A decade ago, only specialists had the ability to manipulate data and build out data structures—but times have changed. Although working with data has become far more commonplace, professionals still struggle to understand data manipulation.
“That’s why the data analytics certificate at UChicago is so valuable,” says Anish Gera, an instructor in the Data Analytics for Business Professionals certificate and Data Science Manager at Discover Financial Services. “It gives you the fundamental tools that allow you to grow and understand more.”
Today’s fast-moving business climate requires adapting to the latest shifts in technology, Gera says, noting that none of the statistical tools he used at the beginning of his career are still in circulation. Gera attributes much of his success to keeping a close eye on the latest developments and preparing himself for what’s next.
“What has guided me through my career has been an inquisitive mindset,” he says. “We all learn as we go. The technologies and methodologies are always evolving, so I can’t be fixed to anything. It’s about honing your skills as a problem solver and thinker: how you approach a problem, how you structure it, how you think through it. And then incorporating the latest data angle and seeing how that blends into it.”
Harnessing data-driven business solutions
Trained as an engineer, Gera started his career in consulting, where he extended his math and statistical skills into the area of computer coding. He became adept at SQL, Python, and R, made his initial forays into driving efficiencies using data, and gained important experience interacting with clients. Eventually, he realized he wanted a better understanding of the business world and pivoted to the financial services industry.
“I wanted to expose myself to as many different types of problems that can be analyzed with data as possible,” he says. “The goal has always been to become more efficient and data-driven when optimizing solutions.”
In 2018, Gera faced a career-defining challenge. To that point, he had worked in the customer service vertical within financial services. He had grown proficient at shaping strategies around the latest products and using the most advanced data analysis techniques to solve problems—a comfortable niche—when a new opportunity presented itself.
Gera’s team was at work developing a model that could harness text data from bank customer complaints and feedback. Such reporting, a regulatory requirement, had traditionally derived from a painstaking, manual process, one that could be made far more efficient with data science. But there was a catch: Gera had no idea how to go about the project.
“Building models out of numbers was one thing, but converting text to numbers is a different ballgame,” he says. “I didn’t have any experience with natural language processing before that, but I volunteered because it seemed like an interesting project, even if the area was totally new to me. I wanted the challenge.”
Gera and his team succeeded in optimizing the process, an achievement he attributes to his training and willingness to embrace difficulty. “My past experience with coding and data meant I was confident that I could enter the space and ask the right questions and acquire the knowledge I’d need,” he said. “I knew the people around me would give me room to experiment and even fail. You can’t succeed without failing first.”
Data science is not rocket science
The Data Analytics for Business Professionals certificate is designed specifically with such scenarios in mind.
“The goal of the program is to give students a level of comfort and familiarity with the material of data science so that they can communicate confidently in the technical analytical areas,” Gera says. “Even if they don’t have the answers, the certificate will show students what it means to conceptualize solutions and give them insight into solving problems using data that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
With industry experts like Gera as guides, the curriculum provides business professionals the core knowledge and skills they need to assess data-related challenges at work with confidence.
Specifically, Gera notes, the certificate will give business professionals the ability to manage analytics teams and serve as liaisons between management and technical staff. Students will also have the opportunity to improve their evidence-based decision-making skills by learning to translate technical analyses into business objectives. The key, Gera says, is that students stay inquisitive, both in class as well as in their careers.
After all, he says, “data science is not rocket science. It’s just being able to manipulate data in a way that leads you to value-adding insights. If you’re inquisitive and understand the basics of math, statistics, and coding, you can go anywhere. An inquisitive mindset is more than enough to succeed in data science.”