The need to categorise and make sense of the data being constantly collected in almost every market and sphere of business and education is growing exponentially each year. In some surveys, as many as 59% of businesses plan to better harness their data and will need to bolster their workforce or skills to perform data analytics in house.

That means that data analysts have a great career outlook and prospects are only going to increase as the demand for the skill increases. Given the forecast for huge growth in the field, what is a data analyst, what skills do they need and how do you become a data analyst?

What Does a Data Analyst Do?

At its core, the data analyst is an expert in creating meaningful information from datasets of any size. They’ll use their skills to answer business questions and solve problems that a company might be dealing with by creating a human readable and getting useful information from the data a business might collect during their day to day operations.

This might include market trends, analysis of sales or user data, employee productivity data and anything that businesses might use to inform their decisions and evolution in business sales, marketing and productivity.

Some Essential Skills

In the pursuit of proficiency as a data analyst, you’ll need to become very proficient at several skills. Here is just a selection of a few of the many skills you’ll need to use every day:

  • You will need to be proficient at computer programming. Commonly this will include the use of R or SAS for the processing and cleaning of data, but you should be prepared to use several other programming languages too.
  • Data Visualisation. If you can’t present the data you’ve been able to analyse, it won’t be of much use. Often decisionmakers are going to want easy to understand and read visualisations of your data. Being able to present the data using graphs suited to your audience is a critical skill.
  • Data Storage and Warehousing. Naturally, you’re going to be working with large sets of data and you’re going to need to be proficient in storing and organising this data. This will probably take the form of databases like SQL, so understanding the structure and practices around databases and data warehousing is critical.
  • Data Mining and Cleaning. You’ll not always be working with neat and well organised data, so being able to make sense of data that is unstructured or not clean will be a skill you’ll need to develop.
  • Machine Learning. If you want to shine in the field, being able to harness new and emerging technologies like machine learning and AI will really let you stand out from the crowd. It might not be a skill most employers will expect, but it will be one they’ll notice.

Steps to Becoming a Data Analyst

The first step on your journey to becoming a data analyst is going to be a university qualification. You can start your journey on your analytics career path with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, either via distance learning or in person. You’ll be taking courses like statistics, mathematics, computer science, information management as a minimum, and you’ll probably want to bolster your skillset with finance and economics disciplines too. Like most careers, the bachelor’s degree will only be the start of your learning.

From here, you’ll probably be looking for entry level jobs or internships where you can be exposed to data analytics in the real world and gain invaluable and relevant experience in the field. Keep an eye out for graduate programmes too that can supplement your studies and you can take part in while you’re still studying.

Once you’re working, you can switch your focus to constant learning and skill improvements. Short courses are an excellent way of doing this as many can be completed via distance learning. As a data analyst you’ll want to stay on the cutting edge of your field and that means committing to constant and continuous learning throughout.

There are endless opportunities for data analysts to apply their skills to the trade in a very varied and dynamic career. You might work in market research, analysing sales and customer data to help make better marketing decisions, or you’ll be working in finance or sales, driving innovations that are grounded in the analysis of data and trends. Whichever path you take as a data analyst, you’ll never be bored in the job, and career prospects look like they’re only going to get better.