How I went from agency dropout to presenting at Women in Analytics Conference in 5 years

Originally posted June 23, 2021

Exactly one month from today, I will be on stage at Women in Analytics Conference in Columbus, Ohio, presenting my Rapid Dashboarding Framework to a room of 200+ analytics professionals.

So how did I get here? If you know me from back in the day, I was a Marketing professional… so how (and why?) did I change careers and go into analytics? Good question.

I went to college for Marketing (I also double majored in Entrepreneurship, more on that in a separate post) and was dead-set on working in advertising. So that’s what I did. Upon graduating from the University of Dayton, I spent several years at a couple advertising agencies and really enjoyed it.

But after a while, I started to get really burnt out. I was skipping lunch and staying at work late, putting everything above myself. I had some health issues that I had been putting off for too long, so I finally made the decision to quit and take some much needed time off.

During my 6-month hiatus from the workforce, I got married, got my health under control, and thought a lot about what I wanted to do next. I still really wanted to be in Marketing, so I used my network and was able to land a job in my hometown of Dublin, Ohio at Cardinal Health.

The Marketing & Training role I took at Cardinal Health just so happened to be on an “analytics” team. I had no idea what that was, but I was just happy to have a job. My task was to train our Medical Sales team on how to use the analytics solutions which were built in a software I had never heard of – Tableau.

I quickly feel in love with what the developers on our team were doing with Tableau and I convinced my boss to buy me a license. Soon after that I asked for an Alteryx license too (those are expensive by the way). I taught myself how to use both in a matter of months by watching online videos and asking my peers a lot of questions. I completely reinvented my Marketing & Training role and built a dashboard to show utilization of our rep analytics solutions.

Designing dashboards to me was second nature given my background in both graphic design and web development (I secretly LOVE to code and have been since high school). I was never good at math, but the thrill of answering someone’s question through data and insights was super exciting for me.

As I discovered this new analytics space, I found out about a “Storytelling with Data” workshop through one of my co-workers and she recommended I attend. I convinced my manager (again) to fly me out to San Francisco so I could attend the workshop led by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, former Google employee turned data storyteller. To say that workshop was life changing is an understatement. I still follow Cole’s philosophy to this day and every single person on my team is required to read her book.

Soon after attending that workshop, an opportunity came up to move roles and be a manager of a new analytics team. The hiring manager believed I could do it, and he saw what I had accomplished in such a short amount of time, he wasn’t worried that I didn’t have years of experience in the space.

When I told my family, friends, and co-workers that I was going to be applying for an analytics manager role they thought I was crazy. They tried soooooooo hard to talk me out of it. They said I would hate it. I’m a marketing person.. why would I want to go work with data?

I didn’t listen to any of them. And I’m glad I didn’t. I took a leap of faith and I took that job and started down the path of my new career in analytics. I had to learn the world of analytics, and learn how to be a manager (remote by the way), all at once.

Around that same time, one of my coworkers told me about the Women in Analytics Conference – a small conference (only in it’s second year) held in Columbus, Ohio headed up by Rehgan Avon from Ohio State. The first year I attended there were only 100 people there. As a women moving into a male dominated space, having this conference pop up in my hometown at this exact time was beyond encouraging (I think it was a sign). Seeing how excited other women where in this space, and that I wasn’t alone, was the reassurance I needed to push forward with this career change. I have attended the Conference every year since and have seen it grow from 100 people to 500+ and I always said I wanted to be a presenter. This year I again took a leap of faith and just emailed Rehgan and asked if I could present. She said yes. (Pro tip – if you want something, just ask).

Over the past 5 years, I have established myself both at Cardinal Health and in the community as being a go-to expert in data visualization. I love mentoring other people who are passionate about data & analytics. I have put in so much work to learn all the ins and outs of Tableau, Alteryx, data viz best practices, and even built out my own Rapid Dashboarding Framework to help guide my team and others through the dashboard development process. I’ve presented at Columbus Tableau User Group, put on Cardinal Health Tableau Day, founded Her Analytics Platform at Cardinal Health, and now have the chance to present in front of an even bigger audience.

So as I look back on my first 5 years in my analytics career, I am so glad I listened to gut. I follow Eminem’s mentality of “You can do anything you set your mind to” and people may knock me down on my way to the top, but I’m going to try even harder when I fall down.

Analytics is the career I never knew I needed, but this is my home, and I’m most passionate here.

Don’t let other people define who you are and what you do. If you want something, go and get it. Put in the work, and you will be rewarded.

If you’re thinking about a career change, especially if you want to get into analytics, let’s connect. I’m happy to provide guidance or perspective on the space. // JL

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