What are the necessary human qualities to become data-driven?

My students often ask for specific examples as we dive deeper into the quarter. As they discover the data domain through my 10 week course, they become motivated and want to make sure they are doing the right thing for their career.

In an era flooded with a deluge of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, it is starting to feel like humans are becoming less and less required. More and more, we see professionals around us asking: is there a future for us?

I’d like to now share a story about one of my students;

Giorgio graduated from my summer online class. We had an opportunity to meet very recently as he was travelling west coast. I had invited him to join me for coffee and then a surf session. Our encounter made me reflect on 4 essential qualities one should always have before engaging in data.

  • The will to learn your game: Know your foundations, comprehend your field. Earn both credibility and self-confidence by understanding the domain. The knowledge and understanding will enable you to explain key terms (such as master data, conformed dimension, middleware, or ETL) and earn you respect in your projects. It will also facilitate concise and precise conversations with your stakeholders by avoiding using approximate terms to define key concepts.
  • The curiosity to try new things: Let’s face it, regardless of what stage you’re at with data, there is and always will be new approaches, technologies, etc. coming up. We can’t halt our We must constantly renew our knowledge base. Without the motivation or curiosity to explore these new developments, we will miss critical terms that technology is offering. We need to recall the geek inside all of us and power that proactive, open-mindedness towards the constant yearning to learn new things.
  • The courage to go outside your comfort zone and your traditional habits: We all have our strong suits. For some, it’s data management and for others it will be hardware, project management or change leadership. But being successful in data relies on mastering all four pillars of the domain: data, system, people and processes. Embracing changes and testing boundaries will not only improve our expertise, but will also take us beyond the silo in which we operate.
  • The humility accept failure and listen to others: We will find ourselves, on many occasions, standing up at the whiteboard or running presentations that will be shattered by succinct comments from our audience. Many times, our certainties will flare in conviction and explode in our faces after a more relevant comment is made. Our reaction during these moments is critical. Our natural reflex will be to fight back. As someone who has been presenting and teaching for a long time, I have learned to listen and see the correction or criticism as heaven sent information that will ultimately make us better.

Now, back to Giorgio! As we sipped our coffees by the beach in Pacifica, Giorgio unknowingly helped me understand how critical these four qualities are. As a student from Italy wanting to learn more about data, he had made the investment in money and time to learn online and then to come to California and meet with me. The online class had been a game changer for him and he wanted to learn more in a direct, face-to-face conversation. Not only did Giorgio show up on time, he was ready to try new things; I had made plans to go surfing with my friend and when I invited him, he thought surfing was a local expression for networking. It was only when I told him we’d rent a board that he realized that it was the real thing.

Despite the freezing temperatures, the seals and the sharks, he did not hesitate to join us to experience NorCal surfing. During our discussions at the cafe, he never fell short of questions and demonstrated an amazing ability to listen. I was amazed by his grit and his focus. When it was time to catch some waves, I showed him the basic moves. While I was getting ready, he kept on practicing them until he could pass them naturally. But then comes the kicker, this last thing that made it click about these data qualities:

Gorgio literally kicked our butts. His paddling strength was extraordinary and his agility on the board was outstanding. His big smile said a lot. He had indeed never surfed before and here I am left with the last quality that struck me: humility. When I looked at his resume, I learned that he was multi-national medalist for rowing in Italy. He just never bragged about it. He was not here to impress any of us, just here to learn and listen.

When we finally regrouped on the parking lot after 90 minutes in the cold, he engaged conversation with my buddy in a quest to learn and satisfy his curiosity once more. Within ten minutes, this got him a job interview with my friend who is CEO at a fast growing wine start-up. Fast forward two weeks, this student from NYC landed a job in SF working for him.

Not only did I learn a fantastic lesson, I also made another wave buddy.