blogarama. Our theme for October 6, 2011 is The Emerging Role of the Analyst. Find links to more articles on the Analytics Blogarama navigation page.

©2011 Meta S. Brown