A Data Scientist's Journey: From Evening Hobby to Full-Time Career
Welcome to our “Journey to Tessellation” series, in which we’re sharing the exciting, unconventional, and innovative career paths behind our entire team of consultants. Read on to discover how Zac Zinda, one of our newest Data Science consultants, switched career paths from teaching and the mortgage industry into data analytics.
Early Into My Career
My path into the world of analytics and data science has been both unconventional and winding. Every step of the way has been full of interesting people and valuable lessons that have shaped my analytics career immensely! I wouldn’t change a single thing about my path.
As an 18 year old, I confidently declared that the career path for me was physical therapy. I majored in kinesiology and went four years blissfully unaware of the budding analytics field that was out there. I don’t think I once opened Excel as an undergraduate. The first twist in my career path came as the result of a part time job I was working during those undergrad years.
I was tutoring math and science in an after school program for low-income and minority students when a recruiter from Teach for America reached out to me. After a few conversations I opted to move to Nashville, Tennessee to teach high school chemistry and physics at an under-resourced, Title I school. I felt confident that this was the right career move for me.
I happily followed that path of many high school teachers- I taught, coached the wrestling team, advised Science Olympiad students, and embedded myself in the school community. But a major career switch was looming alongside major changes to my personal life and a bit of government bureaucracy.
While living in Nashville, I met my wife. She wanted to move to Minneapolis to be closer to family. Fortunately, my own family would only be three hours away, so in 2016 we relocated. After moving, I realized there was a lot of red tape involved with transferring my teaching license to Minnesota, especially when I had earned mine through a non-traditional route, like Teach for America.
As a result, I took a turn and accepted a non-teaching job that ultimately kickstarted my path towards analytics. I ended up in the mortgage industry, which is where I would first get exposed to the power and potentials of analytics.
One day, I was talking to a coworker who mentioned that she was doing a part-time analytics degree outside of work. Based on my own work style, I realized that analytics might be a fun topic worth exploring. I went home, did a few google searches, and like many people just starting out in their analytics careers, I began some self-directed learning through Coursera and DataCamp. Of course, this was several years before Data Coach existed, so I took advantage of the then-best options for upskilling during my free time.
After nearly a year of online study, I decided to make the switch from analytics as an evening and weekend hobby to a full-time career. I went back to school full-time and completed the Master of Science in Business Analytics program at the University of Minnesota. After three semesters of school and an analytics stint at another company, I fortunately ended up getting hired by Tessellation, an innovative boutique analytics consultancy.
My Skills and Expertise
Throughout my unconventional career path into analytics and data science, I got experience with a pretty wide variety of tools and techniques. I can code in Python and R, and have used them both for supervised and unsupervised learning, time series analysis, and causal inference. I have built dozens of Power BI dashboards. I’ve dabbled with Tableau, big data technologies like Spark and Hadoop, and web tools like Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics.
But most importantly, I think my diverse work experience prior to analytics helps me communicate the work I’m doing with a non-technical audience, especially because for much of my life I was in non-technical roles. So don’t undermine the value of your non-data analytics experiences!
Tessellation's Biggest Appeal
Over the last couple of years I had the opportunity to network and chat with a half dozen consulting firms across the Twin Cities. Each one brought something positive to the table, but what really stuck out about Tessellation was that everyone I met was an expert in something particular. The team is made up of Tableau Zen Masters, Alteryx ACEs, remarkable data scientists and serious data experts. This is both remarkable and inspiring.
Everyone at Tesselation is at the top of the line in at least one piece of technology, whether it be Tableau, Power BI, or Alteryx. As someone who wants to learn from the talented people around me, this was a huge selling point! I also felt like if I were on the other side as a client these were the type of data experts I’d want to bring in.
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