by Uju Motanya
Our Learn & Earn Series takes you behind the scenes of our collaborative creative residency with Floreo Labs. Floreo Labs runs a paid creative residency for individuals looking to expand their skills in tech while working on real-time tech initiatives and building their creative tech portfolio.
I’m a photographer and nanny in NYC who loves to create things and figure out solutions to problems, moment by moment. When the COVID pandemic began, I was tired of working full time as a nanny and I had to come to terms with the reality that my burgeoning career as a freelance portrait photographer would be on pause.
I’d been tossing around the idea of getting into tech, either through web development, UX design, or data analysis. I also had a desire to freelance and leave the rigid full-time work behind me for a more flexible lifestyle.
While I have a degree in biology, I lacked the experience needed to pivot to a different field like Software Development. I considered boot-camps like General Assembly, Thinkful, Springboard, Bloc and Lambda. These boot camps generally cost around $8K-15K if you pay upfront. Some schools require no upfront payment until you get a job, but they then tax you at a high rate with long-term contracts and monthly minimum payments once you start earning a paycheck. I thought endlessly about how I could afford these programs that were way outside of my budget.
I wanted a new career but I knew accruing tons of debt wasn’t the way to do it. So after thinking creatively about my options, I reached out to Naomi (fellow photographer, and Co-Founder of Floreo Labs and Founder of All Eyez Media) and decided to join Floreo Labs and take the opportunity to learn for free. I’m sharing my process (and FREE resources) for forging my own affordable path in tech as a data analyst.
The team at Floreo labs gave me the opportunity to jump into tech as a data analyst and help them create data management solutions for their marketing division. After I looked into how important data analysis was in understanding human behavior, I knew that the work would be necessary and useful for upcoming product launches they were incubating. Choosing to learn more about data analytics was somewhat of a no-brainer, as I was inspired by the work of data journalist Mona Chalabi.
Mona turns data into animations and illustrations to tell a story, like in the Mandatory Paid Vacation graph above. Her work confirmed for me that data analysis could be both a creative outlet in addition to a pathway to a lifestyle more aligned with my values.
So what exactly is a data analyst?
Data analysts derive meaning from data. They are responsible for organizing, cleaning, and modeling data sets in order to unearth patterns and inform decision-making processes. Data analysts help teams to draw conclusions and understand the deeper story behind the numbers. If you're someone who gets a kick out of storytelling through the data (say for instance you enjoy learning about sporting statistics, stock market figures, or how to hack the IG algorithm) then the field of data analysis might be for you!
Data analysis is useful because businesses, brands, artists, solopreneurs all want to work smarter not harder. Nothing is smarter than being able to set and execute on data-driven business development goals.
With Floreo Labs, I currently focus on marketing data and have learned a great deal about the importance of data for successful product launches. If you launch a new product, like a new blog, you'll often have several data sets to work with:
Mail chimp data reports for email marketing campaigns
Social media click-through data and post-performance insights
Empathy maps for understanding user pain points
Qualitative data from feedback forms/surveys
It was my goal to organize the data and look for ways we could expand and better meet the needs of our community base. The process of studying data sets over time helped me predict the outcomes of the THC website relaunch, which helped the marketing team plan accordingly and make adjustments to their email marketing efforts and social media strategy.
More broadly speaking, data analysts provide insight on how companies can boost customer acquisition and retention, push the development of key product features, and help designers create seamless, user experiences backed by data. All of these things make data analysis a very in demand and lucrative skill to grow in. A Data Analyst salary is about $67,000 per year on average in NYC and $113,000 per year on average for a Data Scientist.
What I've learned so far
It's really been a joy to more formally begin my education as a technologist and one of the primary things I’m learning at Floreo Labs has been how to research more effectively. My residency offers me the space to research relevant statistics and metrics on consumer behavior, customer journeys and engagement.
One of the datasets I'm working with is from Mailchimp. Through Mailchimp, users can gain a better understanding of how their audience interacts with individual marketing campaigns. I've learned what key performance indicators Mailchimp tracks and how they visualize customer journeys on the THC website. Wix and Sprout Social have also been useful in learning the demographics of the user audience and how they engage with the content.
While built-in Mailchimp data reports provide a great overview of the user audience, there’s still gaps in how much information you can get from its reporting services. We created a main user list from our most active members and began to strategize on how we could be be more intentional about our marketing efforts on a number of channels, such as Twitter, Instagram, Slack, etc. I also learned some data scraping, a technique in which a computer program extracts data from human-readable output coming from another program to then parse common keywords used in customer surveys.
Typeform is the platform we‘ve been using to find common keywords from lead generative surveys. I am also learning how to clean the data to provide optimal results. The qualitative data could be used for increasing user engagement, customer journeys, or providing useful keywords to use in a search engine to boost brand awareness.
Data scientists create algorithms and use scientific methods to extract data and provide more insight into it, whether the data is processed or unprocessed. I was able to learn how to do this using python (W3 schools has been a helpful resource for learning python). These two data sets have allowed me to more deeply understand the interests and needs of a subscriber base.
I have been able to get lots of help from The Lab, and they’ve been great in guiding me through what key data I should be looking for. They have also helped me stay motivated and consistent when learning something new. I have meetings with them during the week to discuss the questions I have and update them on work and ideas I may have. Their support is especially helpful when I get stuck. This creative residency also provided support by way of a monthly stipend, which is part of Floreo Lab's mission to pay people to learn. That's been a great motivator for me to keep going and has validated this work experience for me.
A great deal of the work I continue to do involves finding ways to further my learning in python and data analytics. Shaw Academy was a good place to start for educational content and I was able to sign up for a free trial and download all of the notes that I needed. Of course, Youtube also has a wealth of information too. Currently, I’ve been researching Excel tutorials for beginners. There are plenty of intermediate tutorials too.
I've included a playlist of all of the videos that helped me to get started as a bonus resource that you can access here!
Freelancing as a data analyst requires you to promote yourself and your skills to new clients. I have seen people on Fiverr looking for work just designing infographics, flowcharts, and pie graphs from excel sheets, or CSV files, so one doesn't have to know a lot to get paid. For full-time roles, I have also seen several live and consistent job postings for Data Analysts and Scientists on Indeed and LinkedIn. Data Analysis/Science is definitely in demand.
It has been so easy to get to know the team and to ideate on projects that interest me. However, most of my life it has been very hard for me to stay self motivated. I felt like I needed to stay in a boot camp because I thought that I might need someone there to keep me on track. I knew that there was an abundance of information online, but for someone to succeed at being self taught they had to be extremely disciplined. I know now that these doubts are a byproduct of how our current educational system socializes learners to be dependent on a source outside of themself to succeed. My creative residency in the Lab has allowed me to begin the process of unlearning this self doubt and recognizing my own agency to lead my learning. And my advice to anyone looking to get into tech is to consider all your [free] options before committing to a pricey boot camp. A strong learning community goes a long way in launching your next creative project or professional goal!
This year has indeed brought many struggles but I am thankful for the knowledge of those around me at Floreo Labs and the resources that they have pointed me to. All of their work and projects are to support the community and it is definitely infectious to be around people with this mindset. I am much more encouraged now in believing that I can do this and excited to continue growing as a technologist in the months and years to come.