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More and more organisations are now keenly hiring business analytics professionals. However, the best data analytics folks have a rare mix of skills that makes them, well, rare. What are the best data analytics folks like? And, more importantly, how can we become them?
Perhaps a very good way to become one of those sought after analysts is to deconstruct their skill-sets to see what makes their skill mix so heady. We can then try to model our own skills sets in the right direction to increase our own value.
Broadly, the skills of the business analysts would fall into two categories - the hard skills, and the soft skills. The hard skills are the more objective skill sets and are, therefore, easier to define. The soft skills, perhaps strangely contrary to their name, are far harder to define and evaluate. They’re also harder to cultivate.
The hard skills are the ones that you see on a job advertisement: specific educational qualifications, required years of experience, and knowledge and experience of various tools.
The required qualifications depend on the role - while business analyst roles look for graduates, engineers, management grads, data scientist roles may prefer more specialised qualifications such as post graduation in statistics, or such. Professional certification courses are a good way to get equipped with the necessary skills to either get started, or to get ahead of the pack having upskilled oneself.
The tools that are required depend largely on the role, however, a few tools are universally desired - statistical tools such as R, or SPSS, and a database engines such as Microsoft SQL Server or Teradata. And then, of course, there’s always the omnipresent MS Excel. If the role involves big data, there would be a requirement of Hadoop/MapReduce, Hive, or Pig. Many enterprises also desire a degree of familiarity with BI tools such as MicroStrategy or Business Objects.
The softer skills are where the real challenges lie. A great business professional must be a fantastic storyteller. Some of the most important skills of a good business analyst, therefore, are the ones that a good storyteller must possess - creativity, curiosity, and tremendous communication skills. Like classic storytellers who appeal to audiences of all ages, a good business analyst must also be able to address various layers of command within an organisation.
One must also be willing to continuously challenge existing assumptions, and see how they hold up to the test of the data. Challenge, explore, and champion new ideas - that’s the motto of a good member of this breed.
A good business analyst is a great unifier - a bridge that joins two very distinct areas: business that may express its requirements, goals, and objectives in abstract terms; and technology that requires the business need to be structured, and prepared for an analytical solution. Not too different from a good story teller who gathers abstract bits and pieces from the world around him and then weaves them in a narrative - a narrative that captivates and enriches the audience!