What is a data analyst?
Data analysts collect, refine, and interpret data sets to answer specific questions and solve problems. Experts in converting raw streams of information into actionable insights, data analysts can work in a host of industries, to empower companies with data-driven knowledge.
Those interested in a data analyst career need proficiency with numbers, technology, and problem-solving. While the path to becoming an analyst can be complex, it can also be very worthwhile, particularly as the demand for data experts grows.
How to Become a Data Analyst in 2023
There are a number of routes available for those wondering how to become a data analytics expert. Some start with complementary degrees in maths and data science and work their way up to a data science role, others focus exclusively on developing their knowledge of analytics.
Perhaps the most effective way to thrive as a data analyst is to follow these steps:
- Start by Learning the Fundamentals of Data Analysis
- Build your Technical Data Analytics Skills
- Get a Data Analytics Certification
- Work on Your Portfolio
- Apply for Entry-Level Jobs to Build Experience
1. Start by Learning the Fundamentals of Data Analysis
The first step in launching your new data-driven career is learning the fundamentals of data analysis. This usually means gaining a comprehensive knowledge of how data works in a business environment, and what kind of tools you’ll need to interpret it.
There are a number of valuable tools available for free for beginners in data analytics. For instance, Kaggle is an open-source platform built to help beginners understand the basics of data science. Alternatively, you can look into the various courses available from online learning institutions.
Udemy has a free “Fundamentals of Data Analysis and Decision Making Models” tutorial suitable for beginners. This course introduces you to the basics of “big data” management, and how to draw conclusions from pivot tables, charts, and forecasting tools.
Alternatively, EdX and IBM have collaborated on a free course called “Data Analytics for everyone”. This explains what data analytics is, and the key steps in the data analysis process. You can use this course to learn about data structures, repositories, and the ETL process.
There are also various courses available for free on Coursera, which introduce the basics of data analysis and help you to identify the phases of data visualization.
Just some of the fundamentals you should cover include:
- Foundational insights into computer science, math, and technology
- Primary types of data analysis and different kinds of data
- The tools you’ll need to use for data visualization and exploration
- Methods for data collection and launching data queries
- Tips on how to interpret charts, tables, and forecasting graphs
2. Build your Technical Data Analytics Skills
Once you’re confident with the basics of data analysis and computer science, you can begin developing your technical knowledge. Most of the time, data analyst roles will require you to have specific knowledge of a certain programming language or set of coding tools.
Since every job is different, it’s best to strengthen your knowledge of some of the most popular technical requirements, such as:
- Statistical analysis
- SQL (Structured Query language)
- Data visualization
- R or Python programming
- Data cleaning and preparation
- Data visualization
Learning different programming languages and technical skills in depth can require a lot of time and investment.
To accelerate your path to your data analyst career, look at some job listings for roles relevant to your interests. Use those listings to decide what kind of tools and languages you most need to master.
Remember, many employers will be looking for a combination of technical skills and relevant soft skills, like problem-solving capabilities and excellent communication. Work on strengthening your soft skills just as much as your technical knowledge.
3. Get a Data Analytics Certification
Standing out in a popular field like data analytics can be difficult, particularly when it comes to applying for a particularly compelling role. Earning certifications is an excellent way to improve your chances of employment, and capture the attention of countless hiring managers.
Data analytics certifications also offer a fantastic way to progress in your position as a data analyst, to more authoritative roles, like analytics manager, or chief data scientist.
There are various kinds of certification available, and most focus on improving your skills in a certain area. For instance, if you’re working with a marketing team using data to drive successful campaigns, the Google Data Analytics certification could be the perfect solution.
Google is one of the most powerful companies in the analytics landscape, and a Google certification shows you know how to perform all the tasks required as a data analyst. You’ll discover how to leverage data cleaning, and analysis tools, and create dashboards to visualize information.
Alternatively, the IBM Data Analyst Professional certificate offers a phenomenal opportunity to demonstrate your proficiency using Python libraries, APIs, and web services. You can learn how to compose queries to access data in cloud databases, and build extensive dashboards.
Both certificates will highlight your proficiency in using valuable data analysis languages and tools.
4. Work on Your Portfolio
Portfolios aren’t just for artists. Data analysts also need to demonstrate their knowledge of the landscape by building a portfolio of their best work. You can cultivate your portfolio as you take various courses and enhance your skills with certifications, as many of the best learning resources come with hands-on projects for you to work on.
Your portfolio should focus specifically on showing off the skills most relevant to the jobs you want to apply for. For instance, you may want to show off work using the Python language or display your knowledge of the R language.
Usually, it’s best to choose projects which demonstrate the key abilities of a data analyst, such as:
- Scraping and curating data from various sources.
- Clean and optimize different kinds of data.
- Visualize findings through graphs, maps, charts, and more.
- Transform data into actionable insights
If you have an opportunity to work on group projects during your education, include some work from this too, as it shows your ability to collaborate.
You can find various data analyst portfolio examples online to help guide you if you’re not sure where to start.
5. Apply for Entry-Level Jobs to Build Experience
Although an excellent education will improve your chances of getting the right job, most employers will also prioritize experience. The best way to discover what a job as a data analyst is really like, and learn how to thrive in these environments, is through entry-level roles.
You can look for “Junior data analyst” jobs online that offer the opportunity to learn and grow in a role in exchange for a slightly lower wage. Some companies also advertise for “entry-level” data analysts, who collect and manage data, often working with statisticians and data experts.
Other potential entry-level roles include:
- Data entry: Starting as a data entry clerk, you’ll build your knowledge in handling routine data clerical tasks, and reviewing records. It’s possible to transition from this job into analytics.
- Business analyst: Entry-level or junior business analysts support data analysts in accomplishing specific tasks and solving common problems in a business.
- Research analyst: Research analysts check the accuracy of collected data to ensure it offers meaningful insights, using mathematical and statistical models.
- Data associates: Data associates are responsible for tracking data in research-based studies to provide guidance about reports and data visualizations.
Another option is to simply work on your own projects in a freelance capacity. There are various free data sets online, including climate data from the National Centers for Environmental Information, and NASA open data which offer excellent opportunities for practice.
Data Analyst FAQ
What does a Data Analyst Do?
Data analysts collect and interpret data sets for businesses and groups. Often, they focus on leveraging insights from specific data sources to solve certain problems or answer questions like, “what are the best selling products for a company at certain times of the year?” or “What behaviors are most common in people who commit financial fraud?”
Data analysts work in businesses, to help make companies more profitable, but they can also support government, science, criminal justice, financial, and medical groups too.
Though the responsibilities of a data scientist can vary, key tasks include:
- Gathering data: Analysts often collect and curate data from multiple sources to answer crucial questions. As a data analyst, you may be responsible for collecting information from various analytical tools (like Google analytics), surveys, industry reports, and more.
- Cleaning data: Cleaning data often means eliminating duplicates, outliers, and errors that could lead to inaccuracies in your insights. Usually, the cleaning process involves using programming tools
- Modeling data: Data analysts need to create and design the structures of a database, choose what kinds of data to store and collect, and establish how various data categories are related to each other.
- Interpreting data: Perhaps the most important part of the data analytics role is understanding what various streams of information mean. You can use a range of tools to uncover patterns and trends in the information that offer answers to your questions.
- Presenting findings: Data analysts also need to translate raw information into visuals, graphics, charts, and other tools they can use to explain their findings to other people. You may write reports, or create full presentations to share insights.
How much Do Data Analysts Make?
The average base salary for a data analyst in the USA is around $74,934 per year according to Glassdoor. However, the exact amount you can make depends on a number of factors, including where you’re employed, and your level of experience.
The more knowledge you have as a data analyst, and the more time you spend in your role, the more likely you are to be eligible for a higher wage.
Is Data Analyst a Good Career?
Learning how to become a data analytics expert could be an excellent way to ensure you always have the potential for a high-paying role. Data analysts are in high demand in today’s digitally-transforming landscape, with the role listed as one of the highest growing jobs in the US.
According to The Future of Jobs Report, from 2020 to 2030, data analyst roles are expected to grow at a rate of around 25%, meaning there shouldn’t be any shortage of job opportunities for these experts.
As a data analyst, you’ll have an opportunity to work behind the scenes in a range of environments, helping to solve common problems and ensure businesses can thrive. Because data analytics often involves using a number of cloud-based tools and software, there’s also the potential for remote and flexible work.
Data analysts can contribute to the decision-making process in businesses, which also translates to opportunities for movement into high-level managerial positions. Some of the major benefits of a data analyst career include:
- Exceptional flexibility on where and how you work
- Great starting salary which can increase over time
- Opportunities to work both as an individual and part of a team
- Lots of benefits and perks for analysts capable of helping to drive important business decisions.
- A chance to make a direct impact on the growth of a company or group
A data analyst career can also open the door to various other employment opportunities too. Some professionals who start as data analysts go on to work as chief data scientists, who can use advanced techniques to build models and tools capable of predicting future trends in a business.
You could also use your knowledge in data analytics to open the door to various management and consulting positions.
Is it Hard to Become a Data Analyst?
Becoming a data analyst requires a specific set of skills, starting with a deep knowledge of computer science, and an understanding of how to interpret various kinds of data. The skills required to perform well in a data analyst career are very technically demanding, which makes this role a little more complex than some other fields in the technology landscape.
On the plus side, there are a variety of ways to get involved with data analytics. You can start in a related field like data modeling and eventually make your way into an analysis position.
Additionally, because becoming a data analyst can be challenging, it also means there’s a higher level of demand for skilled professionals in today’s skills-short market. As the need for data expertise continues to grow, you’ll be able to leverage higher salaries and better job security.
Do I need a Degree to Become a Data Analyst?
You don’t necessarily need a degree to become a data analyst, though it is helpful to have certifications and evidence of your ability to work with data. You can also transition into data analytics using a relevant degree like mathematics or computer science.
Although a degree isn’t always necessary to become a data analyst, it is helpful to make yourself stand out from the crowd if you’re applying for a particularly competitive role. If you don’t have a degree in data analytics or a relevant field, you will need to spend extra time building your portfolio to highlight your abilities, and you may need to build more experience in entry-level positions.