Accelerating my career in data science through the JADE ProgramData Intelligence · Sep 26, 2019
Data – apart from the sun’s gravity, it’s what makes the modern world go round. Now more than ever, it’s clear that data is the fuel powering successful businesses, products, and even political campaigns around the globe. Accordingly, the hype around data-related industries has reached record highs. Data science was crowned the sexiest job of the 21st century back in 2012, and speculation around shifting labour demands at the hands of automation has created a heavily saturated and highly competitive job market in tech.
As someone just at the beginning of his career in data science, I must admit that all this hype is actually much more stress-inducing than exciting. And it’s why I’m incredibly happy to reflect upon and share my recent experiences as a digital insights analyst fresh out of TELUS Digital’s JADE program. JADE stands for Junior Analytics Development Experience, which is exactly what I received over an intense month of training this past May. Between invaluable mentorship from industry experts and hands-on experience, I’ve gained an extremely solid foundation to build my career upon.
The path to JADE
I like to think my path towards data science prior to JADE is fairly unique. On paper (or more specifically, my diploma) I have a university education in the creative industries, with specializations in media business and film studies. Motivated by the aforementioned hype, the entirety of my skills in data analytics is self-taught. While completing my undergrad, I spent many exciting nights and weekends at home or in the library, grinding through pet projects to improve my Python, SQL and math skills. Over time, data science became less about making a wise career move and developed into a passion for building solutions, optimizing decision making and searching for little nuggets of empirical truth in a messy world.
Upon graduation in 2017, all that hard work managed to land me a role as a data entry clerk at a small eCommerce business. After automating my own job away with a couple of quick Python scripts and about a year of “sponsored study time,” I decided to enrol into SharpestMinds, a data science mentorship program based in Toronto. It was there I had the good fortune of connecting with a TELUS Digital team member, who was volunteering as a mentor. He introduced me to the JADE program and explained how it was designed to cultivate junior web analytics talent from the ground up. Feeling like a rather formless mound of data science potential, the idea of analyzing web traffic for a major telecom company sounded like an opportunity to work with a ton of data. An application and a few interviews later, I received an offer to join the JADE program at TELUS Digital!
Limitless learning and questions in JADE
While I had a decent grasp on data analysis, no amount of practice on the Titanic dataset could have ever prepared me for the iceberg of concepts that comprise web analytics. First off, TELUS Digital relies heavily on the Adobe Experience Cloud to collect, analyze and build marketing segments off of the traffic on telus.com. And I thought Adobe just made Photoshop and a nifty PDF reader.
Second, to understand how to use these tools I would first need to learn the foundational theory of web analytics – how the internet works, how web browsers work, and how websites set up rules to capture useful information about their visitors. Once I got all that down, I needed to learn the TELUS website inside out and the metrics that were most significant. It’s a lot to absorb, but thankfully, expectations were realistic. As one mentor put it: “we only expect you to remember half of this, but know enough to start asking smart questions.” That’s a pretty reassuring thing to hear when you start a new job.
The JADE program took place over the course of May, divided into weeks of training on specific topics and tools. I was completing the training alongside three other new JADE hires – each more friendly and spunky than the last. Our days were split between mornings spent shadowing our personal buddies and learning about the teams we were joining, then convening in the afternoons for group training. The first two weeks of training were dedicated entirely to learning the ins and outs of Adobe Analytics. My brain was completely overloaded with knowledge about browser cookies, beacons, UUIDs, DataLayers, eVars and props. Our sessions were led by fantastic consultants from Adobe who spared no expense in using creative language and analogies to help the concepts sink in. An example: cookies are basically just business cards that a website slides into your pants (a web browser) when you first visit, and if you wash your pants (clear your cookies and cache), it’s like you and the website never even met. Sounds pretty silly, but then again, at least I still remember it!
The second half of the month was spent adding a few more items to our analyst tool belts and getting us acquainted with the analytics process in an agile environment. During this time, I became very comfortable with DOMO, which is TELUS’s data visualization tool of choice for sharing analytics and metrics across the organization. We were also given a primer on Adobe Launch, which is the implementation platform that analytics developers use to define the rules and data structures necessary to capture traffic on our web pages. The crown jewel of it all was definitely the Datalake though – a massive, distributed repository of customer, clickstream, product and billing tables. Here is where the promise of “Big Data” sprung to life for me, with millions of rows’ worth of data suddenly becoming accessible a query away. Taking a step back from the tech, I began participating in the daily, weekly, and monthly rituals that help keep the teams at TELUS Digital on track and in sync. Once I understood where analytics fit into the software development lifecycle, I was ready to put my newfound skills to work!
Many of the biggest hurdles I faced during JADE weren’t necessarily around learning the tools to do the job, but actually understanding the business itself. I was placed as an analyst on the My TELUS team for the B2B side of TELUS, which covers the website’s features for business customers after they’re logged in. Apart from learning about the features, I needed to understand the customers. This meant unique account types, numerous backend billing and ordering systems, and a huge variety of available products and services. I suppose it’s understandable to feel a bit out of the loop when joining a new company, but it felt like I had a lot of catching up to do when I couldn’t understand 90% of the conversations I was listening in on. Thankfully, I received tons of on-going support from my buddy, mentors, and teammates through many one-on-ones and impromptu orientation sessions. There were no stupid questions, even if I was just asking the same ones many, MANY times.
Life after JADE
Now that I’m three months into my role at TELUS Digital, I can happily say that things have fallen neatly into place. I’ve gained a much greater understanding of web analytics and the business, and although I still need to ask some questions from time to time, I can confidently provide insights to the product owners and team members that I collaborate with daily. I’ve adapted to the tempo of working in a highly collaborative and agile environment; each week I’m getting involved with new projects and deep dives into the data. Over the course of many gaming nights, basketball runs and ping pong duels, I’ve fit pretty well into the culture too.
While it takes a strong culture of mentor ship (and probably some degree of faith) to invest time and resources into training junior talent in today’s digital economy, the transformation I’ve seen in myself and my fellow JADE friends is pretty astonishing. Now that training is over, I casually spend my days analyzing and improving TELUS’ digital experiences for millions of customers across the country!
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