How Do I Become a Data Analyst?

If you are good with numbers, naturally observe patterns, and enjoy working with computers, you might wonder how to become a data analyst. Data analysis is the gathering and assessment of data, or information, typically in numerical form. Data analysts often work in business or the information technology (IT) industry, using math, analytical skills, and computer database software to help companies solve problems, streamline processes and anticipate patterns in sales or expenses.

The first step in data analysis is collecting the information to be examined. Data analysts may gather their information from a variety of sources, including customer or client surveys and statistical reports on business sales, growth, expenses, and other key numerical data. At times, this process of selecting appropriate information is known as “data mining.” Before doing any analyses, these professionals must make sure all data is “clean,” or correct and without errors. A data analyst explores this information to find patterns with the help of computer database software. Based on these patterns, data analysts develop conclusions and formulate proposals for how to solve problems and improve efficiency. It’s not enough for a data analyst to simply state a proposal. He or she must be able to competently develop reports, often incorporating charts or graphs, presenting the information on which the suggestion is based.

Data analysts serve an important role in modern businesses. Company management personnel often depend on their work when making decisions on marketing, product innovation, manufacturing processes, transportation procedures, employee scheduling, and other necessary business tasks. As businesses become more concerned with efficiency, data analysts are becoming more in-demand.

As a field that requires technical knowledge, data analysis jobs are typically open only to those candidates who have invested in higher education. A bachelor’s degree in statistics, computer science, information technology or other technical fields of study will help an aspiring data analyst secure a position. Candidates who develop proficiency using computer database and spreadsheet software such as Oracle, SQL and Microsoft Excel may have a competitive advantage over their competition. Additionally, aspiring data analysts should be comfortable working with numbers and have a knack for noticing and investigating data trends. Because certain duties may require data analysts to develop new databases or alter existing ones, computer programming knowledge may be helpful.

Because the position is new and still evolving, data analysts are so desirable in the current job market that employers may face intense competition to find and keep talented employees in this role. The position is so sought-after that CNBC called it the “Sexiest Job of the 21st Century” in 2013, citing starting salaries as high as $125,000 per year and a positive job outlook. If you enjoy the challenge of learning new computer software and find the prospect of spending days hunting through massive amounts of numerical data to discover solutions more exciting than overwhelming, knowing how to become a data analyst could be the first step on your path to a lucrative new career.

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