How Data School Australia is balancing technical and soft skills development

Founder explains how it's a combination of data analytics expertise, business smarts and software employee engagement that lies at the heart of good modern data science


A true data professional is often described as someone who can balance technical competency with business know-how and the softer skills or being able to listen and communicate effectively.

It’s a rare requirement, but one the UK-based Data School is striving to instil in its graduates, including the first cohort who were recently welcomed into Data School Australia.

Founder, Tom Brown, told CMO Data School was created as an initiative of the data specialist company, MIP, in response to a huge data skills shortage, particularly with the software products, Tableau and Alteryx.

To date, it has graduated eight cohorts of students in the UK, with two more progressing through the program, and an 11th group currently being recruited. With more than 100 applications for every available place, Brown said Data School is highly selective in terms of who it brings on board.

“It doesn’t just find the typical people you might expect on a graduate training program,” he said. “We are looking for people who are passionately interested in working with data.”

One of the requirements for admission is for would-be students to submit an example of something they have worked on in the data space that interested them, presented in Tableau.

“That tends to filter out a bunch of people who think they can just send us their CV,” Brown said.

Many of the accepted candidates come from maths and science backgrounds, with a surprisingly high representation of chemistry graduates. Many have completed a Masters degree or some other form of postgraduate education, and most have accumulated at least a few years of work experience.

“That tends to give us people who have already got a few of the softer skills that we are turning to enhance, so they are not frightened by the workplace,” Brown said. This is particularly useful given students are set real-world challenges to work on.

“Client bring in the data, set us a challenge, and we spend the week working on it and then play it back to them,” he said. “There have been some late nights and stressful nights. They have to work in a team with all eight of them. And somehow they pull it together every week.”

Finding the right mix of skills

Some of the most critical attributes of a good data professional, however, are ones Brown said are the most difficult to test for – adaptability and flexibility.

“It is something we have found, but not by looking for it,” Brown said. "My favourite way of interviewing people is to ask them what other things they are good at, such as are they good at tennis, or a chess champion. And I am hoping those things are more difficult than the thing we are trying to teach them.”

It’s not surprising then that one of Data Schools graduates was a Hungarian chess and pool champion.

“To become a national chess champion requires a great deal of problem solving, and an understanding that failure is a good way of learning,” Brown said. “They are really learning how to learn something. If you are in the technology world and you aren’t really adopt at learning new technology then you won’t be in the technology world for very long. A couple of years is perhaps the best you can hope for.”

Related: Why marketing analytics is not about ROI calculation, but innovation

Related: How this digital and analytics leader is striving for connected customer experiences

While the ability to learn is a key requirement for students, Brown is not satisfied with Data School just reaching the students it works with directly. Hence he is also keen to see his graduates master the softer skill of being able to take their knowledge and train others within the organisations where they find work.

“Part of the soft skill is about becoming a champion and evangelist for these products, and going out and training others by running interest groups and doing things, even on the weekend, to support others who might want to get into this,” he said.

For example, it was a Data School graduate that set up the Data Plus Women initiative in the UK, which now has 1000 members globally who are supporting women in learning data skills and getting into a career.

The ability to teach is also reflected in the tasks that many graduates are set to once they leave the Data School. In the case of client, Jaguar Land Rover, Brown said it had a desire to create a team of 40 data professionals, but could not find anyone who could create it. The carmaker took four Data School graduates and set them on to the task.

“Within six months our four guys trained their 40,” Brown says. “And we left them with a strong analytics team that now provide services across the whole business.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu 

 

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

5 cornerstones of a strong digital culture

Creating a strong company culture may sound like a daunting task, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. In fact, company culture is created in exactly the same fashion as a religion or democracy. Behaviours created from the organisation’s inception are reinforced over time by leadership, attracting like-minded people and eventually reaching critical mass to become an accepted ‘truth’.

Anthony Stevens

Founder and CEO, Digital Asset Ventures

Should you rebuild your company’s tech stack in blockchain?

The question I get asked most regularly these days is: ‘Do I need to rebuild my company’s systems on Blockchain?’ And the answer, every time, is ‘No, you’re asking the wrong question’.

Michelle O'Keeffe

CEO, Engaging.io

Customer value proposition: Getting the brand promise to your customers right

Throughout my career, I have witnessed a litany of brand names that profess to have a unique customer value proposition (CVP). In reality, however, they’ve had little more than a ‘value proposition’: A simple list of benefits applied to a general audience.

Ric Navarro

Global director of marketing and communications, Norman, Disney & Young

RE: Sales and marketing SLAs, often the choke point isn't the teams but them getting the data into the tools they want to use with the da...

Ed Fry

Why sales and marketing alignment is more important than ever

Read more

Thank you for the good and very helpful information. It is very interesting. I love all the things you share and see your beautiful creat...

รัตนาวดี ภูมิวรรณ

Former eHarmony marketing chief joins telco startup

Read more

Colin Kaepernick, not Mike Kapernick.

thisisw

Zenith's innovation leader: Mid-digital age not benefitting media, brands or consumers

Read more

AGA KHAN HOSPITAL is in need of kidney donors for the sum of 2 crore, Contact us today if you want to sell your kidney for money, and thi...

Sebastian Friedrich

Mindshare gets behind blockchain advertising alliance

Read more

WelcomeThe world 's coolest Mercedes companyI am a personal addict on this carBut poverty does not allow me to watch on YouTube for us po...

amer hassan

ASX-listed GrowthOps appoints inaugural CMO

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in