CoolData blog

2 April 2014

Work with me here

Filed under: Dalhousie University — Tags: , , — kevinmacdonell @ 5:37 am

We’re hiring! No, CoolData isn’t hiring — my employer is.

The Advancement Services unit in the Department of External Relations at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia is seeking candidates for the position of Manager, Information Services.

Reporting to the Director of Advancement Services (NOTE: I am Acting Director), the Manager of Information Services leads a team of IT and data specialists who support the data reporting, data analysis, and technology needs across the spectrum of alumni engagement, marketing, and fundraising activities in External Relations.  The Manager, Information Services, plays an essential role in the development, management and strategic direction for decision support for External Relations leadership.

Click here for more general information about working at Dalhousie.


7 June 2011

Career advice, five cents

Filed under: Training / Professional Development — Tags: , — kevinmacdonell @ 11:53 am

I sometimes get asked for career advice. Sometimes I break down and give it. I’m not as eager to dispense advice as Lucy van Pelt at her “Psychiatric Help” booth in the old Peanuts comic by Charles Schultz. My rates are cheaper than hers, though.

The questions come from around the world, from people hoping to work in various data-intensive industries: What do I have to study? How long will it take? Can someone my age get hired in this field?

I don’t have specific answers. My own background in analytics is non-existent; I simply stumbled into a field that I discovered a passion for (data mining), via another field that I stumbled into (higher ed fundraising). The last time I took math was in high school, and I’ve never taken a course in statistics. My career is a patchwork and, although I wouldn’t do anything differently, my path is hardly a model to emulate.

If I am cut out for this work in any way, it is that I am diligent about learning new things that help me do better work, and I seem to have some affinity for data that I wasn’t aware of even just a few years ago. My CV may be lacking in credentials, but I’m lucky to have an employer that listens to what my good work has to say, and not whatever claims my credentials might be making.

So I don’t know much, but I know more today than I did yesterday, and I am good at explaining what I’ve learned to other people. Here are a few things I’ve come to know.

First, I doubt that age makes any difference. The growing demand for workers with data analysis skills may never be satisfied, so I would think you’d be marketable whatever age you are. Unless perhaps you’ve never heard of the Hinterwebs.

For someone taking first steps, this is an exciting time. The data analytics field is wide open — it’s not some kind of priesthood. There is a ton of knowledge-sharing going on via the Web, in publications and at conferences. Expose yourself to all of that.

I imagine that formal education in computing and programming (or statistics and advanced mathematics, or business, or database-related information technology), would be a big asset — if you’re young and prepared for several years of university, and are bent in any of these directions, then go for it. But don’t let yourself be steered into subject areas that are not of central interest to you. Analytics, it seems to me, is best pursued as complimentary to work that interests you — as a means of doing great work in a new, insightful way.

That especially applies to older workers who are looking for a change from the work they’re doing now. You may not get to do analytics work for IBM without an advanced degree, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have plenty of options. Any industry, business or activity that generates reams of data related to human behaviour is a rich playground for the data miner.

But really, what activity these days doesn’t generate loads of data? I can’t think of a single area of human endeavour that does not (or can not) benefit from gathering and analyzing relevant data. Which leads me to my final and primary piece of advice: If you want to work with data, then just do it. Look around you, where you are working right now. Seek out any sort of data-related problem or project you can find in your current employment, and learn just enough to make some progress. Any exposure to real-world data and its messy problems will be good experience. And who knows but that you might become a data pioneer in your specific area of employment?

Why wait?

3 June 2010

Buy your own books, walk your own path

Filed under: Training / Professional Development — Tags: , — kevinmacdonell @ 5:33 am

Creative Commons license. (Click image for source.)

Not long ago I heard tell of a person earning a better-than-average salary (not in fundraising) who turned down an opportunity to attend a good professional development session in her field. Why? Because her employer wouldn’t cover the thirty or forty bucks it cost to get in.

That is pathetic. And I’m not talking about the employer.

Consider how much of your life you spend at work. It IS your life. None of us has so much of life that we can afford to just put in the time at the office, and hope to do all our “real” living outside of work.

Consider how much of your work is not congruent with your talents, your interests, or sometimes even your moral sense. Is there not some small step you could take to move in a different direction? Maybe you can get a little better at doing your job, to become more engaged. Or maybe you can redefine the job itself. Or it might be time to move on. In any case, don’t you owe it to yourself to do something?

Every so often I run into people who have a very passive attitude about work, like the person who thinks her development is entirely her employer’s responsibility. These are the people who complain that they never get to go to a conference — yet they have never put together a proposal to sell their employer on the idea, outlining which sessions they want to attend and how it will address their employer’s needs while enhancing their own growth.

I’ve got no time for that.

Start small. Buy your own books. Be selective, of course, but don’t resent having to use a little of your disposable income on small, work-related expenses that can be considered an investment in your future career. I’ve always worked for employers who readily footed the bill for books, but if the book is really good, I’ll buy a personal copy even if there’s already an office copy available at work. (My latest example being “The Phonathon Manager’s Planning Handbook,” by Jason Fisher and Anthony Arrington, available from CASE. It joins Josh Birkholz and Peter Wylie on data mining and fundraising, Garr Reynolds on giving presentations, and a few of the best stats books I could find.)

Your investment need not be financial. Conferences and travel are expensive, but is there not some night that you can turn off that damned television and spend some of your own time getting your ideas down on paper about why your employer ought to send you? Would it kill you to crack that stats book over the weekend? Can you not play with building predictive modeling outside of your cubicle? Work-life balance is all well and good — until the half of your life that you call “work” just plain sucks. Then it’s time to recognize that work and life are part of a whole, and none of it should suck.

Just leaving your job or agitating for promotion are not solutions in themselves; there are people who change their environments regularly and never find happiness. I’m talking about being happy where you are. You may need to change your environment, but more likely you will need to change your self (or at least discover your self). The ability to discern which is required, internal or external change, is one definition of wisdom. This blog won’t help you, I’m afraid. You’ll have to go to your still centre for that.

6 April 2010

Always be a beginner

Filed under: Training / Professional Development — Tags: , — kevinmacdonell @ 11:12 am

(Creative Commons licence. Click photo for source.)

Spring is here, and with it has come a small flurry of communications with conference program planners. They need session titles and summaries for presentations I’m to give, presentations which I’ve barely conceived of yet. That’s the way it goes, though, and nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.

One session at an early stage of gestation is something I’m calling “Regression for Beginners.” Implied in that title, I suppose, is the attitude that I’m the expert, condescending to share a little knowledge with my audience of beginners. Not to give too much away, but I intend to begin this presentation by declaring myself a proud Beginner.

We should always be in the state of beginning. It’s OK to be up to your eyeballs in something that you don’t completely understand. As long as we make a little progress every day, we are successful beginners. When we release our grasp on comfort, we grow. When the ground is moving under our feet and we give up on security as a worthwhile goal, we make progress.

At no other time are we as quite alive as when we are engaged in beginning. Not thinking about the next thing to look forward to, not looking back on things accomplished, but immersed in the heady now, challenged but at the same time having some inner certainty that the challenge is surmountable.

When your day includes more rote than challenge, it might be time to find a field of knowledge or a job or an activity you know little about – but that you feel somehow ready for, that you feel can be of use or help to others – and jump in.

Anyone for a little multiple regression?

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