What It Takes to Be a Data Scientist: Interview with Elijah Butler

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3 May 2023 5 min read

Interview with Elijah Butler

Breaking into data science is a long and winding road that requires technical and soft skills and a lot of resilience. We spoke to renowned industry experts and well-liked names in the data science community to discover how and when they knew they had what it takes for a career in the field. They shared their stories and the qualities they developed to succeed.

In this interview, we introduce you to Elijah Butler—one of the best-known data science influencers and data experts. He aims to help people land jobs in the field, regardless of their educational or professional background. Learn about his journey and his advice for aspiring data analysts.

Interview with Elijah Butler

Would you please tell us a bit about your background and journey into data аnalysis?

I started my collegiate career at Western Kentucky University in the U.S., studying mechanical engineering. But by my second semester, I found this field wasn’t for me.

After being in a major that didn’t interest me, I did some soul-searching to find what did interest me: business. By the end of my third semester, I found my place and declared a major in business economics.

Beyond obtaining a solid foundation in business, I was also introduced to data, statistics, regression analysis, and statistical tools, such as R, Python, and Stata. I loved the ability to answer complex questions using advanced statistical techniques. I embraced these classes and completed a master’s degree in applied economics to dive further into the topics.

My first job out of college was a data analyst role, but it only utilized surface-level analysis and mainly used only Microsoft Excel. I longed for deeper analysis, so I taught myself inherent data analyst skills like SQL, Tableau, and Power BI and landed a job in the field.

I was quickly hooked. I love the problem-solving aspect of building a complex SQL query to remedy problems and the creativity to create an intuitive, aesthetic Power BI dashboard to assist many stakeholders in my organization.

When did you know you have what it takes?

I get this question a lot. In all honesty, there’s no perfect answer. I have high expectations for myself and still sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome. There was never a switch that flipped when I knew I was ready.

To land an entry-level role, I recommend having a solid foundation in SQL, Microsoft Excel, and a data visualization tool like Tableau or Power BI.

Additionally, you should complete a few projects to practice these data analysis skills in a more applied setting. Lastly, you’ll never know everything about SQL, Excel, Tableau, etc.—so be willing and able to use Google, YouTube, and forums to figure out how to do things you’ve never done.

Once you have these qualifications, start applying for jobs and keep learning throughout the job search process. Then, keep learning throughout your career.

As a data analyst, one needs strong analytical thinking and a lot of technical know-how. What skills did you start with, and how did you develop them to meet the role requirements?

I started with SQL and Tableau in my data analyst journey. But once I began interviews, I realized the job I wanted required Power BI, so I took an inexpensive Power BI course to be proactive. In the end, I landed the job.

A data analyst must know the company’s field terminology, business goals, and database structure. Beyond technical elements, understanding these three components will help you become an expert. 

Learning is a lifelong process—especially in a field that’s as dynamic as data. Is there something new you’d like to learn more about or become better specialized in?

First, I’m continuously working to develop my SQL, Excel, and Power BI skills, as these are the tools I currently use for my job. I want to keep finding more efficient ways of doing things and ways to improve reports. I also want to be the person in my organization who anyone can come to with an issue, and I can help solve it.

Beyond that, I’m looking to further my knowledge of statistical tools like R, SAS, and Python and how I can use these tools to improve my analysis and reporting.

As an expert in the field, you must have an ample idea of the qualities a person needs for data analysis. What would you say those are?

The number one quality an upcoming data analyst should have is persistence. Breaking into a tech-related field like this one is hard. And anyone who says it’s easy is lying and trying to sell you something. You must have the grit to work and be patient until it happens. But while it’s difficult, it can be done.

Furthermore, there will be some complex problems you’re expected to solve in your career and stubborn queries that seemingly will never produce the results you’re looking for. On top of good data analysis skills, it takes persistence to keep trying and failing until you find the solutions.

As the industry develops, the demand for skilled data analysts grows exponentially. What gives an aspiring data analyst a competitive edge in 2023?

The number one thing that will give aspiring analysts (especially those without a data science degree) an edge is building a project portfolio. Certifications are great, but I’d rather see actual SQL code that someone has written and the data visualizations they’ve built.

A data analyst portfolio shows an employer you have a foundation in the desired statistical tools before you have any job experience. Additionally, if you talk confidently about the methods and findings of your project, you can prove your reporting ability.

We want to thank Elijah for taking the time to provide valuable insights into what it takes to be a data scientist. Check out his website, Data From Home, where he shares even more resources and practical advice on how to break into the field.

Our aim at 365 is to equip you with the tools and give you the necessary guidance to succeed. Designed never to let you give up, the 365 Data Science platform has what you need to develop your qualities and skills.

Go from a beginner to a skilled professional who creates data-driven value. Study the statistics and probability theory behind data science with online courses led by our renowned instructors, and master sought-after skills like Excel, SQL, and Tableau. Prove you’ve got what it takes with industry-recognized certificates.