SDS 225: The Benefit of Having a Diverse Skill Set - SuperDataScience - Big Data | Analytics Careers | Mentors | Success

SDS 225: The Benefit of Having a Diverse Skill Set

Benefit of Having a Diverse Skill Set

Does it bother you that your skill set is too diverse to make a name in the field of data science?

Fret not. Today, we talk to Anna Foard from Velocity Group on how she strategically built her career in data science just by self-learning, networking, and having a diverse skill set. She also shares her passion in education and development.

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About Anna Foard

Anna Foard is the Business Development Specialist at Velocity Group. She is also the founder, Statistical Analyst and Tableau Trainer at StatsNinja Data Solutions LLC, which provides training and consultation for business professionals. She also has a background in teaching math and statistics to high school students.


Like all of you, Anna has been following the SuperDataScience Podcast, taking the online courses, and reading data science books. She happily tells this at the start of our discussion. Anna is delighted that there are various resources online that she was able to use when she decided she wanted to self-learn data science.

Anna is a rare jack-of-all-trades character in the data science field. She has a background in Math, Statistics, Marketing, Teaching, and, now, Data Science. She was able to mix these skills up and get the best result. We’re talking about growing her data science career in just a year or so. She’s thrilled with what she has reached and also shares with you, in this episode, her key learnings from last year while interacting with people. She says that she will not be where she is right now if it wasn’t for the people around her.

Here are the 5 things Anna learned last year:

  1. Ask questions and stay curious.
    Have the courage to walk to someone and ask them about questions you want to know about. Most would be glad to share their stories, give you pieces of advice, and collaborate with you.
  2. Don’t abandon your core competency.
    You can’t be an expert in everything. Look at your skill set and focus on them. For example, for Anna, instead of learning how to code, she capitalized on her teaching, communicating, and technical skills.
  3. Go out of your comfort zone.
    Don’t limit your movements to what you believed you can do. Expect more difficult challenges than what comes your way so that conquering them will be as easy and as smooth as possible.
  4. Build your brand.
    If you’re doing contract work, build your own brand. Learn the tricks to stand out. Make use of your diversified field to connect with people. Show the companies how you can be valuable to them.
  5. Give back to the community.
    If you can improve what already exists and contribute more to the data science community, do so. As you develop your skills and gain more knowledge, see if you can offer a better learning experience for those who are only just starting.

At the end of the episode, she also shares her passion for teaching kids about data literacy and her insights on the future of data science. She believes that at an early age, it will be great that they understand the basics of communicating and interpreting data. She is glad that she is helping on how data science in education progresses.

In this episode you will learn:

  • How Anna strategically built her data science career. [05:28]
  • 5 Key Things Anna learned last year. [11:09]
    • Ask questions and stay curious.
    • Don’t abandon your core competency.
    • Go out of your comfort zone.
    • Build your brand.
    • Give back to the community.
  • Developing data literacy for kids. [43:52]
  • The ability to look for answers. [46:42]
  • Anna’s insights into the future of data science. [51:16]

Items mentioned in this podcast:

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Episode Transcript


Full Podcast Transcript

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Kirill Eremenko: This is episode number 225 with Business Development Specialist at Velocity Group, Anna Foard.

Kirill Eremenko: Welcome to the SuperDataScience Podcast. My name is Kirill Eremenko, Data Science Coach and Lifestyle Entrepreneur, and each week, we bring you inspiring people and ideas to help you build your successful career in data science. Thanks for being here today and now let's make the complex simple.

Kirill Eremenko: Welcome back to the SuperDataScience Podcast, ladies and gentleman. Super excited to have you on the show today and we've got an amazing guest joining us for this episode: Anna Foard, who is a Business Development Specialist at Velocity Group. What you need to know about Anna is that she's an amazingly hard-working person and she's built an incredible career journey in the space of data in just the past year. In this podcast, you will hear about her story, how she went from mathematics and statistics to teaching to marketing to training people in the space of data science to learning data science herself to working in the space of data science. You will see that she is challenging and conquering this field of data science from all different perspectives. It is incredible.

Kirill Eremenko: In this podcast, you'll hear ... it's incredible ... how many people, how many of her own heroes in data science she's managed to meet just over the past years. Network with them, work on projects with them, and learn from them. Very, very inspiring, and I don't know how she gets all the time to do this. In fact, she's actually a mother of two kids at the same time and she is crushing it in data science. Very excited to bring this episode to you. Can't wait for you to check out Anna's story and all the amazing insights she has and the inspiration this will give you to pursue your own journey in data science. Without further ado, I bring to you Anna Foard, Business Development Specialist at Velocity Group.

Kirill Eremenko: Welcome to the SuperDataScience Podcast, ladies and gentleman. Super excited to have you on the show today, and we've got a very exciting, very interesting guest with us. Anna Foard calling in from Atlanta, or the greater Atlanta area. Anna, how are you today?

Anna Foard: I'm great. How are you, Kirill?

Kirill Eremenko: I'm fantastic. Thank you. It's nice just chatting. By the way, everybody, I surprised Anna about the crypto-locking situation that happened in Atlanta a little bit back. Just for those who don't know, Atlanta was crypto-locked by some hackers who were demanding 52 thousand, ransomware, and now Atlanta has spent 2.6 million recovering from that. How do you feel about that? You just found out, Anna.

Anna Foard: I find it interesting that no one's really talking about it here. That seems like it should be top news, but there's been other things in the news that's been taking the place of it. I don't know.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. Very, very interesting story. I hope it's all okay, because those things can have some severe consequences for organizations or cities, in this case, and just kind of puts into perspective all the things that we talk about, like data science, how data is powerful and things like that, right?

Anna Foard: Absolutely. Wow.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. Okay. What time is it in Atlanta right now, by the way?

Anna Foard: It is 8:47 PM.

Kirill Eremenko: Okay. Wow. You're a legend staying up to chat and ...

Anna Foard: It's not even late, but I get up so early that I start to wind down about now.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. Okay, makes sense. Gotcha. Well, very nice meeting you. For those who don't know, I met Anna at DataScienceGO 2018 event. It was like a month ago now. And, yeah, it's like you have so much energy. It was so cool to see you there. How did you feel about the event?

Anna Foard: Oh, I thought it was amazing and I told a lot of people about it when I got back and said, "This is something you need to plan to go to, even if it's a year out. As soon as tickets are on sale, you need to get it." That's actually how I approached because I heard about it on your podcast and heard about it was gonna happen, and as soon as tickets went on sale last ... January, I think it was? I bought my ticket right away. I was an early bird.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, nice. Nice. That's really cool. And thanks for the comments. That's what we try to create and ... You came along with your colleague, Tim Lafferty, who's been on the podcast before. What was his feedback?

Anna Foard: Oh, Tim loved it. He and I had a lot of fun just interacting with people, talking to people. He was a little bit of celebrity sometimes when they had heard him on the podcast, and we also got to enjoy a little bit of San Diego because neither of us had been there. We saw the beaches. We ate some local food. We had a great time.

Kirill Eremenko: Awesome. Anna, you have such a diverse background and so many things you're into in the space of data science. I don't even know where to get started. Seriously, like looking at all the things you've done throughout your career and how you've integrated into data science. Perhaps, let's start off by just give us an overview of your whole journey. I know it's a big ask, but we gotta start somewhere.

Anna Foard: Yeah, I'm gonna try to keep it brief. I started in marketing and I always went towards the analytics side, but I wouldn't have said that at the time. I just ... I found in my marketing degree economics and finance a lot more interesting than marketing. I know that sounds silly. But once you're in your major, your major courses, you can't really ... you can deviate if you wanna stay another year but I was ready to graduate. So, I graduated with a marketing degree. A couple years out, I decided to go back to school. I decided I wanted to be a teacher and teach math. My [inaudible 00:06:39] statistics is another passion of mine and I use it a lot in my job when I was in-

Kirill Eremenko: Statistics, right?

Anna Foard: Right. I use it a lot in marketing, actually, and this is in ... from 2000 to 2002 when it ... Marketing was more slanted towards advertising and less toward analytics. I didn't see it as a path for me and I didn't see where I was gonna grew. I decided, "I'm just gonna go back to school and be a teacher." And that's what I did, and when I was in graduate school, I focused on statistics education. I actually wrote my thesis in it because there wasn't much of an area ... There was an area for growth, but there was nobody really pursuing it who wanted to be a math teacher. Math teachers are ... at the time, and I can't speak now ... seemed ... Because it is changing. But it seemed like a lot of people were pure math in the ... like more calculus bent and people just didn't wanna go near statistics, where it was just that was more my language.

Anna Foard: I wrote my thesis in statistics education. I actually taught some classes at LSU, when I was there for grad school, as a graduate student. So, filling in for instructors and as a TA. Moved back to Atlanta, and I taught for 14 years in the Atlanta area. Statistics, AP statistics ... that's the advanced placement statistics ... and other maths as well. A year ago ... which was almost ... It was a little over a year ago now, I felt the need to ... in order to grow and expand, I needed to do something different. But when you're in the same role for such a long time, you don't know what you don't know and that actually kind of became my mantra. I didn't know where I could go. I didn't know what my knowledge and my background would get me. I knew I had a skillset and I knew I could learn. That is the journey for the last year has been about my learning ... And we can talk more about that. But that's been my learning and my growth is this last year and getting to where I am now.

Kirill Eremenko: Okay. Gotcha. So, background in statistics. Started with marketing. Major background in statistics and teaching, and then you decided to go out there, explore the unknown, and grow further. Tell us about that year. What happened in this past year?

Anna Foard: Wow. A lot. But I'm gonna try to sum it up in a few bullets. Every single day, I made this pact with myself that I was gonna do something towards networking, whether I'm meeting someone new or just talking to someone about what they do in their job because, like I said, I kind of determined that I didn't know what I didn't know. The second thing I did every day was something towards educating myself. It was reading articles, taking some courses ... and that was actually your courses.

Kirill Eremenko: Awesome.

Anna Foard: And listening to your podcasts. I listened to them religiously.

Kirill Eremenko: Nice. Thank you for the note. That's so great to hear.

Anna Foard: They did actually ... Yeah, it was ... I remember Urie Suhr was the first person I listened to, and I sat next to her at one of the luncheons at DataScienceGO, and I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. That's you."

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, nice.

Anna Foard: You [crosstalk 00:10:08] changed me. And she gave me the biggest hug. We took a picture together. It was this moment of full circle.

Kirill Eremenko: That's so lovely. Awesome. Awesome.

Anna Foard: Yeah. Actually, in my conversations with people in that whole every day I wanted to talk to people and network, my friend, Jeff, who's in IT, I had talked to him like ... He actually works for Macy's. I asked him ... I wanted to know what data science looked like in his company. I mean, these are the types of questions that I would ask because, like I said, I didn't know what I didn't know. He gave me some information and we talked a while, and the next day, or a couple days later, he sends me a message like, "Hey, I found this podcast. It's called SuperDataScience. Maybe you should listen to it?" He's actually the person that introduced me to-

Kirill Eremenko: Nice. That's so cool.

Anna Foard: Now, I have him taking your courses, by the way.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, nice. Again, full circle, right? Full circle.

Anna Foard: It really, really is. The whole last year has been about ... and I have actually five things that I learned over the last year. Every single day ... because I talked to people and I would learn from other people telling me what they did ... I found that people, and interactions with people, really got me to where I am. That was really a big part. But there's five things that I learned and if you want me to go ahead and name them off-

Kirill Eremenko: Yes, please.

Anna Foard: ... and then we can kind of-

Kirill Eremenko: Yes, please. I think that's very valuable. I love that kind of stuff, where you reflect back on a year of learnings and you can summarize it and like key takeaways. I think it's so valuable. Not just for others, but even for yourself. You're like ... wow. Whenever I look back, I can be like, "What did I learn? Oh, okay. Cool, cool, cool. That I'm doing, that I'm doing, but this one I forgot. I should start doing that again."

Anna Foard: Yeah. I would write things down as I learned them and pass it off to other people, and I was so lucky to be in a situation where I was teaching high school kids ... mostly seniors in high school ... and as I would learn something and it would occur to me that I wish I had known this before, I would tell the kids. I was able to pass this along the whole way. The first thing I learned was to ask questions and stay curious. That goes along with interacting with people and just asking people. Now, I don't really have many problems walking up to someone and asking them what their day-to-day is. Somebody else might, but I felt that really helped me learn more than reading a book, because every single day I was asking questions.

Anna Foard: The second thing that I learned was not to abandon my core competencies. The Data Science Venn Diagram, if you will ... it got overwhelming that I ... And I know you've talked about this on your podcast before. You can't learn all the things. I mean, you could try. You can't be good and an expert at all of them. What I decided to do is I looked up my skillset and said, "What am I good at? I have teaching, communicating, technical skills, and ..." Communicating via statistics was something that I've been doing for a long time, so, I thought, "Well, maybe I can focus on that." Also, just the math and the statistics that goes behind it. It was hilarious when I realized ... like machine learning. This sounds so daunting and I'm looking at it going, "Oh. I teach this kind of math. I know what this is." I realized I had a skillset, and instead of trying to learn every new ... like how to code, how to do this, how to do that ... I would focus on what I already knew.

Kirill Eremenko: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Makes sense. Gotcha. And there's a saying. In order to be successful ... and this is true about the ultra successful people as you look around the world. What's his name? Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Tony Robbins. Any super successful person, they kind of follow this one mantra that focus on your strengths, ignore your weaknesses. Don't try to be great at everything. Things that to the extent you need them, improve them, but, ultimately, focus on the things that you're super good at, that you enjoy, you're passionate about. And then everything else will fall into place. You can always find other people to do the things that you're bad at or you can always outsource them. Find ways to solve that problem. But the main thing is focus on your strengths. Otherwise, you'll waste all your time trying to be great across the board, rather than exceptionally superstrong in one thing and using that to became successful. It sounds like you're talking about a similar thing.

Anna Foard: Yeah. I remember you talking about that in one of your FiveMinuteFridays.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Anna Foard: That might have been where I got it from, and who knows? I really dug deep into what I already knew and then I tried to learn enough to have a conversation about the others. I took several of your courses, learned how to us SSIS, and just how a lot of the methods worked. I've been working in R studio, and, like I said, listening to conversations so that I understand how it works together, but not necessarily be able to be an expert at all of it, right?

Kirill Eremenko: Yep. Makes sense. That sounds like a very ... I like this, and I hope people who are listening to this are taking notes. At least mental notes, because it sounds like you came up with ... in this past year, you not only had a very interesting journey. But you actually were very conscious about it. You came up with a rigorous approach to a very methodological approach on what you're gonna do, and these steps so far like ask questions and stay curious and not abandoning your core competencies, I can see how it's all fitting into the picture of you getting to where you want to get. So, how it all empowered you to get there. Some very, very valuable tips so far. Please, continue. What was learning number three?

Anna Foard: Okay. Number three is something I've been doing for a few years, but it definitely resonated with the job, not just what I was doing for the last few years, and it's step outside your comfort zone. For the past several years, I started waking up at 4:30 to 4:45 sometimes, but-

Kirill Eremenko: Whoa.

Anna Foard: And I would go to the gym and I have a coach, and it's very intense training. It's a lot of weightlifting and Olympic weightlifting with some like CrossFit-type workouts and running and just whatever they program and I don't usually know until I get there, and then I would go teach. It took some training ... it's almost mental training, right? Because you have to know that you're about to step into a challenge every single day before you go on about your life, and I think that really helped me mentally say, "Okay, I start off every day deciding I'm gonna take on a challenge," and the rest of the day, any other challenge was, "Okay, well, I already took on a challenge. I can do this."

Anna Foard: When you pick your challenges, what I learned is if you pick your challenges and you throw yourself into uncomfortable situations, then when you're in a challenge or something uncomfortable that you didn't pick, that just life throws something at you, it's a lot easier to cope with.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow. That's crazy. Every single day?

Anna Foard: Oh, you have to take days off when you do that kind of exercise. So, four days a week during the week.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, okay. I was gonna say like-

Anna Foard: And then on weekends, I do ... On the weekends, I do trail running. So, yeah. That's more fun.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, wow. Very intense. That's a cool way of looking at it. I love that. That if you start your day with a super challenge and then you conquer it, then everything else is so much easier right after that, and probably gives you such a great energy boost to go work out. But why 4:45? Why so early? That is like ... how much sleep do you get?

Anna Foard: Well, that's why I said I go to bed early. When the gym ... like we start at 5:15. So, 4:45 is enough time for me to get up, have a snack, get ready, go, and get there.

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha.

Anna Foard: It's calculated backwards.

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha.

Anna Foard: I do go to bed ... I'm asleep by 9:30 or 10:00, but I try to get in bed around 9:00. Just wind down. I do try to aim for 7.5 hours of sleep.

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha. When you wake up at 4:45, do you ever have this feeling that, "Ah, I don't wanna get out of bed. I wanna lie around for a bit longer"? How do you get over that?

Anna Foard: Yes. Especially in the winter. I like to ... well, especially the night before, I lay out my clothes and I state, "This is what I'm doing." There's a whole group of us that goes, so there's accountability there too, right? I also think ... I have a friend, Casey, that's always there and she's a teacher. She teaches band, so she leads the band after school and she's there early in the morning. I'll sit there and go, "Well, if Casey can do it, I can do it." Sometimes, you just have to have an accountability partner for things like that.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah, yeah, gotcha. Gotcha. Oh, that's really cool. How has this skill or habit of stepping outside your comfort zone, how has that ... have you used that in your learning and growth in your career in data science, in this space?

Anna Foard: Oh, absolutely. That brings us to, yes, over the last year, I have ... I learned Tableau.

Kirill Eremenko: Nice.

Anna Foard: And I saw its value in my classroom and then I also decided, "Hey, I'm gonna teach teachers how to use Tableau to leverage their student data to help their students grow, so they're using data wisely." I can tell you more about that later because that actually plays into why I stopped teaching, not that I didn't wanna teach but because I saw something bigger. So, yeah, stepping outside of my comfort zone played in a big part of getting my job. In this world of asking questions and talking to people, Tim was a friend of my husband's, actually, and he still is. So, Tim-

Kirill Eremenko: Tim Lafferty.

Anna Foard: Tim Lafferty. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I would ask him a lot ... he's very ... He was instructing Tableau at the time and he was very helpful in teaching me when I got stuck or I couldn't get ... I'm like, "Why won't this work?" He helped me out a lot, and then as I was growing in Tableau, he said, "Anna, you should teach Tableau. You're a teacher. You can do this." And that made me very uncomfortable because I would have to teach adults, and I don't know how ... I didn't think I knew how to teach adults. I started teaching Tableau on the side and Tim pushed me right in there, and I'm glad he did, because it was a lot easier than I thought. I was just scared.

Anna Foard: From there, I actually approached ... so, I was working with them on contract, and then I approached them with this nine page marketing strategy of, "Here's how I think Velocity can grow, and here's what I would do to help it grow." I sat down with them and pitched myself. A couple months later, after talking to other people, they came back to me and say, "Oh, no, we like you. You're persistent and you don't stop trying. You work hard." That's why they put me in this role, but it all came from stepping way outside my comfort zone.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah, yeah. Gotcha. For those of you who don't know Tim Lafferty, he was on the podcast. That's episode 181, and he's the founder of Velocity Group ... so, and so, Anna, you are the ... now, you are their business development specialist, correct?

Anna Foard: I am. I work with marketing efforts and the business development side of the consulting. There's even like a sales aspect where we're trying to bring in a customer and they don't even know what data we're talking about. My job is to communicate ... That's where kind of my old skillset plays in because I can talk technical, but I can explain to them, from their point of view, what we do and how this helps them leverage their data.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow. Very, very cool. You're kind of like ... You've got your own Venn diagram going on there. You've got your stat skills. You've got your teaching expertise and you've got your marketing skills as well, and you're leveraging on all three at the same time to create this career path for yourself, which is absolutely unique, and I totally love that. That is a great testament to stepping outside your comfort zone. It takes courage to go out there and do what ... probably nobody has ever done before, combining these skills in this sort of way and thriving and creating a successful career path for yourself.

Anna Foard: Yeah. I found that I had to color outside the lines a little it, and maybe it came from hearing people say it wasn't gonna happen when I decided I was going to take the next year to learn, so I was going to quit teaching at the end of the year. I mean, I made a plan. But I would also talk to people inside teaching and they said, "Well, what would you do?" As if I didn't have another skill, and I'm like, "Good point. I better make sure I have some more skills." And then, on the other side, I had a friend that was a recruiter and I think he did me a favor. He was honest, and he said, "You're going to have to network because your resume is not gonna bring you in the door because you've been teaching for 14 years," and I said, "Okay. I can do this."

Anna Foard: Another thing that I've been doing on the side, and I hadn't mentioned this yet ... The skillset that I had with statistics, I was helping other teachers ... A lot of teachers will get their doctorate in education while they're teaching. When they get to the dissertation side, they've got the statistics, they've gotta deal with the stats and they've got to defend the statistics and that was the part ... I started off with friends, who I was working with. They said, "Anna, I don't know how to ... I don't even know how to run a t-test. Please, help me with this." I started off working just in Excel and then I was checking assumptions and it was harder to do in Excel, but I figured out how to run them in Excel and I would show people how to defend it, and then I found out about SPSS, which is ... I didn't know how to code and I didn't know R, so I learned ... SPSS is just, oh, press these buttons. It's-

Kirill Eremenko: Drag and drop type of thing.

Anna Foard: ... very easy if you know what you're looking for and what you're testing. I got SPSS and I used it. I only ... because it's so expensive, I could only take on people for the amount of time that I had the subscription. That's how expensive it is. But I would help people with their dissertations all along these years. So, every year, there's couple people here and there that I would help, and then, in this past year, a friend of mine who works ... she's the dissertation chair, one of them, at Liberty University. She said, "Anna, I know you can do this. Can you help some of my students?"

Anna Foard: Especially last school year, I took on a lot more on the side and did this as contract work, and decided that because I was told my resume wasn't gonna get me in the door, I said, "Well, this is now on my resume." I also created an LLC last December in my name ... like created my own brand, put it in my name, because if I'm going to be doing all this contract, then, well, I needed for tax purposes to create some way to deal with it. But I also wanted a business name to go with it, because now I have it on my resume.

Kirill Eremenko: Nice. Nice.

Anna Foard: And I would advise anybody, if you're doing contract work, you need to put it on your resume but build it as your own brand.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. Yeah, wow. That's some very solid advice. You just use your own name as the LLC?

Anna Foard: Yeah. So, actually, my number four tip is build your own brand. It actually came from my Twitter handle several years ago from teaching statistics. I created a Twitter handle. I don't know how I came up with it. It's @stats_ninja. For a long time, on Twitter, I wouldn't put my real name. I'd just use @stats_ninja because I didn't ... for teaching high school kids. I just didn't want my name on there.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah, yeah. I know what you mean.

Anna Foard: That's what I ... so, my company is Stats Ninja Data Solutions and that's what I went with. Actually, my blog is The Stats Ninja and I've just used that to build my brand. This silly name I came up with a few years ago.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah, no, that's really cool advice. I totally side by the concept of creating your own brand. I don't know if I've done a FiveMinuteFriday on that yet, but it's really important in this day and age. Resumes, CVs, even education like your qualifications, your degrees and all that stuff, that's all very good. But at the end of the day, people want to see that who are you, who is this person? It's so easy to go online and google. Anna Foard, what have you done? What have you been up to? What projects have you worked on? Have you participated in Kaggle competitions? Have you uploaded things to the Tableau public repository? Do you have a GitHub account? What is your career path? What does your LinkedIn say? And all these things.

Kirill Eremenko: Indeed, like that is part of building a brand and the next step is what you've done is open up a business and actually ... if you're providing consulting services, it's so much more reputable if you're doing it through a business arm and people see that you're actually serious about that. There's lots of tricks and lots of ways to stand out, and the main ... But it all boils down to build your brand. It's so easy to do online and anybody can do it. And you can start it by simply publishing a couple of blog posts. You don't even need your own blog. You can just publish them on LinkedIn, and already from there, you get some traction, you get some people noticing you. This is something that I mentioned in the opening keynote at DataScienceGO. That in this day and age, there's plenty of supply of data scientists and there's plenty of demand.

Kirill Eremenko: The problem, the gap, is that people, they cannot meet each other. It's really hard for recruiters and hiring managers to find the data scientists that they want in this ocean of data science candidates and aspiring data scientists and people who want to be in data science. And, at the same time, data scientists don't really know how to stand out. If you're just sending out resumes all over the place, then, chances are, that nobody's actually seeing those resumes. All you really have to do is stand out and one way that ... for instance, Anna, in your case, you stood out is you went to Tim with this business proposal and like ... businesses and Tim, I admire him for this, he did the right choice. Businesses will embrace somebody who comes to them and shows them how they can add value to them, especially if it's using data and data-driven solutions and through the power of data science. And somebody's who's persistent, who knows what they're doing, who's serious, who's passionate about the business.

Kirill Eremenko: As soon as you show that to a business and it's really true that you're passionate about their business, they'd be unwise not to grab you and hold onto you. That's the world we live in right now. I think you ... so far we've been through four of your steps. You planned out your journey very well and you executed fantastically, and this is what it led to. You encountered Tim Lafferty through friends of friends of ... and through your connections through network and he didn't ... He did the right right, basically. He got you onboard. I love how this puzzle comes together. At the start, I was like, "I didn't know your journey." Now, I can see it's very crystal clear and the most fascinating thing is how you planned this out. This is like ... you should be a chess grandmaster, Anna.

Anna Foard: Well, so, the brand part also helped in Twitter as well. It came together ... it's gonna come together better. I have more.

Kirill Eremenko: Tell us. Tell us more.

Anna Foard: I found Twitter ... I was using it a lot for the education portion of ... actually, for teaching. I used it to find articles, learn more, because I always wanted to grow in whatever I'm doing. So, I actually found Twitter is a great place to go and just follow either people or just topics, even news sources, that is going to deliver the information you're looking for. Once I realized I was gonna switch more into data science, there's a great data science presence on Twitter. I started following a lot of ... especially females in data science was something I was looking at, and looking at the conversations they're having and just my ear to the ground.

Anna Foard: In one of your podcasts ... actually one of the first ones I listened to since I was starting to learn Tableau was with Andy Kriebel. I found Makeover Monday, which is a great way to get yourself introduced to a community because it was daunting at first because I didn't, at first, wanna share ... This is another step outside of your comfort zone too. I didn't wanna share my work at first because I'm going, "Well, I have a box and whisker plot and a pie graph. Not sharing this." But, ultimately, I got to the point ... and I would listen to their ... They would do reviews. So, Makeover Monday, they give a dataset every ...

Kirill Eremenko: With-

Anna Foard: Actually, it's Sundays.

Kirill Eremenko: With Eva Murray, right?

Anna Foard: With Eva Murray. Exactly.

Kirill Eremenko: Eva Murray. Eva Murray.

Anna Foard: And so, on, they will post a dataset and give a graph or a chart that they say to makeover using this dataset, and you learn to work with different sets of data, different types of data, different even data structures using Tableau and then build something out of it. Some visualization that ... And I started to learn how to tell a story better, because even statistics, I ... The first rule in statistics was when I told students, "If you have a set of data, the first thing you do is make a picture." I mean, that was rule I've been telling them for years. You can start drawing some conclusions and not just look at summary statistics. This was a good connection. I mean, this was a first go to tool, Tableau was, to start learning a little bit more about the tools of data science.

Anna Foard: For Makeover Monday, I got to the point where I could start sharing these, but after I would watch them on review. On Wednesdays, they review people's chart choices and give feedback, and then they're very kind about it so I wouldn't tell anyone to not do that. I was nervous at first to get reviewed, but it's the best type of feedback you can get to learn to get better, to improve on your design, or on your storytelling in a visualization. I started getting connected in the Tableau community and getting ... just tapping into other resources, other people, reading their blogs, learning like coding Tableau, and to the point where, by the time the Tableau conference came up this past October, a month ago ... Not even a month ago ... they knew who I was.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, wow.

Anna Foard: And so I got to hang out with Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray, and it was like I was starstruck. Don't tell them that.

Kirill Eremenko: I definitely will tell them.

Anna Foard: No-

Kirill Eremenko: I'm actually chatting to both of them like next week. It's really good.

Anna Foard: Oh, that's fantastic. This is a little sidebar. I wrote a blog post about ... So, blogging was another thing I was gonna add in there, but I wrote a blog post recently, and it was after the Tableau conference because I felt like, okay, well, maybe I have something to offer. I wrote a blog post about the analytics in the ... the analytics pane in Tableau and actually kind of breaking it down. The first one I wrote was about really interpreting correlation but really getting into R-Squared, right? Because R-Squared, people wanna just hang their hat on it and move on, and I wrote a piece about R-Squared and talking about least squares regression and correlation and such. Andy and Eva loved it and so they've asked me to do a webinar with them. We're gonna do ... they said about five webinars to discuss analytics with data vis.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow. Congrats. That's so cool.

Anna Foard: Yeah, it was an honor to be asked. I told them that. So, yeah. That was actually step five. I forgot to say that was pay it forward, and I feel like by writing that blog post, I was hoping to help others if they were struggling. I decided, "Well, I already know the statistics. Maybe I can help somebody who needs to know more about how to interpret the analytics pane in Tableau." And so that's my number five, is pay it forward.

Kirill Eremenko: That's really cool advice as well. It's kind of like contribute, right? Give back to the community.

Anna Foard: Exactly. Oh, absolutely. I also feel like ... so, as I said, I think people helped me all along the way. Like I said, there was Tim. I was trying to make a list of all the people. But I had friends that would ... like I said, I'd ask them questions and they would point me in all these different directions. I didn't know there was a lot of networking groups, especially for females getting into data science. I learned more about those. I started picking up books. Like I said, you've helped me. Your book was very helpful.

Kirill Eremenko: Thank you.

Anna Foard: I picked up ... Oh, honestly, I think it's the most comprehensive book there is to name if somebody's going into the field of data science and you want to know all the things, but you don't need to be an expert on all of the things. That's the book right there.

Kirill Eremenko: Thank you. Thank you, Anna. That's really lovely to hear. Wow. Did you read it after DataScienceGO? Or you got a copy before?

Anna Foard: No, I have ... and now I have two copies.

Kirill Eremenko: Nice.

Anna Foard: I already had it. Yeah, I bought it right when you released it. It's been ... I actually wanna read ... I've been re-reading some parts of it going, "Oh, yeah, he said that." So, maybe I'm taking some lines from your book. I don't even know. I think I learned so much.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow. Thanks. That's so great to hear. What did you think ... because I included a couple like personal stories. When like my motorbike numberplates got forged. What did you think of those inserts where ... ? I tried to make it a bit light. Not one of those super technical data science books. There's no programming on purpose, so you can just like sit and read it on the train or a plane or whatnot. But also like I inserted some of these like case studies and personal experience and other things. How did that feel? Just curious.

Anna Foard: That's one of my favorite parts, and that's how I like to tell stories when I teach too is try to make it personal because if you just talk about a set of data, you don't really attach to it. It seems very daunting, but when you can make it personal, I think it helps someone learn the material a lot better and attach to it. "Oh, I see how that connects," right?

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That's like storytelling is the ... one of the skills, the most ancient skills that we as humans [inaudible 00:39:25]. Our brains are so used to ... for like exhibiting and telling stories and also learning, because, what, written paper has been and written words have been around for 10,000 years, or something like that? That they ... in 10,000 BC, they found the first plates with writing in Mesopotamia or something like that. But humans have been able to communicate for, what ... the Homo sapiens being two million years. Stone Age started about 200,000 years ago. We've been communicating ... the cognitive revolution started ages ago. Hundreds of thousands of years ago. We've been communicating for way longer than we've been writing. The only way to pass on that knowledge of where are the bears, where are the berries, where are the mammoths and stuff like that, was through storytelling and how to start a fire and things like that. Storytelling is such a powerful skill and, exactly, when you make it personal, not just like dry language, I think people enjoy it more.

Anna Foard: Yeah, and the anecdotes that you like to tell ... I just listened today to the one about your hiking journey with ...

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, Paulo.

Anna Foard: When ... yeah. When you two went hiking and you take the story and then you connect it to something that really happened. That's my love language right there. I love it.

Kirill Eremenko: Thanks.

Anna Foard: Yeah. And so when you come down to it, one of the skills that I decided that I needed to cultivate ... because I've been teaching, I think I can communicate data and I can communicate technical things if I'm in a zone, but I felt like I needed to cultivate the technical conversation more, if that makes sense. Like you and I going back and forth and talking about our storytelling and how to go from point A to point B when we're talking technical. I decided that was something I needed to work on. I actually ... I bought a few books to help me with that.

Kirill Eremenko: Nice. No, that's very good. That's like-

Anna Foard: Yeah.

Kirill Eremenko: Very precise.

Anna Foard: I think reading over the last year has helped me and one of those books was Communicating Tableau by Ben Jones ... Data with Tableau and that one helped me in that he tells the stories a lot like you do, and making it personal and understanding the context rather than talking about, "Here's the functionality of Tableau." It was more of a, "Here's the concept and here's how you can understand it with an interesting story." That I attached to. I actually got to tell Ben that recently in person, where I'm actually working with him on a Data Literacy project now.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow.

Anna Foard: Another full circle for me.

Kirill Eremenko: That's so cool.

Anna Foard: And I got to tell him how much he helped me and I'm so excited that we get to go back and help kids with a Data Literacy program that he's developing.

Kirill Eremenko: Just wow. That is so cool. I love your whole ... This year has been so saturated with like different ways you've networked with people. You've met Andy Kriebel, Eva Murray. Now you've met Ben and like you've met Tim. This is so crazy. So many things have been happening for you. I'm so, so excited for you, Anna.

Anna Foard: Thank you. I've been honored to be received in the Tableau community as one of their own, but I also feel like it validated that the skillset that I had, that I was told that in ... in tongue-in-cheek, more like, "Yeah, you're just a teacher," kind of thing. I feel like I had a skillset and I believed in myself and I was like, "Well, no, I can do more with this and I would like to do more with this." And they were able to welcome me into the Tableau community and say, "Well, yeah. Wow. We could use your skillset here and here's how." I'm knocked over. I can't believe that everything that I worked on over the last year kind of came to this point to say not only have I learned all these things, but now I'm able to give back.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. For sure. Tell us a bit more about this Data Literacy project, please, with Ben Jones. Sounds like something very exciting.

Anna Foard: Yeah, sure. In a couple months, you're gonna be able to go to

Kirill Eremenko: Okay.

Anna Foard: And if you're a teacher or in the corporate world, or somebody who just works for the kids or wants to work with kids to help them learn ... and when I say kids, middle school and high school for now is what we're looking at ... but help them learn more how to communicate and interpret data, then there's gonna be some kits that they can download to help them with activities to teach these kids more about data. But more fun interactive things and things that they can think about to keep it less daunting.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow. Is it like ... what tools are they gonna be using? Is it like a Tableau-based course?

Anna Foard: Well, right now, we're talking more analog-type hands-on ... M&M's.

Kirill Eremenko: Okay. Okay. Gotcha.

Anna Foard: Like those-

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha.

Anna Foard: ... things that kids can really get into. When I was a teacher, we used M&M's all the time to teach statistics and get the kids ... like hands-on tools, and it's really gonna be-

Kirill Eremenko: What am I thinking? I was thinking like Tableau. I totally missed that this is high school kids.

Anna Foard: No, it's actually been part of our conversation, and I think at some point that Excel, Tableau, different tools will be introduced. Absolutely.

Kirill Eremenko: Okay. Well, very cool. And so, how did you guys come with this idea? It's a great idea.

Anna Foard: It's actually Ben Jones's idea. This has been something on his heart and he wanted to do, and coming out of education, it's been on my heart to be able to still work in that space without being in the classroom. When he asked me to join him, I was honored and also excited to be able to be a part of something that's this important to me.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah. Wow. And it sounds like you're the perfect partner for the job with all your experience in teaching kids.

Anna Foard: Yeah. I hope so. I'm gonna try to help with curriculum design in a little ways that ... coming from the classroom, I've learned a lot about and I've been trained in curriculum design, but, at the same time, I find that there's so many hangups in education that I worry ... I even said this to him. I said, "I wanna make sure that I'm listening to what everyone's saying so that I don't just act on what I've been programmed to do for so long, because I'm all for fixing and changing the things that are wrong and teaching data in younger grades, teaching data literacy."

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha. Gotcha. Anna, I've got a question for you that I hope it will be hopeful to many people, including myself as well. You are in so many things. You work at Velocity Group, [inaudible 00:46:54] are in this project about data literacy with Ben Jones. You are doing webinars with Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray. You're constantly learning about things yourself. You're attending conferences and, at the same time, you're a mom. You have two kids. You've got your own LLC. You're building a brand online. You're involved in so many things. Where do you find the time? How do you manage to combine all of this in 24 hours a day?

Anna Foard: That's a great question. I am very organized with my calendar, but I also make sure I set limits and I'm very clear with people, "Here's the time I can give you for this." I carve out for this. Working with the webinar with Andy and Eva, for example, I'm starting on the blog side. I'm writing the blog out and then, hopefully, working from the blog to the webinar. That way I'm not over-committing myself and I'm ... two birds and one stone kind of thing.

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha.

Anna Foard: So-

Kirill Eremenko: What's your one biggest piece of advice for somebody who's like ... perhaps a parent, like you, a mother, and they're doing ... or they've built out a career. They're in their nine-to-five job, but they wanna change something. They wanna jump out of it. They wanna learn new skills and so on, and they seem never to have the time. What would your suggestion ... one biggest piece of advice be to people in that boat?

Anna Foard: The biggest thing I learned is you can't just make one big goal and put on blinders and walk towards it. If I hadn't looked around and listened to other people's stories, asked questions, stayed curious, there's no way I would be where I am talking to the people that I'm talking to, getting invited to work on projects, because I wouldn't have known about them, if that makes any sense. I think my biggest piece of advice is just to start asking questions and get curious about where you wanna go. I tell a lot of people about the first thing I did was I started to talk to people every single day, have a conversation with someone ... if it's networking, either they were a new person or someone I didn't know or somebody I'd seen every day, but talk to them in a different way about what they did every day in their job. And then learning every single day. Reading articles, listening to your podcast, things like that, and I think it'll come.

Kirill Eremenko: Wow. That's really good advice. Basically, to sum it up, broaden your horizons, get curious. Don't go into tunnel vision mode. Don't just like continue doing that one thing that you set yourself to do. Be open to new opportunities and ideas and to keep learning because what is the definition of luck, right? People say, often "Oh, he got lucky," or, "She got lucky," and that's what happened. Well, the definition of luck, or the one I like a lot, is luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. So, be open to opportunities, broaden your horizons. But, at the same time, learn, grow, be prepared for those opportunities when they come, otherwise, you're gonna miss out on luck. Simple as that.

Anna Foard: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's another skillset that I've noticed, and this might be coming from me as an educator as well as shifting into the data science world, is one skillset that I think is lacking in a lot of places is the ability to just go look for answers. A lot of times when ... like in dealing with kids, I would ... "Okay, I need you to do this," and they just sit there. "Well, I don't know how." I'm not programmed that way. If I don't know how, I go find out how. I think that is a big skills gap is that ability to go look for ... I mean, we got Google now. Google it.

Kirill Eremenko: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That's a good point. They're very valuable skill for data scientists, for sure. All right. Well, Anna, we're actually slowly coming to the end of this podcast, believe it or not. Time flies. It's almost been an hour. I've got a philosophical question for you. I'd love to get your opinion on this before we wrap up. With all your experience and with your whole amazing journey and career in the space of data science, what do you see for this field in the future? Where do you see this field of data science going, and what should our listeners prepare for to be ready for the future of data science that's coming ahead?

Anna Foard: Yeah. Well, because of the nature of the self-service analytics that we're seeing, skills gaps, stagnation of the education system, I think we're gonna see more outside-of-the-box education for specific skills. Honing in on specific skills in general. Data literacy, and then, of course, I would love a drastic shift in math education down the line, but I'm not gonna hold my breath for that.

Kirill Eremenko: Gotcha. Gotcha. Thank you so much. That's an interesting point of view and something for us all to think about. Education is going to be changing and we're gonna have more outside-the-box education in specific skills. I haven't heard that one before and I'm sure it's ... You're probably right. You have a good point there that things have to change about how people get educated in the space and there are huge opportunities there. On that note, thanks, Anna, so much for coming on the show. It's been a massive ... a really fun experience and lots of exciting things that you shared with us. Before I let you go, what would you say are the best ways for our listeners to get in touch with you and contact you to learn about your career and see where it takes you from here?

Anna Foard: Yeah, I'm on LinkedIn. You can follow me there. I'm on Twitter. It's @stats_ninja. I have a blog: The Stats Ninja. And, yeah, any of those places.

Kirill Eremenko: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much and, of course, everybody look out for the webinar with Eva Murray and Andy Kriebel. With Anna as well. And one final question for you. I think I have a suspicion on what book you're gonna say, but, nevertheless, I'm gonna ask anyway. What's a book that you would recommend to our listeners to help them in their data science careers?

Anna Foard: I don't know if you've heard of this one. It's called Confident Data Skills. Have you heard of that one?

Kirill Eremenko: Yes. I've definitely heard of that one. I heard it's pretty all right. So, not too shabby.

Anna Foard: No, that one really helped me a lot and then I know you said one, but The Big Book of Dashboards was really helpful as well when I was starting to learn how to create in Tableau, so that one was phenomenal.

Kirill Eremenko: What was the second one again?

Anna Foard: The Big Book of Dashboards.

Kirill Eremenko: Oh, Big Book of Dashboards. Okay. Cool. That's cool. I don't think I've read that one, but I've heard a few good things about that. So, yeah. We've got Confident Data Skills by yours truly, and The Big Book of Dashboards. Do you remember the author?

Anna Foard: Yeah, that's Steve Wexler, Jeff Shaffer, and Andy Cotgreave.

Kirill Eremenko: Okay.

Anna Foard: Cotgreave.

Kirill Eremenko: Well, there you go. Once again, Anna, thanks so much for coming on the show today and sharing your amazing, truly amazing journey into the field of data science.

Anna Foard: Thank you for having me, Kirill.

Kirill Eremenko: So, there you have it. That was Anna Foard, business development specialist at Velocity Group. Hope you enjoyed this podcast. Some of the other episodes that we mentioned today were episode 181 with Tim Lafferty, episode 91 with Andy Kriebel, episode 127 with Eva Murray and Andy Kriebel if you'd like to check out more from those people. My personal favorite part from today's episode was the way Anna goes about strategically building her career, understanding what she wants and what she needs to get there, and then integrating that into her daily routines, weekly routines, or strategic things that she does throughout the year like attending a conference or call working on a project and learning a tool or a skill.

Kirill Eremenko: I think that's a very wonderful example of how to strategically approach your career, and anybody can take that mentality and apply it to theirs, and I hope you can see how that can benefit you in your own career, whether you're just starting out or whether you're even an experienced data scientist. There's always room to grow. That's very important to keep in mind that there's always room to grow, always something new you can learn. There's always somebody you can learn from and, as you can see from Anna's example, the sky is the limit. You can meet anyone of your heroes and network with them and learn from there and even maybe do a project together with them.

Kirill Eremenko: On that note, you can get all of the show notes for this episode at That's There you will get all of the items that we mentioned on the podcast. The URL to Anna's LinkedIn. Make sure to connect with her and network with her. As you can see, she's very open and she will gladly help you out if you have any questions. Finally, if you enjoyed this episode, make sure to forward it to somebody who's looking to build a journey in data science or who maybe already has a career in data science and could use and benefit from some of these ideas. Maybe you have a friend, a colleague, a family member, who would really be happy to listen to this, then don't hold back. Forward them this episode. Spread the love and joy and let them hear Anna's story. On that note, thanks so much for being here today. I look forward to seeing you back here next time. Until then, happy analyzing.

Kirill Eremenko
Kirill Eremenko

I’m a Data Scientist and Entrepreneur. I also teach Data Science Online and host the SDS podcast where I interview some of the most inspiring Data Scientists from all around the world. I am passionate about bringing Data Science and Analytics to the world!

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