Your Adventure in Data Analytics: Find Your Yoda, You Must

How to Unlock the Power of Mentorship in the World of Data

Your Adventure in Data Analytics: Find Your Yoda, You Must

Look, let's get real. In most organizations, jumping into data analytics is like stepping into a maze. And not just any maze, but one that's forever changing, with walls sliding around and new pathways appearing just when you think you've got it all figured out.

Even if you have all the technical skills in your toolbox you will need to succeed as a data analyst, it’s pretty impossible to have a meaningful impact if you don’t even know where to apply them to.

While data cataloging and data discovery have been all the rage in recent years, the vast majority of companies out there have not rolled out any of these solutions comprehensively.

Good news for the Atlans and Collibras of this world.

Bad news for you (and us) in performing a stellar analytical job right out of the gate.

However, even if your company had gone the extra mile and carefully documented its analytical landscape, there would still be countless pitfalls you can only grasp if you’ve been around long enough - or if you get a helping hand at times.

Yeah, hats off to you if you think you can brave this labyrinth on your own.

But remember, even Harry Potter had Dumbledore. Having a seasoned mentor in your corner is like having a GPS for this bewildering terrain. They can highlight what's worth your attention, break down abstract jargon into English, and share the trade secrets that you won't find in any textbook.

In-house mentors come with their own set of benefits. They can guide you through the unique challenges and politics of your specific workplace. Quite simply, they can help you make sense of why things are the way they are.

Plus, they can offer real-time feedback and strategies tailored to your immediate work environment. Their advice isn't just generic; it's laser-focused on helping you excel right where you are.

Finding Your In-House Yoda: Unlock the Wisdom Right Where You Are

Of course, the elephant in the room is: How on earth do you find a good mentor?

If you’re lucky then your company might have a specific talent development program matching senior folks with junior roles.

What if you’re not so lucky? What if there is no one assigning you to a senior?

How to Get Started

Here’s what we’d do:

  1. Identify senior team members or managers who have a track record of mentorship or have expertise in areas you want to grow.
  2. Approach them with a well-thought-out "elevator pitch" explaining why you would value their mentorship, then ask if they would be open to a mentoring relationship.

You don’t need to launch a full-scale, corporate-wide search for your mentor. Sometimes, the wisdom you seek is right under your nose—or just a few cubicles away (yes, cubicles are still a thing in corporate America).

Your company is a microcosm of talents and experiences. There might be someone in your team, or even in a different department, who's walked the path you're just beginning to tread.

“Are you out of your mind? If I was comfortable approaching people I would have started my career in sales and not in data.”, you might object.

Well, it’s time to go outside your comfort zone. But we’ve got you covered. Here’s a step-by-step approach that should get you started:

  1. If your company has an internal network or a "people directory," use it to research potential mentors. (side note: if there is none, volunteer to create one at least for your team or department - they will be grateful for your initiative as explained here)
  2. Use company meetings or team-building events as opportunities to network and identify potential mentors.
  3. Consider setting up "informational interviews" with potential mentors to gauge the fit before formally asking them to mentor you.
  4. Generally, try to deliver great work and remain extremely receptive to feedback (you might want to ask)

This will undoubtedly set you up for finding a mentor because others will recognize your initiative and simply self-select.

Real Talk From Real Experience

Having a mentor does not help if you don’t have some type of face time with each other.

Because you can cram your brain with theories and equations, but that won't teach you how the real world ticks. And that's precisely where your mentor should come in.

They've fought the battles, cracked the codes, and got the T-shirt for the “employee of the month”. Their life lessons – if only those relevant to your current role – make your textbook theories spring to life, making your learning not just rich but real.

How to Get Started

  1. Schedule regular catch-ups with your mentor to discuss what you've learned and where you're getting stuck. Bi-weekly
  2. Ask your mentor if they can provide real-world examples or case studies to supplement your observations or studies (you do take time to level up, don’t you? If not, please bookmark our take on the seven essential skills any data analyst must have.

Your Anchor in the Stormy Seas of Data Analytics

The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. Sooner or later you will have that experience first-hand. Things might not turn out the way you anticipated. What worked five times in the previous month might backfire seemingly out of the blue.

Don’t get frustrated if you feel you are running into some major roadblocks. Turn to you – you guessed it – mentor.

Your mentor has already weathered these storms if they are from the same field. They can offer you their wisdom like a life jacket, turning your challenges into "aha" moments, and helping you steer clear of similar challenges ahead.

How to Get Started

  1. When you hit a stumbling block, don't spin your wheels. Reach out to your mentor for troubleshooting tips.
  2. Encourage feedback sessions post-projects to evaluate what went well and what could be improved.
  3. In your regular 1:1s, make it a habit to bring up challenges you encountered and seek their advice.

Feedback That Hits Different

Sometimes things run smoothly. You feel like you have figured things out. The only question is not if but when to be promoted.

So you thought… but would life be boring without surprises?

Let's face it: not all advice is good advice. But a mentor isn't just another backseat driver. They've put in the time to get to know your strengths and weaknesses. When they give you advice, it's like having a personal trainer, but for your career.

At times, their advice might not immediately feel pleasant. But it usually comes from a good place.

How to Get Started

  1. Develop a set of questions to help guide feedback sessions with your mentor.
  2. Practice active listening during these sessions to make the most of your mentor's advice.

More Than Just Numbers

We mentioned that mentors can help you make sense of how things play out in your organization. Hey, being a data wizard is cool, but you also need to play well with others. This is a team game, and your mentor knows it.

They can coach you on how to read the room, deal with Steve from accounting, and even give you tips on how to keep your work-life game strong.

How to Get Started

  1. Request that your mentor share tips about organizational culture and soft skills like negotiation and communication.
  2. Actively engage in team projects or initiatives to test these soft skills, keeping your mentor updated on your progress.

The Unexpected Gold Nuggets

Think all mentors are cut from the same cloth? Think again. Sometimes the most groundbreaking advice comes from someone in a completely different field.

Yes, that’s right. While pretty helpful, your mentor does not have to have a background in analytics. And if they do have such a background, you can still create a win-win relationship even if that person is not part of your company.

Because you know what: They can offer you fresh perspectives that your typical data buddies might not even see coming.

How to Get Started

  1. Attend cross-disciplinary meetups or webinars to meet potential mentors outside your primary field.
  2. Engage with interesting profiles on LinkedIn if you feel comfortable doing so.
  3. Periodically seek advice from these "out-of-box" mentors to keep your perspective fresh and versatile (but make sure you don’t become a burden either).

It's a Two-Way Street!

When you learn something new, see if it prompts questions or insights for your mentor as well.

Mentoring isn't just a one-sided deal. You're not just taking; you're also giving back.

Your fresh, rookie perspective can help your mentor see the field in a new light, keeping both of you on your toes. Hence, keep your mentor in the loop about your own discoveries and insights to keep the relationship mutually beneficial.

Conclusion: Your Network is Your Net Worth

What a journey we've been on, all to underscore the essential message: going without a mentor is a missed opportunity you can't afford.

Data analytics can be a complex and ever-changing field. Even with technical skills, it's crucial to know where and how to apply them in your organization for meaningful impact.

Like all other career starters, data analysts benefit greatly from having an experienced mentor. They provide real-time feedback and practical advice that's specific to your work environment.

How to find a mentor? Take the initiative to identify potential mentors within the organization if there is no fixed program in your company. Use internal directories, company meetings, and team-building events to network and find someone who can guide you.

When faced with hurdles, instead of getting frustrated, consult your mentor. Their experience in facing similar challenges can offer you invaluable insights and practical solutions.

A mentor’s feedback is tailored to your specific strengths and weaknesses. It can serve as a career-enhancing tool, helping you improve consistently. So welcome it and embrace it!

Finally, remember that the relationship can and should be two-sided. Your fresh perspective can also offer valuable insights to your mentor, making the relationship mutually beneficial.

There you have it. Finding and working with a mentor 101.

Now, go out and get one!

Julian Schulte
Julian Schulte

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