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December 13, 2014
Information Insight

Learning to Speak Data

The last time I tried to learn a new language was when I took Spanish in high school. Despite years of memorizing vocabulary words and conjugating verbs, no one would ever mistake me for a native speaker today. The Spanish classes certainly made a difference, but gaining a true mastery of any language requires some degree of immersion. It’s not enough to spend an hour each day conversing with equally limited classmates instead ideally, you need to go to another country and be forced to constantly use an unfamiliar language until it becomes natural.

While I haven’t worried about Spanish in some time, I’ve found myself reflecting on my Spanish experience quite frequently over the past few weeks. In an effort to boost my data analysis skills, I have been trying to become proficient at using the application QlikView, a Business Intelligence tool that combines data extraction and manipulation capabilities. In addition to its data crunching component, QlikView also offers a robust user interface that allows the user to create a holistic view of the data being studied. While it is built intuitively enough that anyone can get going analyzing pre-loaded datasets, harnessing the true power of the application requires a minimal amount of coding knowledge to extract the data in the first place.

Anyone who has been around databases or is familiar with SQL would find learning to use QlikView a very straightforward process, but for me, a relative novice, it is a new undertaking. Much like learning a language, books and manuals will only go so far. To fully grasp the application and the underlying coding syntax, one must practice and practice frequently – a concept simple in theory but difficult to execute when combined with the daily demands of a full time job.

The ability to balance these demands is one of the things that makes Kenway such a great place to work. QlikView experts around me are more than happy to answer questions and give guidance, as I’m sure is the case at many organizations. But more than that, I’ve benefited from a concerted effort put forth by my colleagues to get me involved and up to speed on our project work that deals with QlikView. The people with whom I work genuinely want to help, and the culture of the firm is such that people are constantly supportive and aware of the long-term benefits of investing in employees. Though it sounds like a no-brainer, in my time as a consultant I have found that this mindset is not anywhere near as widespread as one might expect.

I’ve also found that Kenway’s supportive culture applies not only to helping employees grow but also to helping clients develop tools they can use again and again. When something entails parsing through reams of data, clients often come to consultants looking for answers. Knowing this, consultants are notorious for packaging up deliverables that are rich in fluff and scarce on valuable findings, and will charge each new “answer” as a separate project. This is not the case at Kenway–those that help me understand QlikView make the same effort with our clients, providing not only answers to our clients’ data questions but also the knowledge to repeat the process and find insights using the tools that Kenway has built.

This approach has been gratifying for me, and from what I’ve been able to see, clients feel the same way. For both of us, coming to Kenway to better understand data analysis is a refreshing way to learn something new and valuable. In my mind, it’s akin to spending a semester abroad with a welcoming Spanish-speaking family after years spent trying to learn Spanish through vocabulary quizzes.

Less guacamole, though.

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