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Career Development

3 Must-Have Data Skills to Level Up Any Career

General Assembly
September 22, 2022

Technology will likely transform more than one billion jobs in the next decade, which translates to roughly one third of all jobs, globally. That means that even if you don’t work in a technical role, it’s very likely you’ll need to be increasingly tech-savvy as your career progresses. If you’re ambitious and hoping to climb the ladder quickly, you can proactively pick up new technical skills that could help you advance in your current career and stand out from your peers. 

What are technical skills? 

Technical skills are “hard skills,” or those that can be taught, defined, evaluated and measured (for example: proficiency in Photoshop). “Soft skills,” on the other hand, are more often related to interpersonal interactions or your personal attributes (for example: being good at presenting or managing people). Soft skills, while valuable, can be more challenging to teach and measure. 

Technical skills, on the other hand, are usually very practical. They may include:

  • Knowledge of programming languages
  • The ability to operate a certain type of machinery or software program
  • Expertise in digital design 
  • Proficiency in data analysis tools

So what are the must-have tech skills to develop for the future? Almost every industry increasingly relies on data to make business decisions and engage customers in real-time. Therefore, data skills are undoubtedly the area to invest in, for nearly every role including business, marketing, finance, software engineering, product management and more. 

The importance of data communication as a technical skill

It’s highly likely that everything you do at work generates or relies on data, whether you’re emailing a customer, putting together a sales pitch, creating a social content calendar or forecasting next quarter’s revenue. As businesses race to transform digitally, data has become one of the most in-demand technical skills. Data analysis is now frequently listed in job descriptions for roles that traditionally haven’t required it, such as marketing, product and operations. 

Developing data skills and data literacy can help you build skills you’ll need in the future, maintain job security, advance to a highly paid role and innovate in your current position. 

Top 3 data skills employers value, and how to use them to get ahead 

#1: Excel 

If you work in business, chances are, you rely heavily on Excel. Excel is one of the more “entry level” data analysis tools, because it’s easy to use, widely available to most professionals and helps keep track of a lot of information. It’s not uncommon for employees in marketing, sales, HR, accounting and other non-data roles to use Excel daily. The application makes data formatting and visualization simple, so you can use it to create everything from memos to sales trend reports and more. 

While most knowledge workers have basic Excel skills, the tool often isn’t used to its fullest potential. Gaining advanced proficiency in Excel can help you do your job faster, and use data to make smarter decisions. Some of the most useful Excel skills you can pick up include:

  • Quickly add up or obtain the average of numbers in a column
  • Use the Pivot Table function to display smaller cuts of data from a larger set in easy-to-consume tables 
  • Use Flash Fill to automatically complete a dataset based on a pattern (such as separating first and last names from a single column in a customer database)
  • Apply Conditional Formatting to color code or highlight cells given a certain condition, to make your spreadsheets more visually engaging and point to important information 

Excel is easily self-taught if you have the discipline to set aside time to learn it. There are plenty of videos on YouTube and written tutorials online that walk you through different functions and formulas, step by step. At General Assembly, we also offer a free online Intro to Excel workshop that will help you get started with the basics. 

However you choose to advance your Excel skills, know that it will pay off by making you better at your job, helping you get things done faster, and enabling you to sell yourself to future hiring managers. 

#2: SQL 

Structured Query Language, or SQL, is a widely used programming language for communicating with relationshional databases and searching for information within them. It’s ranked as the third most commonly used programming language, and the most in-demand skill for data jobs. SQL can extract information from large databases efficiently, helping you answer timely business questions that inform decision-making or help you solve problems. 

Even if you aren’t planning to switch careers to a full-time data role, SQL knowledge will come in handy if you work with data professionals, such as analysts. Knowledge of SQL can help you better understand how data is structured and what types of questions you can answer by combining different datasets. Having a stronger grasp of the logic behind SQL queries will save significant back-and-forth with your data team when requesting information, and help them get you an answer faster. 

Additionally, SQL can help you conduct your own analyses when Excel fails (aka, freezes because the data file you’re working on is too large), enabling you to work autonomously without bringing in someone more technical, when you have access to data yourself. 

As organizations become more data-driven, your proficiency in SQL will become a highly marketable skill that is very likely help you secure a higher salary and advance into a more strategic position. For example, marketing managers who know SQL make 41% more than those who don’t. 

#3: Statistical computing or programming

Once you learn SQL, you might find yourself curious about other programming languages, like R or Python. Python is a popular data analysis language that is beginner-friendly, easy to read and can be used to extract information, create applications and even build websites. However, it does require you to download several large libraries and can take some time to set up. R is another easy-to-learn language that offers statistical packages and enables you to find trends and patterns in data, but doesn’t require as many extra libraries as Python. 

While learning R or Python might sound extreme for someone in a non-technical role, the world is changing faster than ever before, meaning that learning new skills is a necessary step to make sure you’re ready for the future. Plus, having these skills can help you level up in your current role, in a big way. 

For example, you can use R and Python to automate everyday work (and life) tasks, from sending emails to performing daily web searches, saving you time to focus on bigger picture problems. Additionally, understanding the basic logic and concepts behind code will allow you to more easily communicate with developers and programmers—a key skill, especially if you want to advance into management at a tech company. 

Get started with data analysis skills
If you think your career could benefit from useful data analysis skills like Excel, SQL and beyond, there’s never a “right time” to get started. The time is now.

Our part-time Data Analytics Course will help you harness these tools and build the confidence and credibility to apply this versatile skill set to countless jobs.


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