Business vs Technical Analyst – skill sets, limitations, and a place at the table

It’s the age old question – what’s the best skill set for a web (or digital) analyst? Many will tell you that you’ve got to be technical, meaning you at least need to know html, javascript and SQL (at minimum). Others will tell you that you don’t need to be technical at all, you just need to understand the toolsets and be able to talk to the business. Finally, the most common answer I hear is somewhere in between – you need to be technical enough, and business savvy enough.

But what does that really mean? Am I technical enough if I can talk the talk but can’t actually write my own code? Am I biz savvy enough if I can make pretty graphs and powerpoints?

I myself fall into the somewhere in between group with a strong leaning towards the business side. On the one hand I can talk to my developers, tell them the types of code snippets I need and where they go, and read through page source code to double-check it all looks good before we send the pages live. But that is about as technical as I get. I don’t write my own code, and I tend to get lost when the conversation gets too technical. On the other hand, I am a whiz with data visualization (give me a tableau license and I’m a happy camper), I can put together great presentations, and with those pieces in hand, I tell a great story to my stakeholders. I am good at presenting the data, the insights, and the recommendations to the business. I am not good at many of the more technical aspects of data collection and validation. But what’s important here is that I know my strengths and weaknesses and I am clear about them with my management and business up front.

One of the most important things I have learned over the past several years I’ve been doing #measure stuff is to define my skill boundaries and to find ways to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses. How exactly does one minimize the obvious skill gap of lack of technical skills? I try to fill the gap by reaching out to others on my team who have the skills that I lack.

I recently started in a new position at a new company. Starting in the interview process I made it known that I am technical enough, but that I will need the help of a designer to design test layouts and the help of a developer to implement code changes and push my pages, because I am neither a designer nor a coder myself. To that end, everyone’s time is best spent doing what they are good (and efficient) at and generally, given adequate resources, the business is happy to separate out job functionality to bring together a solid product.

Of course I’d like to be more technical. I’ll never stop taking courses and learning (I’m signing up for a SQL class that begins in January). But I know myself, so I know that no matter how hard I try to write my own code I will never be as good as someone who is naturally talented at coding. And I’m ok with that because while I know that my continued efforts to be more technical will definitely help me on the job, I also know that I’ve got a team to work with and help me where my skills fall short.

So here’s the takeaway of my thoughts thus far. I believe there are 2 types of good web (digital) analysts:

The first is a technical analyst. I actually see this person as more of an implementation guru than an analyst, per se. This type of person knows the tools, knows the code, and can put pen to paper (ok, more like keyboard to screen) to get the tools, products, and sites implemented as necessary to properly collect data.

The second is the hybrid type (as I consider myself) – the type of analyst who can speak enough tech talk to get across the necessary requirements and troubleshoot with developers, but can also analyze the data outputs and come up with meaningful insights and recommendations that he or she can then present back to the business in a story that resonates.

Are these the only types of analysts that can succeed in this business? No. There are many incredibly talented analysts who are both highly technical and highly biz savvy (man I wish I had their mad skills!). There are also many who are just starting out, possibly with one or both skill sets developing in the early years of their careers (and who would do great with a program like the Analysis Exchange). But in general, I do think these are the types most likely to succeed, both personally, and as a whole pushing the #measure industry forward to be a meaningful seat at the proverbial table.

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  1. Evan Frangos

    I think it’s important to be both. I find the biggest factors that affect how important the technical aspect will be are the size of the organization, and the analytical maturity. Often smaller organizations have a lot of issues with what data is being captured and how. Having strong technical skills is very important here to be able to guide the processes that not only determine what needs to be captured to be able to analyze business outcomes, but also to guide the capture process to make sure this data is of high quality. From there, depending on what systems are in place you may as an analyst need to be able to transform that data from it’s raw format or extract it from a range of tables in a relational db to get it into a format usable for analysis.

    In larger organizations or those that are more analytically mature, the data capture needs are often already set for the most part, and the tools to be able to extract and utilize the data may already be set up and easily accessible. It is however often very beneficial to have a good understanding of how the data was captured, and often how the tables the data is stored in are structured as this often gives additional context to the data itself.

    I personally would consider the organization I work for somewhere in the middle. While I would consider myself someone who leans just slightly more on the side of the business analyst, having strong technical skills particularly in SQL and JavaScript (for web analytics) are essential. While we do have many mature data systems, our needs are constantly evolving with the rapidly changing business. Being able to troubleshoot tags on the web, and guide the capture/storage of new data points from a technical standpoint, and understand the language of developers really makes my job easier on the business side.

    What’s most important for an analyst is an intense curiousity, and being able to ask “Why?” many times about every situation to dig down many levels. This is definitely related to the business side, and without that ability the analyst is no good.

    If you’ve got th thinking part down, I feel the next most important skill for an analyst is developing expert level skills in Excel. Excel can easily be used like a relational database on a much smaller level to join many data sets, and this I feel really lays the ground work for eventually learning SQL. If you end up working with VBA macros (which you may not ever really need to), it can also be a great way to dip your toes into programming.

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