Meet Vincent, who started his career at Google in the Sales department and switched to business analytics successfully. Read the interview to learn more about his transition and the learnings he made on that way.
Vincent, before we jump right into your journey, can you please introduce yourself?
I have a very French name but I'm originally from the Netherlands. However, I actually work for Google in Dublin. In the context of my journey, let me explain where it started and where it goes.
Before I started to work, I studied in the Netherlands. I did a bachelor’s in business, and then a master’s in Business Information Management. So, that’s where it already got a bit more technical. That's probably where the transition might have already started.
Almost 5 years ago, in 2016, I started at Google. And most of the time, I was working in sales teams, which I think is a great start if you come from uni, as you get to really understand the products, the organization, the processes and culture.
Even though it was a very customer-facing role, I spent a lot of time on understanding the products, especially the very data-driven ones. For example, I worked on selling Google Analytics. But I think the biggest frustration that anyone who likes tech and data has, is this talking about data, but when someone needs to crunch the numbers, you usually give that away if you’re working in a commercial role. That’s when I started to think “Hey, actually, I can do it as well, or I think I can do it.”
Therefore, over the course of 4 years, the frustration was growing and growing in a very positive sense leading to saying, “Hey, instead of talking about data, I actually want to do something with data.”
During the journey, I tried to find ways to educate myself, see what's needed, try things out in certain projects, get learnings on the side. That's why I made the transition around a year ago to move to a business analyst position, to instead of talking about data, now actually crunching the numbers myself.
When you first discovered that frustration, did you directly think about transitioning into the role? What was the tipping point that made you do it in the end?
There have been a combination of different points that let me make the decision. Let me try to summarize as much as possible, and potentially highlight a couple of points.
When it came to the frustration, the main element was that I’ve only had 40 hours a week at work and tried to split it into 80% of my core role in sales and spending the other 20% on analytical projects and learning.. In reality, it’s usually 100% core job and 20% on top of it. Therefore, I felt like stretching myself by wearing 2 hats at the same time, switching between my sales mindset and the analytical one constantly.
I realized that I wanted to focus mostly on those 20% of my time. And the 2 different mindsets are very, very consuming. That’s one point where I say, in a transitioning phase, always make sure you dedicate some time to make that transition. Focus also internally in your company by doing so. That's very powerful as you build a network, you learn from others, especially in big companies, like the one I'm working for myself.
The second point is if you look at analysts, you always have a little bit of imposter syndrome, when you speak to them.Sometimes I work for a week on SQL code, and it's like a huge query and you're like, “How the hell do I need to understand that?”. Especially if you just learned it. But then again, thinking back, they worked on it for a week, they don't do it perfectly either. So, the bridge feels really far, but actually, it's a limiteing shortening.
The point I want to try to get across is that a lot of the things that they usually know, and I know as an analyst as well, is not something you always know directly or you need to spend time on finding the information. In other words, I think one way that helped me make the transition is not only looking at the resources in my company, but also with the resources outside the company to take particular skills. It could be from project management skills, to coding skills, to just working well, especially to particularly telling a story. So, dedicate some time or think out of the box, in terms of things outside your work.
And then last but not least, I think discipline is very important. What I mean by that is, if you do something 1 hour a week, it doesn't feel like a lot during a 40-hour workweek. But if you've done that for a year, you’ve already spent 50 hours on it, and you're already way better than a year ago. And I think there, if you already have a commercial sales job, making time within the work to spend on something else and convince your manager about it, can be quite hard. So, lowering that barrier as much as possible just to consistently spend a little bit of time on learning, you’ll achieve your goal more easily. Doing a part-time bootcamp could also be a solution.
To summarize, I would say those three points will help anyone to make that transition. On the one hand, trying to find opportunities to be able to gain the skills, get to know people, and especially understanding what the requirements are to make the transition. Second of all, you can’t always learn everything on your own. So, sometimes, you want to go check externally to learn particular skills. Especially if you think about coding SQL, Python, maybe just Excel and spreadsheets, there are 1000s of offerings that you can easily learn from. So, I think that's the last one.
What was holding you back when you felt this frustration? What would be your recommendation to overcome concerns about transitioning into a new field?
When I think back about the transition in general, I think of my concerns about leaving the nice people around me at work. But I had to realize that in the end I'm still working for the same company. The culture is quite similar in the new team.
Let me zoom in a little bit more about my concerns. I think imposter syndrome is definitely an element but there are multiple perspectives that I can put on it. On the one hand, if you speak to analysts and you see the work they do, you get these daunting scripts of amazing big reports. You’re like, “How the hell could they build that?” You try to digest it in the first 10 minutes you see it, while they might have been working on it for months.
One thing I struggled with along the way was, knowing the mountain I wanted to climb, but I didn’t know the route upwards. So, if you think about the metaphorical perspective of literally climbing a mountain, if you have a tour guide who can say, “Hey, here's the way to go upwards,” it's probably very doable. But if you have to figure it out from scratch without any help, it can be very, very tough to get there.
I think one of the concerns was the requirements for landing such a job. And then afterwards, figuring out, “Alright, how do I get towards a level that I know a certain programming language? Or how can I prove that I can work with particular stakeholders?” Especially there, in my particular journey, I spend a lot of time figuring out what's the right thing to do? Because if you think about learning SQL, I think there's hundreds of offerings to do so. But who is the right tour guide to take you up that mountain?
And I think that's the question there, if I look back at my own journey, I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, because I think that the industry was less mature, the way people were working was slightly different. Now, the industry actually sees that need, and has become more structured.
So, I know from you from Ironhack, that there's already more value and structure to learning data analytics. That's something that I couldn't find at the time but is the perfect entry for everyone who wants to transition their career.
I do say there's certain imposter syndrome, if you see where you need to go. But it's actually like climbing a mountain. If you have the right guidance, it only gets 10 times easier to do so, even though the climb is still the exact same. And I think that was one thing that I needed to invest a lot of time in that maybe delayed my transition. But I had the passion and motivation to go in that direction.
You were also talking about, if you transition into this world, in this data analytics world, that it's also important to show what your skills are. Do you have any recommendations on how to make sure that you can prove that you have the skills?
So, if I look at a job description that you usually see for analyst positions, you will have two pockets to cover. On the one hand, you have the hard skills. And on the other hand, you have the soft skills. And I think the approach on how to build your resume, or how to build your brand or story for those two are different. I think if you go towards the hard skills, it's mostly about, “Hey, can I easily convince someone in an interview or with my resume that I’m the right one?” So, to give an easy example, if you want to know if I can speak English, I've lived in Dublin for 4 years. So, that's kind of proof there, right?
If it comes to soft skills, usually you are asked either hypothetical questions or example questions. In that sense, I think it's good to have examples that you have worked on something that is very analytical. Is there a particular project? Just always demonstrate your analytical mindset.
Thank you so much for all those insights. To wrap things up - What has been your biggest learning and what’s your most important advice to anyone about to transition into a new field?
That's definitely a good question to ask. The main thing to highlight is that I 100% knew I really wanted this. But not only that, I was also quite vocal and passionate about it. Every data analyst around me says they wanted to work in this field, but they also demonstrated it. Therefore, the main advice would be to always stay curious and also to address that you want to move in that direction.
Furthermore, what I've seen during that transition have been people talking about career changes but don’t acting that way or the other way around. That’s a mistake as if you say you want something but you're not acting like it, usually when you get an opportunity, you might drop the ball. If you're acting towards it, but you don't say it, then there's no one helping you along the way. So, it’s very important to act like it and say it in that way.