From Guitar Teacher to Space Planner to Data Analyst to Master Data Manager (or: How to Completely Reinvent Yourself)

As we all know, life can be funny sometimes. The experiences and seemingly random circumstances we put ourselves in (or get thrust into) not only shape us, they more often than not define us. So today, I will discuss the how and why of who I am today…

When I was a youngster (still am, I suppose), I wanted to play guitar. As a teenager, I would listen to music for hours every day and try to analyze what was going and how to be like my idols. I would discuss with friends musical ideas as well as the stories in the songs as if the key to the universe relied upon our fact-finding mission. So I learned to play guitar… and piano… and sing… and drum (well, I never did too great at the drums). I even went off to college to study music. I got my AA in Music from a local community college, and I became a studio music teacher in the process. This was crucial for who I am today. If I hadn’t been pushing myself to learn music and then teach the subject to others, there’s no way I would have developed the heart of a teacher like I have today.

After switching from the community college to an actual university, I had also switched majors to Business Administration. During this time, I also played in a band while studying statistics, operations management, and other coursework. Funny enough, this was another crucial moment for me. Not only was I learning about business, I was in the midst of running one, complete with interpersonal dynamics, finance issues, project management, and customer service. It’s amazing how much business can go on with four guys trying to write, produce, and sell music. I ended up graduating from Webster University, and not too soon afterward, quitting the band.

After college, I went on to work for a local music shop to develop their lesson program. I was in charge of setting processes, policies, hiring teachers, and even helping to build the lesson rooms. I was also in charge of marketing and advertising, one of the most difficult jobs I had due to my lack of experience with all the different marketing practices. I had to learn SEO, creating ads with Photoshop, website development (HTML, CSS, PHP, etc.), Google Analytics, researching demographics, and all the kinds of things you do to bring people into a little shop. During this time, I also learned more and more about Access and database management. I actually developed my studio management system on Access, complete with regular reporting. After about four years of trying to prove myself with the studio, I finally had to walk away from music.

From there, I moved into grocery retail – a stark transition, I know. But, oddly enough, it wasn’t too difficult. I mean, I had been managing a business, ordering product, handling customer service, and so on, which has a lot of overlap with the grocery business (plus, I had spent quite a few years working at a produce stand before going to college). I went into Space Planning, a job in which you layout stores and products using data and intuition. I picked it up rather quickly and soon began to excel. I was even able to implement a couple new solutions, one being an automated Space Planning software solution that hadn’t been fully used by the team, another being an Access database to manage all the team’s hard-work and make quick reports (just like in the music studio! See, isn’t life funny?), and lastly, I was able to learn some SQL to integrate our data with the rest of the company.

After being in Space Planning for about 2 years, I moved on to become a Data Analyst measuring category performance for boxed goods as well as the Deli departments. While being an analyst, I pushed myself to learn as much as I could about data. I found it fascinating. The insights you can pull from different levels of data. What you can predict from data. What you can automate with data. I had decided to go all in on learning about data. I started off with SQL and Excel reports, moving more and more into some advanced analytics.

Then, on a summer day in 2017, the company had rolled out a new tool – Alteryx. This was the start of the deep dive into data for me. Alteryx is a spatial analytics, predictive analytics, data cleansing, data manipulation, data everything mega-tool. However, when I first saw it, the predictive tools all used something called R, which up to that point, I had not ever used. So, instead of digging into all the data cleanse capabilities of Alteryx, I decided to chase down the specifics around R. My thought process being “if I can learn R without Alteryx, then using R in Alteryx will make me a super-user!”

After taking several courses on R and even Python, JavaScript, and Swift (it was a very strange road, I know), I finally had the data literacy I had been craving all along. And it didn’t go unnoticed. I am now one of the super-users of Alteryx within my company and have been recently been promoted to Master Data Manager, managing a team of six people within a Center of Excellence data quality team. I help automate reports, help create applications, and consult frequently with different departments within the business about data and business processes.

All of this could not have been possible if it had not been for me teaching music, running a couple small businesses as a musician, learning databases and processes as a manager, and finally deep-diving on my data literacy as an analyst. These jobs, though seeming unrelated, all fed into each other and my experiences from former helped me to excel in the latter.

Not to say everyone can do it, but if you have the drive, you can transition into the data realm, too, if you haven’t already. So, now that you’ve read my story, I would love to hear yours! What drove you to where you are today?

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