Life as a … a Data Strategist – Nick Janssens
The majority of our Tobania world (called “the galaxy” according to our Tobians) is populated by our consultants. Each with their own expertise strapped to their backpacks, they head out to our client’s workplace to deliver targeted projects. Perhaps at yours as well? Well, time to get to know them personally! Featured in this edition: Nick Janssens, Data Strategist.
As a Data Strategist, Nick assists our customers in generating business impact by leveraging their data. He accomplishes this by creating a data strategy that is aligned with the company’s business strategy and includes the data, technologies, people and projects needed to build intelligent data-driven organisations.
What makes working as a Data Strategist so unique?
What I love, is that you are able to generate visible business impact while working with experts in different data domains (e.g. Foundations, Data Science and Business Intelligence). I tackle business questions that can be narrow, like “How can customers get more impact from their marketing budget?”, or broad, like “How can customers unlock the potential of their data?”. This leads to a variety of job content, as for the narrow questions you should be an analytical translator and a project manager, while for the broad questions you should be constructing a high-level data strategy that includes everything: from data collection, to specific use cases, to attracting and positioning the right data professionals in the company. Once solutions have been found, I translate the solutions back to our customer, and start a change process to implement the solution in the customer’s way of working.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I cannot speak for them, but from their feedback I have learned that I am easy going and always ready to make work more fun (e.g. having a drink after work and playing a game of padel). Moreover, according to them, I value giving and receiving feedback. Lately, they have also been describing me as a bit “too” busy.
“Everyday encounters and talks about other people’s aspirations are a source of energy to me.”
Who inspires you?
I am not inspired by just one person. Instead, I am inspired by ambitious people around me, like my colleagues at Tobania, clients and other people I meet. Everyday encounters and talks about other people’s aspirations are a source of energy to me.
What is your go-to productivity trick?
Scheduling time blocks in my calendar to allow me to concentrate on specific subjects. And when I want to concentrate better during these time slots, a combination of a cup of coffee, noise-cancelling headphones and some music does the trick. Reader tip: Getting Things Done by David Allen.
“A quick understanding of business challenges, some creativity and a bit of curiosity will get you pretty far.”
How can you stand out as a Data Strategist?
A few things should help. First, a quick understanding of business challenges, some creativity and a bit of curiosity will get you pretty far. Second, translation skills to match business needs with the technical team’s solutions are necessary to make a solution land. For that, some presentation and change management skills will assist you in getting noticed.
What did your career path look like? When did you join Tobania?
I started working at Python Predictions (Tobania’s Data Unit) 2,5 years ago. Prior to that, I conducted PhD research in Geology, where I worked on predicting how much CO2 can be sequestered in rocks. At Python Predictions I then started as a Data Scientist, but quickly realised that my ambition was to grow into a Data Strategist role (after first considering a Data Engineering role). From there, I grew to Data Strategy Competence Centre Co-lead (together with Sam Franssens).
If you could go back in time, what would you say to yourself at the beginning of your career?
- Take time to reflect on things that went well and things that did not go as smoothly as planned. By doing so, you will constantly improve and grow in confidence.
- Learn to plan as soon as possible. I’m not a big planner by nature, but over time I’ve learned this skill in a professional context and have found that it helps to keep your workload under control. It also allows you to delegate better and to communicate a project status more clearly and quickly.
“I receive the most energy when I observe other people integrating the data solution into their daily work.”
What gives you a professional high?
Helping customers generate impact and value with data. This professional highlight can appear at various times, for example when presenting a solution to management at customers, but also by teaching the data solution to end users, for example contact centre advisors. I receive the most energy when I observe other people integrating the data solution into their daily work.
Do you have any mentors in your professional life?
Yes, absolutely. Geert Verstraeten (Co-founder and Managing Partner at Python Predictions) is my coach and we regularly discuss how I can grow further in my role and how I could tackle certain challenges I face. But as I said, I am inspired by many people, so I also consider Jan Muermans (Senior Data Strategist) as a mentor, and David Van der Laan (Senior Data Strategist at a client).
Do you have the ambition to be a mentor for others?
I hope I already am. Currently, I am coaching three colleagues in our “Everyone Has a Coach” track within our data team, while I also try to share as much of my knowledge as possible with other colleagues. In general, I like to exchange knowledge and insights gained from my mentors, from projects, and from books on personal growth.
What skill have you developed during your career that has been worth all the effort?
The most important skill I have developed and used during my career is learning to explain things in simple terms. When presented with complex knowledge, I try to translate it into a simple analogy to understand it better. This then helps me to explain complex subjects to non-experts.
In addition, planning is a great skill to have, plus I also dedicate time to learning how to become more efficient at small things that you need to repeat often, such as learning keyboard shortcuts for Excel and PowerPoint.
What does your desired future look like?
I can’t say exactly where I want to end up, but initially I will focus on the growth of the Tobania’s Data Strategy Competence Centre and on expanding our offering in the area of Data Strategy. In the future, the plan is not so definite, but I see myself in a leadership role, as I get a lot of energy from watching people and teams grow.
“The job variety is wide. Sometimes you act as a Project Manager, and sometimes you advise on large-scale data strategies.”
Why should a fellow Data Strategist come work at Tobania?
One reason is that you get a lot of variety in data strategy assignments: sometimes you act as a Project Manager, and sometimes you advise on large-scale data strategies. Other reasons are the great feedback loops whereby everyone in the team gives feedback to everyone else. Moreover, there is always a great atmosphere and your skills and interests are always considered regarding your future projects. And, last but not least, the opportunities to grow, as evidenced by my transition to Data Strategy Lead, are significant!