Some weeks ago, a website asked me to give an interview about how I got my job, and after sending back my replies, they ghosted me for good. Since I put a lot of effort into answering the questions, I figured it might be useful for those who are thinking about a career change.
7 long years I spent at the university
I have a degree in political science, but I soon realized this is not what I want to do with my life. I had no drive or passion in me towards the world of politics, so I simply chose this profession out of defiance. A friend of my mom told her that I’m so smart I could be anything – except for a political scientist because that can only be men. That’s when I decided, political science it is!
I learned a lot at the university about how to cope with teamwork as an introvert, or how to accomplish something as fast as I can and put my perfectionism aside. And the biggest things of all: the love of numbers. I always inclined towards humanities, and I never thought I had this in me. This is all thanks to one of my fabulous teachers, Zsófi Papp, who taught me how mind-blowing conclusions we can draw from statistics. Nothing was stopping me from there.
Even in my thesis, I examined the personal effect of Hungarian prime minister candidates between the two rounds of elections to see whether this is a significant determinator or not. I busted my ass for hours at the library of the Parliament reading local newspapers to build up my database, and I enjoyed it so much, I sometimes forgot to eat. Was it a success story? No, it wasn’t. I made powerful conclusions, but I had to write 30 pages, and I could only squeeze 10 out of myself. The rest I had to fill with bullshit that I called ‘theoretical background’ at the time. I always preferred quality over quantity, and this is something that will never change.
How did I end up in dataviz?
In my case, everything pointed towards data visualization. I love to work with numbers, and I’m fascinated by all forms of art. This was a long road for me, taking one baby step at a time. The world is changing so fast that when I finished university in 2014, this profession didn’t even exist. I worked as a data analyst for 7 years before landing my first dataviz job at Starschema.
At Nielsen, I learned how to analyze data, Unilever taught me how to drive insights and make conclusions, and the time I spent at Mondelez enabled my storytelling skills. But that was the point my career came to a halt. I enjoyed what I did but couldn’t imagine myself doing Excel reports and ppt-s until my pensioner years. So I decided to take a deep breath, automatize everything I can in my daily processes, and use the remaining time to learn something new. In 2017 I spent 10-12 hours a day sitting in front of the computer, learning Tableau, Power BI, SQL, data science basics, graphic design tools, and a lot more.
At the end of that year, the Budapest BI Forum organized a national dataviz championship, and I thought that it would be a great challenge to put my knowledge to test. That was the very first Tableau dashboard I created, and I won 1st place in the individual category and the people’s choice award too. I still can’t make up my mind how I managed to pull this off among so many talented contestants.
The first experiences that made me who I am today
I’m not an easy person. I’m fast, loud, rarely satisfied, I have a can-do attitude, but I get bored easily. I’m a whirlwind, and sometimes people feel intimidated by me. I don’t think that someone is right just because he’s above me in the hierarchy, and it’s hard to shut my mouth when I feel suppressed.
I had my problems with that attitude, and I felt that this is all my fault, while it was just not the right workplace for me. When someone like me becomes the 10th person in a team that operates at 20%, they will feel that their 20% might not be enough to keep up, and they would only like to get paid at the end of the month with the lowest efforts possible. There were some cases where people hated me because I’m an overperformer or mocked me because of my looks. It was a hard lesson to learn that I’m not the problem, I just don’t belong anywhere.
Despite all that, I’m not a selfish person, and it makes me extremely happy to see anyone’s hard work getting paid off and watching them thrive. I’m where I am because there were a lot of people who believed in me and pushed me forward. And I’m here to do the same for others because it’s not a zero-sum game.
Mondelez will have my heart forever, they showed me what a good workplace looks like, and that you can have fun while doing your everyday job:
Preparation for the interview
In this profession, you have slight chances to get a job without a portfolio. Luckily, there are a lot of initiatives one can take part in to build theirs. Just to mention a couple from the Tableau world, there’s Iron Quest, Makeover Monday, Workout Wednesday, mentorship programs and so much more.
Starschema took a leap of faith in me when they offered this dataviz job. I had no previous experience, but with being almost 30 I was not a junior either. I went for one interview and brought some infographics with me. No homework, no VLOOKUP test, no locking me up in an office without windows for 8 hours and a bottle of water to see if I can make an analysis by the end of the day. Just one 30 min talk. I can never be thankful enough to Starschema for their trust, and I hope I could give something back in the past 3 years.
For people looking to start their dataviz career: build a portfolio and bring it to the interview, even if they don’t ask for it!
Advice about CVs
Make them short and customize it to the job. Nobody cares what subjects you’ve learned in high school or if you can ride a horse when you’re applying for a dataviz job. In a world like this, when we’re loaded with tons of new information every minute, it’s more crucial to be on point than ever. Also, if you get rejected don’t take no for an answer. Learn, make yourself better and reapply.
Why did they select me?
I think it’s 90% because they saw I want this job a lot and that there’s potential in me. The market of data visualization experts is still not that big today. If you decide this is the thing you want to do, and willing to sit as many hours in front of the computer as it takes, it’s relatively easy to change your career. There are a lot of great (and free) learning materials on the internet and the Tableau community is quite active on Twitter.