Inside Data Analyst Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"A College Education Is Different Than On The Job Training...
I was surprised at the fact that I could have learned everything I needed to know about databases from the training that was provided for me at my Job. I felt like if I had gotten this job without my degree, I would be in the same position." (Database Analyst; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in North Carolina, male
School: Studied Management Information Systems at UNC Charlotte in North Carolina; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Your job isn't just sitting and programming for a boss or manager. Since you sit and work with computers all day, people assume you're also an IT troubleshooter. I once heard someone say IT people are unhappy because they thought they'd work with computers, but instead they take care of people who complain about their computers." (Data Analyst; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in New York, male
School: Studied Finance at Pace University in New York; completed Bachelor degree in 2002

"Freedom In Solution Design...
I was surprised how much freedom I have had in developing solutions compared to others who work in more strict companies. In college, you are typically given a very concrete task that usually does not have many solutions to it, but I have found that I have had the freedom to design solutions and innovations I have come up with on my own." (Senior Programmer Analyst; 2013)

Career: 10 years of experience, currently based in Michigan, male
School: Studied Computer Science at University Of Michigan in Michigan in 2002

"I was surprised to discover how hard it was to find a job/career related to my degree after graduation. Most places of employment demand experience. It was very hard to find employment in the field that I paid so much money to obtain a degree in. Planning further ahead for a job search may have helped. I'm also surprised at how much work I end up doing that is not related to what I studied in school." (Analyst; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Texas, female
School: Studied Information Technology at DeVry University in Illinois; completed Associate degree in 2010

"Users' Limited Understanding Of Computer Apps...
I was surprised at how little people knew about computer applications when they use them every single day. Anyone can go through the motions but truly understanding why you're doing what you're doing makes a world of difference." (Data Analyst; 2013)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Finance at West Chester University in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 2002

"Expected Job Tasks...
I was surprised to find that most of the technical work is done by contractors overseas or otherwise and most analysts and project managers only have very little interaction with code. I was also surprised that there isn't a solid industry-wide standard when it comes to Server Operating systems." (Business Economics; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Economics at Penn State Behrend in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 2009

"Wide Variety Of Job Openings...
I was surprised by how much this field has grown lately. Data collections is huge and there are a lot of jobs opening up." (Systems Analyst; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in Washington, male
School: Studied Computer Science at University Of Washington in Washington in 2007

"Quantity Of Non-Geeks Needed...
I was surprised at the number of non-technically oriented people needed for a tech company to run smoothly. Individuals whose training (like mine) is in a technical field are often not trained in marketing, business, in building and maintaining client relationships, and other interpersonal and 'soft' skills. My company has several employees whose jobs are to foster our working relationships because all of us tech geeks are not as good at that type of thing." (Data Analyst; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Maryland, female
School: Studied Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland; completed Master degree in 2012

"I Became Obsolete...
I was surprised at how easy it was to keep getting better jobs in the 80's and 90's and it seemed that was the only way to keep getting higher income. I also was surprised when work dried up for me for a while, because I had been so good at one particular language, and kept getting work in it, that I never took time out to learn skills that would help me get jobs in newer technology in the future." (Programmer/Analyst/Consultant; 2013)

Career: 19 years of experience, currently based in Colorado, female
School: Studied Computer Science at Illinois State University in Illinois; completed Bachelor degree in 1984

"Expertise And Technology Skills Are Innovative...
Most people would be surprised to know that data analysis is not 100% related to computers or programming-- an individual has to also be strongly familiar with business processes and accounting methods to organize meaningful results. Also, to my surprise, the field is in constant flux. Something that was innovative and cutting edge last year is old news and someone has found a way to do it better." (Sr Audit Data Analyst; 2014)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, male
School: Studied Finance, Information Technology (Dual Degree) at University Of Toledo in Ohio; completed Master degree in 2004

"Long Term Costs Of Off Shoring...
How quickly my job function and entire work group could be outsourced. The work was sent offshore without a thought to quality and long term costs." (Clinical Data Analyst; 2014)

Career: 24 years of experience, currently based in Colorado, female
School: Studied Computer Science at University Of Buffalo in New York; completed Bachelor degree in 1989

"Jobs Abound In Computing...
I have been surprised mostly by the fact of jobs out there computer related. In school I started in desktop publishing and thought it wasn't a legitimate endeavor. Now I'm in databases and graphic design some as well, and it was because of my start in desktop publishing." (Digital Asset Specialist; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in Texas, male
School: Studied Journalism at Angelo State University in Texas; completed Bachelor degree in 2000

"I was surprised how much "other" work there. I thought I would mostly be focusing on IT related stuff. There were meetings all the time, requirements to go through, documentation, conference calls. I was not always focusing just on IT work." (IT Consultant; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Ohio, male
School: Studied Economics at University Of Illinois in Illinois; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Incorporates Many Disciplines...
I was surprised by how vast the intelligence field is and the technical nature of various disciplines. Various skills are required to be successful, including computer skills, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, flexibility, etc. I have taken some computer courses, system administrative courses, and other technical course and was surprised by the complexity of some of our systems." (Intelligence Analyst; 2013)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in District of Columbia, female
School: Studied Strategic Intelligence at National Intelligence University in District of Columbia; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Research Associate: "The best part of my career is the variety of tasks it entails. My previous job consisted of 3-5 year-long projects that required that I do the same tasks day in and day out. This position, and those in the library field in general, offers much more variety. This variety keeps the work interesting. Further, the technology support piece to my job allows me to learn new skills all the time, which keeps the work fresh. In my experience, jobs that don't involve constantly learning new skills get stale quickly." (2011)

Research Associate: "I like working with data. It is amazing what you can learn from data elements. I also like working on the computer. I use a commercial coding program to assign codes to the diagnoses. The data are processed using SAS statistical software. I also work on other projects providing medical records and coding support. The only part I don't like is having to drive to the office every day. I would like to telecommute but that is not an option at this time." (2010)

Healthcare Data Analyst - Medicare Fraud: "The work can be very tedious at times. You have to review thousands and thousands of claims, and hundreds of healthcare providers. Most of the time the investigations you conduct will not result in identifying fraudulent Medicare providers. Most of the providers in the program are honest so it is very difficult to find those that do. However it can also be very rewarding when a provider you have personally referred to investigations has been successfully prosecuted by Federal law enforcement." (2010)

Principle Quality Analyst: "The best parts of the job are writing SQL queries to retrieve data and using statistical methods to draw conclusions. I also write up results in formal reports. I am my group's representative on a team to recommend enhancements and fixes for the corporate field database. With the technology today, I have the flexibility of working at home. I can log in to the company's network and attend meetings via conference calls. I work with people from all over the world. The hardest part of the job is trying to sift through the data when it may not have been recorded correctly. Sometimes results of such data analysis are needed quickly and there is pressure to meet deadlines." (2010)

Analyst: "The best part of the job is knowing that I am part of doing something good that will help people determine which products in their local grocery store are good for them. I also love the work environment. It is very laid-back and everyone is friendly to one another. You feel like everyone's contribution is valued. The worst part of the job is working with Excel spreadsheets every day. This part of the job can be boring at times." (2009)

Career Background

Data Analyst

  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Tips

"Expand Your Knowledge To Be Successful...
If you are looking to be a successful data analyst, expand your general knowledge into all aspects of the business. It is important to be able to support the business customer and understand their needs before they do. To be truly successful, you have to be ahead of their demands and to have creative vision into the future." (Sr Audit Data Analyst; 2014)

"Domain Knowledge Leads To More Job Security...
Technical skills can be learned anywhere and paid at the lowest common denominator. Be the employee who has strong and difficult to replace domain knowledge." (Clinical Data Analyst; 2014)

"Diversify Your Programming...
Spend the time learning additional programs, those might become your career." (Digital Asset Specialist; 2013)

"Practice Real World Situations...
Most courses do not reflect the real world of changing requirements. During your training, try to expose yourself to projects in which the requirements change after you have already started working on it. That is how the real world works and preparing for it in your studies will make the transition to the real world easier." (Senior Programmer Analyst; 2013)

"Know Your Code...
Spend time involved with the code you manage or else you will spend hours working easy outages. Also versioning is crucial, always compare the size of the jars in previous releases." (Business Economics; 2013)

"College Doesn't Equal Work Ethic...
College won't teach you everything you need to know in the real world." (Database Analyst; 2013)

"Read Research Journals...
If you are a student now you should have access to online research journals through your school. Read through anything you can that pertains to Brain Machine Interfaces and volunteer for research positions. It is such a niche subject yet there are potentially 1000s of different career paths. You don't want to be the guy 6 months shy of graduating wishing you would have chosen another opportunity" (Data Scientist; 2013)

"Get Experience...
Learn as much as you can. It is important to understand a variety of programs." (Systems Analyst; 2013)

"Lean On Google...
When in doubt, Google the answer. I have learned so much on my own through Google regarding VBA and Access." (Data Analyst; 2013)

"Find Your Niche...
Always keep learning. Keep up with the newest operating systems and the newest packages. And find a niche that you're good at that you can do on your own, as a freelancer. More and more jobs are being outsourced to other countries and you should make sure you are able to be independent. Also, due to Obamacare it will be increasingly difficult to find full-time employee positions in the near future." (Programmer/Analyst/Consultant; 2013)

"Focus On The Experience You'll Get...
When you have just earned your degree and are looking for an entry-level position, don't be too picky about the line of work or the salary. It's so valuable to get a couple of years of experience under your belt. You can always get a new job later, and having several years of experience in a similar field will afford you many more opportunities than what you see at the entry level." (Data Analyst; 2013)

"Develop Some Backup Skills...
Diversify your knowledge base. Being stuck to one programming language or discipline might make you highly specialized but if you need to get a new job for any reason, your options will be severely limited. Look at least being able to do a couple things." (IT Consultant; 2013)

"Plan Your Schooling Around Available Jobs...
Plan in advance and think of a specific to find employment after graduation. It isn't as easy as it is made to sound to land a job in the field you studied in." (Analyst; 2013)

"Seek Out New Learning Opportunities At Work...
Always be open-minded to help on projects outside your 'zone'. Never pass up the opportunity to learn something new. IT is competitive, the little things you pick up could be the difference between getting a raise and not." (Data Analyst; 2013)

"Tackle New Tasks Head On...
When tasked with something you've never done and don't know how to do, don't balk. Say yes if it's within your duties, and learn how to do it. Connect to others in your field using professional organizations. I have been bad about maintaining these connections throughout my career, and it has held me back professionally - I have lost track of the latest trends in my field, and I have lost out on important networking opportunities. Use every opportunity you can to take continuing education classes." (Research Associate; 2011)

"Math And Stats...
The department where I work is the Center for Epidemiological Research. I provide research support in a variety of ways. If you would like to pursue a job in epidemiology or research make sure you take a lot of math. There are many opportunities if you understand math and particularly statistics. You should also learn all you can about computers. There are several statistical software programs, such as SAS. Be sure you can communicate, particularly in writing. Writing reports is a large part of my job but any career requires the ability to communicate." (Research Associate; 2010)

"Need At Least A Bachelors...
Completing a degreed program would be the primary goal or requirement in pursuing a career as a healthcare fraud analyst. At a minimum a bachelor's degree in criminal justice would open the door for opportunities in the field of fraud investigation. You could pursue a career in one of the Federal law enforcement agencies which also investigate fraud: the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General, Immigration and Naturalization, or the US Postal Service." (Healthcare Data Analyst - Medicare Fraud; 2010)

"Take Java And DB Courses...
My advice to anyone pursuing a career in data analysis is to become proficient in computer programming languages. I would recommend courses in Java and database courses. Developing programming skills will help with retrieving and manipulating data, often the hardest part of data analysis. Being proficient with basic spreadsheet packages is crucial. I recommend taking more than one statistics course if possible. I would also encourage students to further their educations with a master's degree." (Principle Quality Analyst; 2010)

The advice I would give someone pursuing a career as an analyst would be to go to college and get a college degree. I would definitely suggest finding work while in college that allows you to intern. Working while you're in school will give you some work experience, which any employer would value. While you are in school make sure you take courses in working with spreadsheets and databases." (Analyst; 2009)