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Career Advancement In Data Mining
by Jim Wheaton (co-author)
Principal, Wheaton Group
Original version of an article that appeared in the
March 19, 2001 issue of "DM News"
If you are just beginning a career in the field of direct marketing data
mining, then congratulations! You have made one of the most
professionally rewarding career choices you can make. If you are a few
years into your career, then you already know what we mean. Regardless,
this article is for those of you who want to understand how to expand your
Ample Opportunity Across Multiple Career Paths
the past few years are any indication of what lies ahead, then you
will have no shortage of jobs to choose from. You will be
in great demand because you are on the vanguard of the Customer
Relationship Management revolution. Employment prospects will
be particularly attractive if you successfully combine the statistical
techniques that you learned in school with the "data detective"
skills that can only come from extensive, in-the-trenches experience.
The exact direction that your career takes will be influenced by your
non-quantitative skills and interests. Typically, data miners follow one
of two very different career paths. Some remain on the technical side of
the business, and eventually either move up the ranks to manage an entire staff
of analysts or transition into the related field of data warehousing and
processing. Others evolve into generalists, and ultimately become senior
level marketers or strategy consultants.
Establishing a Solid Foundation of Statistical Techniques
and Programming Skills
Regardless, you must first
establish a solid grounding in the basics of data mining.
You should strive to develop deep expertise in core analytical techniques
such as clustering and predictive modeling. You should also
work to become an excellent programmer in one or more of the widely
used analytical packages such as SAS or SPSS.
There are two kinds of data miners. One has just enough programming
proficiency to execute the statistical steps, or "procedures," required for
analytical projects. The other is able to manipulate data in complex and
sophisticated ways. Consider, for example, a predictive modeling project
where the data miner wishes to create a derived field to act as a potential
predictor variable, and where the analysis file must be manipulated in a
complex way to achieve this end. The data miner with weak programming
skills will either have to forego this variable or depend on others for
assistance. The data miner with strong programming skills, however, will
meet this challenge with ease.
Often, analysts with weak programming skills work at companies with large
statistical staffs, proprietary data mining systems, and rigid processes and
methodologies. We have both interviewed candidates who equate data mining
with the pushing of buttons in the prescribed sequence indicated by the company
manual. They have little appreciation of the "eureka moments" that occur
when laborious digging unearths a paradigm-shifting fact or market
segment. You do not want to become one of these individuals! They
are of limited value to other firms.
The Effect of Employer Size On Career Development
size of your employer is an important consideration. If you
are at a small company, you will have a relatively greater impact
on the organization. However, opportunities for growth might
be more limited. Also, there may be fewer chances to latch
onto experienced mentors who will push you to achieve your potential.
Building Upon the Base: Effective Communication and
an Understanding of Direct Marketing
As an ambitious
data miner, you must develop an appreciation of how the results
of analytical projects are leveraged by marketers and fit into the
company's overall strategy. The astute analyst will soon realize
that it takes much more than just statistics and programming virtuosity
to break into the elite of our industry. It will be critical
for you to begin thinking of yourself as a quantitatively grounded
direct marketer rather than as just a technician.
As you evolve into a well-rounded business professional, you must develop the
ability to communicate clearly and concisely. This will allow you to work
effectively with experienced professionals in marketing, sales and business
development, many of whom will have MBA's and more years of experience than
you. If you are a foreign national, a language barrier might be an
Do not be discouraged if you find it difficult to master the business and
communications side of direct marketing. It is understandable because you
will have spent several years focusing entirely on numbers and code.
Fortunately, many inexpensive vehicles are available for
self-improvement. You might want to start with community college courses
in business, grammar and writing. You can also choose from countless
audio tapes, videos and books on these subjects.
Data Warehousing and Processing: A Related Technical
If you think that you would like to eventually
branch out beyond data mining, but want to remain on the technical
side of the business, you will be in an ideal position to transition
into the exploding field of data warehousing and processing.
As a successful analyst, you will have honed your logic and data
detective skills. Also, you will have become an accomplished
Your greatest asset, however, will be your years of experience as a
sophisticated, technically grounded, direct marketing oriented, end user of
data warehouses and marts. Stories of data warehousing disasters
circulate throughout our industry - systems that either do not accomplish what
they are supposed to, or that do so with an unacceptable expenditure of time
and effort. Often, the reason is that the designers and builders of these
systems are not direct marketers. You, however, will be in an ideal
position to avoid these pitfalls, and your employer and clients will recognize
An estimated 30,000 new jobs will be created in the direct marketing industry
in the next five years. Many of these will be in the area of data
warehousing and processing. Do not be concerned if you need additional
training - to learn a new programming language, for example. There is
such a shortage of experienced personnel that many employers will contribute
towards, or even pick up all of, your tuition.
Jim Wheaton is a Principal at Wheaton Group, and can be reached at 919-969-8859
or firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm specializes in direct marketing
consulting and data mining, data quality assessment and assurance, and the
delivery of cost-effective data warehouses and marts. Jim is also a
Co-Founder of Data University www.datauniversity.org.