Meet Michael Larner, Data Analytics Instructor at General Assembly Los Angeles

Michael Larner

Exploration, by the Numbers

Michael Larner is a passionate leader in the analytics space who specializes in using techniques like predictive modeling and machine learning to deliver data-driven impact. A Los Angeles native, he has spent the last decade consulting with hundreds of clients, including 50-plus Fortune 500 companies, to answer some of their most challenging business questions. Additionally, Michael empowers others to become successful analysts by leading trainings and workshops for corporate clients and universities, including General Assembly's part-time Data Analytics course and SQL/Excel workshops in Los Angeles. Read Michael’s articles “A Beginner’s Guide to SQL,” and “A Beginner’s Guide to Python.”

How would you define data analytics in two sentences?

Data analytics is all about learning how to access, manipulate, and ultimately use the data that’s available in the world. Central to this is developing the ability to think critically about information in order to turn it into actionable and impactful insights.

What do you love about data analytics?

Every day, I have the opportunity to use my natural curiosity, thirst for knowledge, and passion for data-driven problem-solving to enable my clients to have a huge impact on the world.

What’s an example that embodies the best of what data analytics can and should accomplish in real life?

A marketer could use the skills they learned in the Data Analytics course to compare the performance of all of their marketing initiatives and allocate resources to those performing best. Alternatively, an executive could use these skills to compare the resources and performance of different teams within their organization to determine which are operating efficiently.

Why should someone learn essential data analytics skills at GA?

GA provides an amazing worldwide community of colleagues, peers, and fellow learners that serve as a wonderful resource as you continue to build your career. GA does an excellent job exposing students to real-world analyses that provide them with opportunities to gain practical experience. We focus on practical skills that you can use from day one — NOT on theory that leaves you wondering how to actually apply your new skills.

What personal qualities will set someone up for success in data analytics, both in class and in the field?

Somebody who is curious, driven, and has an intense passion for learning. To have a successful career in analytics, you have to be willing to ask questions and always focus on the business objective.

What was your path to becoming a teacher and leader in data analytics?

Lieberman Research Worldwide (LRW) has always invested heavily in developing its employees into the best analysts in the industry. I saw an opportunity to contribute to that training by building a course focused on helping my colleagues better use Excel to deliver highly impactful insights for our clients. Since then, that program has graduated more than 300 of my colleagues and expanded to include a team of awesome instructors. As I gained confidence and refined my skills as an instructor, I sought out other teaching opportunities like guest lecturing at USC and ultimately becoming an instructor at General Assembly.

Why did the opportunity to teach at GA appeal to you?

I’m a GA alumnus myself (Back-End Web Development, 2014) and thought that returning as an instructor would be a great way to contribute and stay connected to the GA community.

How would you describe your teaching philosophy?

As an instructor, my goal is to help students build a strong foundation in data analytics and confidence in their own abilities so that they feel empowered to tackle difficult challenges on their own. So much of data analysis is about walking into the unknown, asking the right questions, seeking out needed information, and putting in the effort to understand both the business — as well as the data available in order to provide valuable and actionable insight. I want my students to feel equipped to handle that process and comfortable to seek out guidance when they’re facing a new challenge.

What has been your favorite memory as a GA instructor?

I’ve loved hearing how my students are able to apply the things that they are learning in class in their lives. These bits of feedback have ranged from somebody answering an important business question at work that felt out of reach to others taking on new responsibilities, or even entirely new jobs!

How do you help struggling students break through to meet or go beyond their minimum GA course requirements?

I’ve found that the best way to help students who are struggling with some of the topics is to help contextualize the material within their world. Sometimes, it’s hard for folks to connect to theory or generic examples, but if you’re able to bridge the gap between the classroom and their real life, then comprehension can really start to happen.

How do you push high-achieving students to go beyond the minimum GA course requirements?

For those students who really excel, I encourage them to seek out as many learning opportunities as possible. Some great examples are helping other students who may be struggling, getting involved in an open-source analytics project that aligns with their interests, or brainstorming how to apply their new skills at work.

What are some free resources and tools a student can use to stay up to speed in data analytics?

There are so many great resources out there to help you learn new analytic skills, including YouTube. I also highly recommend podcasts and blogs including Data Skeptic and FlowingData.

Between taking the course and finding a job, what is the best way to get practical, real-world experience in data analytics?

Find a topic that you’re passionate about and get engaged with a side project. Whether it’s for a personal project or working with an organization that you support, there’s so much opportunity to apply your new data analytics skills. To help get you thinking, here are some examples of side projects that I’ve tackled in the past: an interactive dashboard to help family members with their car shopping process using vehicle specs, pricing, and safety data, and a puppy-training tool so we could keep track of our puppy’s schedule and training progress.