This week, we go North of the border and I talk to Alistair Adam – Head of Analytical Services – Optima Connect
1) How did you get started in Analytics?
After completing a BSc and MSc in Maths in 1997 I started to look around for a job that was related to my degrees, both of which I enjoyed. A friend of mine knew of an analytics software company in Edinburgh called Quadstone who were hiring. I interviewed there and managed to get the role. At the time analytics / data science was still a relatively unknown discipline and the number of people working in the field was relatively small, so I didn’t know the direction my career was about to take. Luckily Quadstone was a great place to start my career and I was fortunate to work with some very bright people there who I learned a huge amount from.
2) What do you enjoy most about your current role?
Working for a consultancy means you get to work on different problems for a wide range of companies across different industries. I enjoy the variety that this brings – one week you may be doing a project for an airline and the next week doing something for a bank or utility company. I also really enjoy working with the team at Optima Connect – every single member of the team is brilliant at what they do and there is a great, collaborative culture in the company.
3) What has been your biggest success to date?
I think the biggest success I’ve had is transferring my knowledge and experience on to people I’ve managed or worked with closely on projects. I love seeing people who I’ve managed or worked with in the past make advances in their career either through promotions or working on new things that they enjoy. It’s rewarding to think that the time that you worked together with them might have a small part to play in their career progression.
4) What has been your biggest challenge to date?
A couple of projects in a previous role spring to mind! Those projects had a few things in common – they had a high profile in the organisation with a huge amount to do in a very short space of time, with strong opinions and emotions within the project teams. While they weren’t particularly enjoyable to work on I do look back and realise I learned a lot through the experience and I’ve definitely used the experience in subsequent projects.
5) How have you seen the industry change since you started?
It has changed a huge amount. When I started in 1997 the number of people working in analytics was relatively small and we were mainly working on a small number of problems such as optimising customer marketing activity. Now data and analytics is being used for a huge number of different types of problems, most of which would be impossible to envisage in 1997, and the number of people working in the industry has exploded. However, despite all the changes many of the techniques being used have not changed since I started, so some things have stayed the same!
6) What do you see for the future for analytics?
Obviously AI and automation will continue to increase. It’s easy to think this will make the role of the analytics professional increasingly redundant but I don’t believe that will be the case. There will be more need for great analysts who can overlay commercial knowledge with their technical skills to ensure that the maximum insight is generated from data and that the insight is being used to drive value in whatever organisation they are working in. This will mean that communication skills and commercial skills will become even more valuable than they are today within the analytics / data science community.
7) What advice would you give anyone pursuing a career in Analytics?
Go for it. It’s a great time to work in the industry and there are lots of resources around to help you get started. Once you begin your first role identify people who you think will be great mentors and spend as much time with them as possible to learn as much as you can from them about good practices in analytics. I was lucky enough to have some great managers and mentors in my early career which meant I learned as much in my first 3-4 years as would have taken me at least 10 years elsewhere.