Here’s What a Data Analyst Actually Do

Terence Shin
Apr 29, 2020



Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I’ve read several articles that gave me a laundry list of things that a data analyst does, but in the simplest sense, you are analyzing and visualizing data. Each company has their own databases that you can query from. These companies also have their own tools for data visualizations, like Tableau, that you use to visualize your insights and findings.

In business, there are many types of data, like product data, marketing data, and operations data, and similarly, there are several types of data analysts, like product analysts, marketing analysts, and operations analysts. What differentiates these jobs from each other is the domain knowledge relevant to each category, but ultimately, they are synonymous with the term ‘data analyst’.

General workflow of a data analyst

The spectrum of what a data analyst does ultimately depends on the company that you’re working for, but generally, a data analyst will go through the following workflow in the image above. Let’s walk through it.

Problem

Each analysis starts with a problem or a task. The level of difficulty of these tasks can differ greatly. An example of a simple task is if you were asked to write a query to provide a statistic, like yesterday’s sales in dollars. An example of a more difficult task is when the answer isn’t clear and you’re asked to explore the data. E.g. If you were asked to figure out why last month’s sales performed much worse than other months.

Explore and Query

Once you receive a problem, you’ll usually write a query or a number of queries to explore and gather the information that you need to solve the problem. This means that you’ll probably need to know SQL or Python (or both) to gather the information you need.

Continuing with the previous example, if you were asked to figure out why last month’s sales performed much worse than other months, you might query the average customer review rating last month to see if there was a problem with the product, or you might query last month’s marketing spend compared to other months to see if there was a significant cut in marketing spend.

Gather Insights

The next step is to gather your insights. Sometimes, gathering your insights means copying and pasting your insights into an Excel sheet. Other times, it means saving your queries that you used to find the information that you need for the next step.

Visualize Insights

Once you gather your insights, you may be required to visualize your findings. Sometimes, it’ll be as simple as making a bar graph in Excel. Other times, it means creating an extensive dashboard to be used by C-suite executives. The skills required in this step depends both on the company and the project. It includes but is not limited to, Powerpoint, Excel, Tableau, Matplotlib, etc…

Communicate Your Findings

Lastly, you’ll be required to communicate your results, whether it be through a slide deck with several static graphs or a dashboard with several KPI metrics. Similar to the STAR method for answering behavioral, you would walk through the problem, the task, the approach you took, and the end results(s).

I know that I’m generalizing by simplifying and I know this doesn’t encompass every single thing that a data analyst does in his/her day-to-day. However, for those who have absolutely no idea what a data analyst does the same way some of you have no idea what a speech-language pathologist does, this provides a decent idea of what they do.

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“Here’s What a Data Analyst Actually Do”
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