If you’ve seen the movie Moneyball, you might remember the character Peter Brand, a fictional sports analyst portrayed as the stereotypical nerdy number cruncher. This makes a good story line in a movie, but the real life architect of the Oakland A’s analytical success in baseball, Paul DePodesta, required more than number-crunching ability to succeed. He played both varsity football and baseball at Harvard, worked as a professional baseball scout, and later became a general manager in Major League Baseball. Paul exemplifies the “unicorn” that businesses seek in analytics professionals. In this case, the “unicorn” isn’t the mythical creature; rather, it’s the term used to describe an individual who can bridge the gap between the world of technology and the world of practical application—a rare combination.
To succeed as an analytics professional, one must possess a broad set of skills and personal attributes beyond the technical tool kit. What kinds of skills and attributes? Some of the most valuable attributes are described below.
1. An intellectual curiosity about how things work. The analytics professional often must quickly become a subject matter expert in a new area of application.
2. Ability to communicate technical information in concise, clear, nontechnical terms. The analytics professional must be able to communicate technical solutions in clear, concise, nontechnical terms that every manager can understand.
3. Ability to visualize information. The analytics professional must be able to organize data visually to glean business insight.
4. Ability to function as part of a team with strong communication skills. The analytics professional must be able to listen, lead, and lend support at the appropriate times.
5. A fundamental understanding of business. The analytics professional must be able to leverage data to drive better business decisions that positively impact the bottom line.
6. Ability to think from a big picture perspective. The analytics professional must have a clear understanding of the interdependencies within any organization so that local optimization does not compromise the overall performance of the organization.
7. A commitment to life-long learning. The business analytics professional must be committed to a life-long learning process to remain abreast of technological advancements in the discipline; for example, nearly ubiquitous data visualization tools did not even exist 10 years ago.