Demystifying career advancement in data

For those looking for advice on how to excel as a people manager, those interested in growing as an individual contributor, or those who are unsure which path to take - this session is for you.
Last updated
May 2, 2024

With a growing amount of tools and skills to learn (at what seems like a daily basis), how to advance in your career as a data practitioner can feel as clear as mud. If that wasn’t enough, none of your previous skills prepares you to be an effective people manager. This isn’t a new problem, but one that is a bit trickier to solve. So what can you do? An easy way to start is by seeking mentorship from those with lived experences. That’s exactly what we served up in this webinar. Continuing our soft skills series on overlooked-yet-critical skills for data practitioners, we’ve got a special event featuring Axelle Heems (Sr. Director of Growth Operations at Gorgias) and Lindsay Murphy (Head of Data at Secoda) - two data leaders who have been there themselves and coached a number of others. Hosted by Brittany Perlin (Solutions Engineer at Secoda), they talk about their journeys, strategies and best practices to positing yourself for success, and advice they wish someone had told them earlier.

For those looking for advice on how to excel as a people manager, those interested in growing as an individual contributor, or those who are unsure which path to take - this session is for you.

For data leaders looking for other perspectives on different ways to coach your team - this is for you too.

Brittany: So let's get started. I'll start with just introducing myself, and then I'll give it off to my panelists to introduce themselves. So for anyone who isn't familiar and hasn't seen my face yet, my name is Brittany. I'm a Solutions Engineer here at Secoda. I love to talk. I love to talk about interesting topics with interesting people. So sometimes my shoulder gets tapped to moderate these sessions that we've been having, and I love it, because who would give up a chance to chat with all of the wonderful folks that we are bringing in? I'll kick it off to Lindsay, who is a face that hopefully a lot of people who are watching have seen around as well. She's been active with us, which is awesome. We're so excited to have her on our team. But Lindsay, you want to give a quick intro?

Lindsay: Sure. My name is Lindsay Murphy. I'm the Head of Data at Secoda. So if you've watched any of our recent sessions, you've probably seen me before. I'm also an instructor with – previously called CoRise, but they're now called Uplimit. So I teach advanced DBT. I also run a meetup here in Toronto. If you're in the Toronto area, check out Toronto Modern Data Stack, and you can come for networking events. I'll turn it over to you, Axelle.

Brittany: That’s awesome. Axelle, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Axelle: Nice. I love CoRise. That's really cool. My name's Axelle Heems. I am the Senior Director of Growth Operations at a startup called Gorgias. We're a B2B, SaaS tool for e-commerce stores. We help them improve their customer experience. I've been in this company for a little over five years, and I'm excited to be talking about my experience and hope it can be useful for our viewers and participants.

Brittany: For sure. I mean, it'll be useful for me. So you've got a plus one at a minimum. Well, for anyone who isn't familiar and is a bit confused about what we're going to talk about, if the title or our blurbs haven't been enough, we're really going to go through what the journey of a data practitioner can look like, what it's looked like for Lindsay and Axelle, and what are some of their experiences and learnings, things they wish they knew earlier. But before we can get to all that you've learned, I'd love to just quickly, briefly give an overview. I know, Lindsay, you said you've been doing this for 12 years. What are all the different things you've done in 12 years? You can just fire them off, one by one, all of the different things, and then I'll go to you, Axelle. And just so folks know that, we have a lot of experience in the room here.

Lindsay: You'll have to quiz me on my memory now, but I’ll go look at my LinkedIn profile and try to go back. I started my career quite a long time ago, it feels like, so about 12 years ago. I actually did my undergrad in psychology, so not in a data background. And back then, educations and data were not really as common as they're today, so really, a lot of the roles and the jobs and the tools that exist today really weren't a thing 12 years ago. My background in psychology, I was very focused on statistics, so that was where the math background and the interest in data came from. I started at a startup as a data coordinator here in Toronto, a company called SynCaps. It doesn't exist anymore, but it was focused on aggregating social media data back when social media marketing first started. So I really was lucky in my first role. I was very entry level. I think I said on my resume that I knew how to use Excel, and that was not quite a lie, but it wasn't really the truth. And so I learned Excel, I learned SQL, I learned just about everything you can imagine on that job, really starting to do some very interesting things very early in my career. So I got very lucky to get a very early start.

Unfortunately, that company didn't really last too long. They were working very closely with RIM and Blackberry. So when the market changed towards iPhone, that company was no longer to be. So I basically moved from the tech startup world into marketing analytics. So I worked at a few different marketing agencies as a marketing analyst. I got a lot of different experience generating insights and doing different things like that using tools like Excel for the most part, and building reports, and consulting types of engagements. I found in that experience that I didn't really like how you couldn't see the full picture of the data story. You would write some insights, give it to a customer, and then you'd never know, did they use that insight? Did they change anything about their business? It felt like a bit of a black box. So I started to look towards getting back into the tech world. I did move into roles which were more, I would call manager roles, but not of people, they were managers of functions. So I was an analytics manager, still at a marketing agency for a few years, and then I moved to the client side. So I was at a pharmaceutical company for a while, and I was basically the data team of one in a few different roles, and then I moved back into the tech startup world probably about five years ago now. So I stood up the data practice as a data team of one at a startup here in Toronto. I was basically the first person on the team at a company of about 40, and then I stayed at the practice and started building out a team. That's when I transitioned into people management for the first time.

And then, my previous role to Secoda, I helped to manage a team that was already established building out the function a little bit more at a company called Maple here in Toronto, and then now just joined Secoda about three months ago to help build out the data function, but also support with these types of things. So supporting in the marketing area and then also with product development. So a lot of different experiences. Hopefully that wasn't too boring. I tried to go too quickly.

Brittany: No, it's perfect, because it just gives insight too, and just all the different pathways. And we're going to talk about that today as well in just under an hour or so, of just all the different ways that you can do this type of work and ways that you can find your own interests in it. Axelle, can you give me a resume? Give your LinkedIn?

Axelle: Mine’s going to seem blunt in comparison, but let me try to explain a little. My educational background is in business, I went to business school. I also have a bachelor in Applied Math, so that's also my interest, in numbers and data. That's where that stems from. And then I actually majored in financial economics, so something completely different-ish. I guess now a debate is starting. But then I joined Gorgias as a growth hacker. That was kind of the buzz roll at the time, and so basically doing dimension, focused on really just growth marketing. From there, I tested out different things. At the time, Gorgias was really small. We were about seven people. That's the type of size where you have to do a little bit of everything, which was great for me because it gave me the opportunity to test out different roles. So that was great for me. But I realized marketing was not really my strong suit or my biggest interest, so I ventured into sales a little bit, and then I did some customer success, worked with partnerships. I went through all the departments that we have in the company – well, except for engineering, of course – and I landed in what we've been calling growth operations. What that is was really at the time, understanding how the data flows in our tools, how we can figure out is there a single source of truth? Is this something we should be reaching towards anyway? And how to make my colleagues' lives easier by automating as much of the repetitive work and things like that.

So that's why it's called Growth Operations, because it has a very strong ops focus, but super, super data-backed. So that's kind of where I've been sitting since 2018. In terms of my development in that role, I think I was doing that on my own up until mid-2020. Obviously, that's amidst COVID. And like I said earlier, Gorgias is in the e-commerce space. So when COVID hit, there was a huge rise in the Shopify types of companies, and we've benefited from that surge in interest, and that's when our business really exploded, in a good way. So there was a lot of work needed, and so that's when I started hiring. And so I jumped directly into people management position at that point. And so we were two, and then four by the end of that year, and right now, my team is about 15 people, still growing a little bit, in case you're interested. At the moment, maybe we'll dive into that later, but the way we work is we're kind of refocusing more on the data aspect of the job as we've been adopting modern data stack and all of that, and everybody knows, and we're trying to let teams own their own operations, and us diving more into the data analysis, and just really understanding when we make recommendations, how can we implement them, and what's the impact on the business, et cetera.

Brittany: So much unique experience to learn from as well. I think what's really cool is that neither of you directly studied data, like you didn't necessarily directly study statistics. And yes, numbers were part of the equation for sure, but it's cool to see, now speaking from an expert point of view, that both of you have developed that expertise over time in the job. I'm sure both of you have been developing a lot of your skills in people management as well, and that's a big chunk of what we're going to talk about, and how you've continued to develop your skills. But it's really exciting to hear from both of you and how your career paths have developed. I wanted to kick it over to you, Lindsay. We know that the data industry has just exploded. There's so much going on. We hear all about the modern data stack all the time, and how there's so many different tools and so many different ways to utilize all the tools and many different opinions on the best ways to utilize all those tools. I'm curious how all of that explosive growth really has growth impacted career paths.

Lindsay: This is one that I feel like the timing of my career, I've been fortunate enough to see this transition happening. And I'm sure people who've been in the industry even longer than me have even more of a viewpoint on this. But really, if you go back to when I started my career, it was very, very separate in terms of you would typically have to have a data architecture or a data IT team that would handle building all of the infrastructure and moving data from A to B, or getting data from different tools so that you could actually do analysis. And like I mentioned, I was writing SQL, I was using Excel, but basically, the data was already there. I didn't really have to think too much about where it came from or how it got there. That was someone else's job. And for many years, I was really not as focused on the technical aspects of things, I was more focused on generating insights, writing reports, things like that. And over the last 10 years, we've seen such an explosion in the areas of cloud computing and tools like DBT and other ETL tools being able to move data from one source into a data warehouse much easier, and now what you see is full stack data teams. So someone like myself can set up a data infrastructure with very – I don't want to say very little knowledge, but less knowledge than was needed 10 years ago in terms of like, I'm not a data architect and I don't have IT background, things like that. So data folks can really do a lot more than they could 10 years ago with much of the tools that exist today, and that kind of opens the doorway for a lot of difference in your career path.

So I think when I was starting out, a lot of the ways you got from junior to mid-level to senior roles, you would almost be forced to go into a people management role. And I think that's not the case anymore. There's a lot more options now where you see roles like data engineers or analytics engineers, which are more senior, they become staff level or principal level, and you don't have to be a people manager. And so that really wasn't the case even just several years ago. So I think it's really interesting because it does open up a lot of opportunities. Numbers people, sometimes we like to kind of just go work on our own and work individually, and I think that being forced into people management for a lot of people isn't the right path necessarily. So I think we're really fortunate to have more of these options and be able to learn from career paths like software engineering, where you sort of have two tracks. One that's like a managerial track and one that's a more technical track. So I think it just kind of opens up the door for people, and it's definitely a very exciting time to be in data.

Brittany: Yeah, it's pretty cool how that's happened. And for myself, coming from a software engineering background, I feel like it's something that, that industry or that part of tech has figured out, maybe because there's a lot more stereotypes of the software engineer being even more nerdy than the data engineer and needing to be even more secluded, which we're not about stereotypes here. I personally don't like those stereotypes, but there is something to be said about your interests and your skillsets, and where folks interest and skill sets best align, especially when it comes to people management, because people management can really make or break so many folks' experiences. I'm wondering, Axelle, in your experience seeing the modern data stack grow, seeing the industry go, and kind of weaving in and out of it as you've tried so many different roles over the years, or been part of and impacted your company in so many different ways, if you've seen that growth impact career paths, and any thoughts you might have on what Lindsay was saying?

Axelle: Obviously, I am super aligned with everything that's been said so far. I think on top of expanding that possibility of having two parallel tracks of IC, becoming more senior and the management one, I think there's two things that I'd add to that. The first one is that we've seen more companies expand that logic to compensation. That's a big thing. Like, one of the things was like, “Oh, I actually want to earn more money, I need to become a manager.” I think a lot more companies now are realizing that doing this might incentivize the wrong moves, and you might lose a great IC for an ‘okay’ manager, depending. So really, also paving the way for people to be incentivized to really choose the path that makes the most sense for them and for the business is really interesting. And with emergence of many, many, many new tools that, like Lindsay said, makes our job maybe easier, expands our scope. We've also seen the creation of new job titles that just didn't exist before. So I think there's a lot more possibilities for people in data roles to potentially also choose a specialization. As an IC, that wasn't really an option for them before. That's what I would add. At Gorgias, I know we're fortunate enough to have that type of mindset, of really making sure that just because you decide that you want to grow in your IC position doesn't mean that you are losing out on money or on recognition, because that's a big part of why people go into people management sometimes for the wrong reasons. So I think breaking down those frictions is paramount to making sure that everybody's getting the most of their own career at the end of the day.

Brittany: I love that, and I love really recognizing that people will make those decisions because we all want to look out for ourselves. We want to be compensated; we want to build out our career. And if those are the only paths, like you guys said, it's not just potentially harming the company because you're losing a really talented individual contributor, but people management is no easy task. And we're about to talk about that. And we've heard all the tropes, you don't leave a job, you leave your manager, and your manager can have a bigger impact on your health than your doctor or your health professionals. These are all real facts. We know how impactful it can be, these relationships, on our mental health potentially as a people manager or the person being managed. And it's no joke. And you want to make sure that you're creating a good environment, not just for yourself, but for the people under and above you. And then of course, this always tracks back to the bottom line and how you're contributing as well in terms of output and productivity.

So super, super serious thing, and having everyone start to get to this place where we recognize there's so many paths, there's so many ways that we can contribute and grow in our career without maybe taking on something even if we're not ready for it. I think that's the thing too, especially in startups. Folks will just get pushed into people management right away because no one's doing the work and we need to do it. And you might not be ready for it yet, but there might be a time with more training or more experience that you do become ready for it. And that's not a bad thing. That doesn't mean you're not growing in your career. And I totally agree with both of you, of we're starting to see that more. We're starting to see that there are really effective and successful and great pathways for folks who don't want to be a people manager, it's not in their skillset or just not in their skillset yet. So I think that's really, really cool.

I think now we'll talk a little bit more about that. Like, what does it mean to transition to people management? I know both of you have been people managers before and have been individual contributors before. And I'm not going to ask you the saucy questions of which one do you like more? Worst report? We won't need to go there, but I'm sure everyone has stories. I'll start with you, Axelle. You said you now manage a team of 15, and that all happened quite quickly just over the last several years. What has that been like for you? Has that been very overwhelming? Has it come naturally? What has that experience been like?

Axelle: Actually, I'll add a little additional insight. My team is 15 people, but I now manage two managers, and then that team is split in two. And that's a whole other discussion too, where managing managers versus managing ICs is a whole different thing. I don't want to derail the conversation, but as we were talking about career advancement, I think in my experience at least, the hardest has been that first manager position when you're managing other ICs and you were recently an IC yourself., that, I think was the hardest moment for me, probably also because I was starting out as a manager, but we'll get into that. But how was that for me? To be honest, I want to be transparent here, I was definitely part of that population of people who we just had too much work, so we needed to hire and somebody needed to manage new people. So that was me. So I think what's really difficult is that we don't realize when we start a managing position like this early on in our career as it was for myself, all of the training that goes into it because it's a completely different job. And it's not just you're teaching people how to do the IC work the way you would do it. It's coaching people, but giving them space, it's finding new talents to join your team, so you're becoming a recruiter as well. So that's a new skill set that you need to take on. You need to take on some of the mental load as well of your team that kind of builds up into your own. So you need to learn how to manage that and how to interact properly with your direct reports.

So for me, I think I got really lucky because at Gorgias, we have this system of manager handbooks and manager trainings throughout the company, regardless of the team that you're on, and we have an amazing VP of People, and she's been spearheading those. So that's been really, really helpful for me because it's really given me guardrails to know how to act in specific situations. So I think if I didn't have that, it would've been a lot more difficult as it would've been only trial and error. And you don't want to be burning through people. That's the worst thing that could happen. I think when I became a manager, for me, it was really apparent that I was taking on the responsibility of people and their livelihood, and it was my responsibility to make sure that they were successful so that they would keep their job, grow in their job, and provide support to their families. So that to me, was very, very clear from the get go, that it was more than just, I'm leading a team, I'm a manager. Like, no, no, no, no, I'm responsible for people. So that to me, was daunting, I would say at first, and then I grew into it, and hopefully I'm doing a good job, but I'm still learning and reading books, and we'll get into that. But that's how it's been for me at least, going into that type of role.

Brittany: When you talk about having some guardrails from your VP of People, what does that look like? What are some advice or something you've read from those handbooks that is either just giving you a little bit more context or shifted the way you approach certain experiences with folks that you're managing?

Axelle: So there actually have been live trainings, and I know this is very Gorgias-specific with my experience, but basically, the way it happens is that we take a topic, so like having difficult conversations or compensation conversations, promotions with somebody that is asking for it but is not really there yet, like how do you approach that, or letting go of people. People management, when everything goes well, it's great. And it's when things aren't going well that if you're not prepared – Am I back?

Brittany: I think we all had a moment there where we were wondering, which one of us is it? Which one of us is it? Anyways, you were saying that if you're not prepared for the hard moments – 

Axelle: Then that's when it's going to get really difficult, because you don't have time to go and read that book that's going to tell you how to act in that situation. So I think a lot of it is preparing for the worst and just being very clear and straight in your boots on how you approach certain situations. And so for us, the way we're doing it is we're doing mock situations. So somebody is going to act as the direct report and make your life a little difficult, and really push you to really reenact those types of situations. And then we comment on each other, because we're a bunch of managers doing that at the same time. I've found these live trainings to be really helpful, because it really puts you in the situation more so than you would think.

Brittany: Sometimes I find that when you get into certain positions – and just to give a bit of a pop culture example, a lot of folks probably heard that Lizzo right now, there's a big scandal that she wasn't treating her people properly, even though she's such a big advocate for respect and kindness and body positivity. They’re allegations, and who knows, I don't want to ruffle any feathers. Lizzo, don't come after me if you are watching this. But all that to say is sometimes we forget what it's like to be the person on the other side, and we forget what it's like to be the one having those difficult conversations. And even the person on the other side, we don't know what it's like to be the manager and we don't always think about that either. So having those live practices where you can really see and truly just practice the scenario and be pushed sounds like it could be something that's really effective in helping you build up that EQ, that emotional intelligence. I'm curious, Lindsay, when you got into your first people management role, did you realize how much work it was going to be? Did you realize how much EQ you needed and how much practice and reading would be required to take that on? Or did it all kind of have to hit you a little bit in shock?

Lindsay: I don't know if it was shock necessarily. I think it was a slow realization of the situation that I was in. I think a lot of people probably experienced a similar way, but if you are moving into a people manager role, you've probably been relatively successful in your career up to that point. And that was my experience. I had been a leader of a team of one, even though it was a team of one, but I had been doing things pretty well. I had gotten promotions, I had kind of felt like I was always really at the top of my game, and I was in control. And then you transition into people management, and like Axelle mentioned, it's a totally different job overnight. So you go from being the one doing everything, being accountable for your own work, and then now you're accountable for someone else's work, your job is no longer doing the work yourself. It's project management, it's being there for people when they need support and help. So I think for me it was a slow realization that I was still trying to do everything. I was trying to also do work and then also be a people manager, and I was realizing I was stretching myself too thin. And so I was now no longer doing either job very well.

Unfortunately, in my situation, there wasn't really much training provided. So I found that a lot of the recommendations or advice that I got early on was really theoretical. I might have gotten book recommendations that I found really hard to grasp because I didn't really have just the basic tactical skills of like, how do I run a one-on-one? How do I interview people? How do I hire someone for my team? What do I have to do if I have to fire someone? What do I have to do if I have a difficult conversation? Like very, I would say, day-to-day skillset that is pretty critical. And I think it was actually some time before I started to get advice on resources that were really just the basics of like, how do you delegate work? How do you coach people? How do you do just the bare bones of IC people management? And so I think until I really started to realize like, this is a totally different job and I kind of accepted that, I'm a little more gracious with myself. But early on, I was pretty hard on myself, and I think I did feel a little bit like a fish out of water, or that meme with the dogs at the computer, and it's like, I have no idea what I'm doing. I felt like that. And it honestly didn't feel that great. So I think the transition for me was a little bit rocky.

Obviously right now in my role, I'm not a people manager anymore, so I'm taking a little break from it. So I think that's another thing that looking back on it, I think there might be some misconception, is that just because you try it or go into it doesn't mean you have to stay with it forever. You can always go back to an IC role if you want to practice deepening your skills in a certain area, and you can always go back to being a people manager. So I think there's this conception that once you get on one path, you're stuck on it, and I don't think that's true. I mean, I'm an example of that not being true. So I think that's something for folks to think about too, as you're potentially thinking about making that transition, is like, it doesn't have to be forever.

Brittany: I love that. I think it's important to recognize we're not stuck by any means. I keep hearing a podcast advertisement, I haven't listened to the podcast itself, but it keeps saying, so and so has found that changing up your career or the way that you're moving through your career is one of the best things you can do. I'm totally butchering the quote, but it is something we see quite a bit, that it's okay to do your own path, blaze your own trail, as they say. Our careers look really different than those of our parents or our grandparents generations, and especially in tech, which is such a new and quickly evolving industry relative to so many others. So it is important to just know all of your options and all of the different ways that you can create your path, and all the different ways we don't even know yet. I know earlier we were talking about all the different careers that have opened up just in the last five to 10 years. We have no idea what's out there still. I think even my role as a solutions engineer probably didn't exist five years ago. I still don't fully understand all of the different ways that people implement that role. And so we have a lot of growing to do and a lot of openness that we have to have in order to continue to evolve, which is awesome.

And it takes us really nicely into our next topic of conversation, which is choosing a path. Since you've both had experience in both of those realms as a people manager and as an individual contributor, I'm curious, I'll start with you, Lindsay, if you could give me a pro of both, and then maybe a con of both, and then where you've kind of landed for yourself right now. I know right now you're not a people manager, but what feels right for you right now if you had the choice?

Lindsay: I wouldn't say it's easy to call it the pros and cons, but I think in reflection, there's definitely very stark differences between the two paths. I think in the pro area of people management, being able to help other people, if that's what drives you, is something that really is hard to describe. Like when you are able to help someone through even a personal issue or a work issue, it's very, very rewarding. I've actually had some really, really nice relationships with folks that I've managed, and that I've worked with, and just to be able to see them either master a new skill or have a breakthrough that they've been working on, or go through a promotion cycle or something like that. So all of those things can be incredibly rewarding from a people manager perspective. I think the other piece that I really enjoyed is that leadership aspect. So I have a tendency towards leadership, and I do like the idea of being able to help guide a function or a team. And so I think that that is more aligned with the people management path. So for me, those were some of the reasons and rationale for why I went that way.

And then I think on the IC path, some of the great things about that is you really can deepen your skillset. So that's something that I've been really enjoying as I came back to Secoda, is I can go in and I can actually spend a whole day coding now, and I really couldn't do that before. There's just not as much time to do those things. You're going to be doing a lot more admin work on a people management role versus being able to just dedicate a whole day to working on a project, something I've been doing this week. So that, I find really rewarding to just kind of work on something, step back and say, “Hey, look, I made this”, and be able to know that the level of quality is what you would strive for, and that you understand how the whole thing works from start to finish, is definitely a feeling that you won't get as often on the people management side, but I think there's ways to supplement that in your career in other ways. So those are probably the things I would call it the most.

And then I think for me, I'm enjoying right now just kind of being a little lone wolf again. But I do think I'm excited to see how our company grows and potentially develop a team and a data team here. So definitely, I think I'll lean back towards people management in the near future, but for right now, I'm enjoying just being able to spend a whole day on a project by myself.

Brittany: Definitely rewarding in very different ways, but rewarding nonetheless. I'm just looking at some of the notes that the two of you provided before this chat. And being a manager doesn't necessarily mean becoming less technical, and I think that's a really good note there too. I'm not sure if you two feel this way, but for me as a woman, I feel very protective of my technical skills because so many people assumed I wouldn't have them. And so people skills feel perhaps more stereotypically fitting, and so to be able to say, “No, you’re a manager, yes, it'll be a different use of your skills, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're less technical. You might have to teach more technical things. You will still have to do technical work. You're not losing those other skills that you built up.” On the flip side, if you're an IC, you can really dig into those other skills as well, and you're truly practicing a lot of high-quality skillset in doing either path, which is super important to call out, I think. And I'm glad it was something that you two had brainstormed about previously. I'm wondering with you, Axelle, what have you found to be the pros for you on either path, the IC and the people management?

Axelle: It's so hard. I definitely miss the more operational work, which is what drew my attention initially. I think what I really like with my role is having the decision-making power of choosing how to organize the team and how to structure it and how to change that up as the company evolves. And not only just choosing, but also having to, because I think a data team or an ops team or whichever team in that area, is super dependent on how the rest of the company functions. I've had to restructure my team a couple times already, and I don't have a career that's nearly as long as that of Lindsay's. So I think that's very telling. And working on how to organize data teams is really interesting, and you see that there's a lot of theories out there, of embedded, decentralized, centralized, hybrid – it's super interesting to try and test that out, and having the ability to test it, see the results, and then learn from that.

One thing I will say though is like we said, people management is a totally different skillset that's needed, and I have found, for me at least, that it takes a much longer time to feel like you're getting better at those skills. So I think there's a big underlying assumption there that needs to be called out, is you're not going to get promoted as a manager super, super fast, because I think that a lot of it is just pure soft skills, that it's not just you read a book, okay, check, I'm done. No. It takes time and practice, and it needs to sink in, and I think that is something that you need to be okay with, and comparing that to learning a specific hard skill, I think you feel a lot more empower of your own skill advancement when you're in IC as you are when you're a people manager, because it also depends on what's going on with your team. You are empowered, but also, not – if that makes sense, as a people manager. You're super dependent on the success of your team, but you need to coach them, but you shouldn't also jump in because that's not helping them. So finding that balance of when to really just be a people manager and when to jump into the occasional operational task, and seeing how that helps your team grow as a whole. But I will say the biggest reward is obviously seeing your team get better and better and venturing to whatever other role that they want to go to.

Something that I've been always super in favor of at Gorgias is internal movements as well. So really, giving my team members the opportunity to work on specific skills. I've had people go into strategy, go into product, and I think that's really, really nice to see and know that you've had your part in helping that person even figure out what they want to do with their own career, really. And whether that's in your team or not, that shouldn't be your goal to hoard them. You want to help them grow as individuals, wherever that takes them.

Brittany: It sounds like even in your describing of how to structure a data team, that's really technical as well. That's a deep dive into something that's specific to more of a manager or director level, but is still a very intense understanding of data as a whole, the industry, all the different ways, all the different tools that work together. So that's really cool to hear of some of the different skill sets you need to be a people manager. And I think it goes back to, you develop your skills in different ways in these different roles. And so, we're focusing a lot here on the transition into people management. Like we've mentioned, and I see in the comments, some people are talking about this as well, there are just so many endless opportunities and so many different career titles that we've talked about, many that we don't even know. And in each and every single one of them, you're going to need to learn stuff. At least for most people. Nothing just shows up and now you can have the skill sets and you're perfect at it. I also particularly like the call out of, and sometimes it's a bit easier to see your progress as an individual contributor because you're just reliant on yourself, but with a team, you're also bringing them up in the process. And a rising tide floats all ships? But we're all here in it together as a team, and that's really important.

We have just 10-ish, 15-ish minutes left. I wanted to, before we open up for Q&A, have each of you give some advice for folks transitioning into people management, and then also for folks who want to stay in as well. So I'll ask each of you for two pieces of advice. One for folks transitioning into people management, and one for folks who want to individually contribute in different ways. For instance, in our comments, we have folks talking about working in data modeling or as a data strategy expert. So if you had to give a piece of advice to folks who are both transitioning into people management or folks who want to develop into a more individual contributor type role within data, what would you tell them? I'll start with you, Lindsay.

Lindsay: I think regardless of the path that you're choosing, the advice that I would give is think about your motivation. So go back to some of the things we've already talked about. Obviously in your career, you want to get ahead, but what is the driving motivation behind what is pushing you? Is it something like, do you want your own personal achievements? Are your personal achievements more important to you than maybe helping others to achieve things? What are the values that you have in your own work life? And think about what you feel is the most rewarding for you in your career. And that can kind of help you decide, is people management the right path for me? Or am I going to be happier to stay in an IC role? I think the more that I am here, the more that I kind of realize I want to have an impact across the company, and I think that people management is more the path for that type of thing. When talking about data strategy, we're talking a lot about people management, but I do think it's a leadership thing, is if you're more in the people management path, typically, is where you might end up influencing data strategy a little bit more that people may disagree with me on that, but I think that understanding how data is used at your company and how you turn that into a valuable asset for the business is incredibly important. And if that's something that you want to be a part of, you need to make sure that you have those leadership skills. And people management will help you get there because it comes down to communication, negotiation, project management, prioritization, all of those skills are things that you're going to pick up through people management. So I think I'll deep the question a little bit and say, if you are interested at all in people management and there's an opportunity for you to try it, and you're doing it for the right reasons, I think you're going to pick up skill sets that are going to be valuable to you in either path. So I think that's my answer.

Brittany: There are a little bit of two, like we have to check our egos, especially when we've been trained to think that people management is the only way to grow in our career. We can jump at it when we might not fully be into it for the right reasons, and that perhaps more ego-driven approach to taking on that role could make it more difficult to adjust to what's required of you in that role. But nonetheless, the skillsets you'll learn, communication, all of that is going to be super important no matter what, and you're going to learn from it either way. But I love that. Really check in with yourself; what is it that you want and what is it that's going to work for you for right now? We've also talked about the weaving. What about you, Axelle, if you had to chat about some tips and tricks, some advice for folks both transitioning into people management or folks that are just developing their own individual contributions on a data team?

Axelle: I was going to go more into actual tips, like, you should do this, or you should do that. 

Brittany: Let's do it. Let's hear it. 

Axelle: One thing I'll just add on what you both said is I definitely agree on the ego part. I think it takes a lot of maturity to decide and state that like, “Hey, turns out I don't think this is for me, even if it's showcases like, this is the best career move you could do”, and just be really confident that we're at a stage, I think, in data careers where that's not the only choice, as we've explained numerous times at this point. But check in with yourself, don't fall into the trap if it's not for you. But if it is for you, it's an amazing journey, and you learn so much. And on that front, I was going to say if you're going to go into more of an IC role, make sure you're in all the data communities like Slack communities, the DBT Slack, the Modern Data Network, and things like that, because that's also how you see trends that are coming up of new roles, new tools, new skills, new libraries, whatever it is.

But I think as I thought about that, I'd also just advise that to managers, because I think for me, what I deem important as well is making sure that whichever way you structure your team and you coach your team, you want to make sure that their skillset is always relevant to the market. And I think that's part of your responsibility as well as a manager. Because like I said, what's important for me is helping the people grow. And if that's at Gorgias, great, if that's in my team, great. But if it's not, you want to set them up for success. So you don't want to be a blocker in that regard, and you want to make sure that whatever you're doing with your team, it's relevant and it stays on top of the latest trends if that's applicable to your team. The biggest thing is hiring a data scientist when what you really need is a data analyst, but be really clear on that and communicate that to other teams. But I would say for both roles, just try to stay as much as you can on top of trends and what's coming up and what's going down in terms of tools as well, because that has a huge impact on the people in your team.

So I would say that if you don't have trainings that are provided internally, just reach out to other managers. The issues that you have, they probably already faced before. So I'd say reach out, rely on other managers, ask them for advice as soon as possible. Don't wait for the problem to arise, just be prepared for anything. Get a coach, that's another way to look at it too, because you're managing people and people problems usually, so there is a good way and a wrong way to talk about certain topics. So just learning that, I think, is a pretty paramount skill. And then I think Lindsay and I had a couple books that we could recommend if your learning type is reading, which it's not for everyone. So that's why I also recommend the coaching and more live types of learning. Sometimes there's audio books as well.

Lindsay: That's one of the things I would say maybe is a piece of advice that I skipped, is if you're thinking of going into people management, start preparing before you get the promotion because you don't want to be in the situation where you haven't built the skillsets that you need, because It's really uncomfortable. I've definitely been in those situations where things have happened, and I've been like, I don't know how to deal with this, and you're sitting there feeling very uncomfortable. And I can tell you, learning from experience is not as fun without having a little bit of background and a little bit of preparation. So as much reading or audio books as you can do before you get the job, you're just going to be much more thankful to yourself that you at least know that you're not alone and other people have gone through this and that there are proper ways to deal with different situations. So preparing before you need those skills is super, super valuable.

Axelle: It'll make you more confident too, especially if it's your first time. Sorry I cut you.

Brittany: No, I was just going to say, people are complicated, and to be a people manager is to manage complicated. There's no getting around that our lives are messy, and we all think adults have it figured out, and then you become an adult and you realize that none of us have it figured out. We're all just trying our best. I think it sounds like both of you trying to be very mindful and continue to take feedback and give feedback and grow in these roles, which is so, so, so important, because again, people are complicated, people are messy, and we're all just trying to get by. I believe we originally only scheduled for about 50 minutes, but we'll stay on a little longer and answer any questions that folks may have. So we'll go into a Q&A right now. If there aren't any questions from folks, I'll definitely ask some more of my own. But I'll give a second for folks to ask some questions, and then if I don't happen to see them, if someone from the Secoda team could just message them to me directly, because I don't really see any questions right now.

Lindsay: I see one, Brit. There is one here that somebody said, what are the certifications that you advise us about data? I'm not sure if that's with respect to people management or more like data technical skills. If it's about technical skills, certifications come and go. I don't know that I agree that those are necessarily the most important things. I think areas and skill sets are probably more important to develop. So it depends on what role you're in, obviously, and what area you're in. If you're looking to be an analytics engineer, DBT has a certification that you can train for and do. It's quite extensive, I think. So something like that can be useful. If you're working in a certain data warehouse, I know a lot of these data warehouses provide certifications through their own tooling. So things like that can go a long way to show that you're well-trained in those areas. And then obviously, if you're talking about people management skills or soft skills, it gets a lot harder. There's really not any program out there that you can necessarily go to take a course on people management. So I think that one, you sort of have to put together resources from different areas. I think it's more important to understand your own strengths and weaknesses with respect to the skill sets that you need for people management, and then find resources to work on the specific areas that you need help in.

We did just drop some resources in the chat. So one book that I found really, really helpful is called the Effective Manager. That is the basic of how to be a manager. So it talks about how to run a one-on-one, how to delegate work, how to coach. Very, very basic things that I think are skipped a lot when people first become managers. So highly recommend that book. Can't recommend it enough. I will thank a previous manager, John, that I had, for giving me that asset. They also do a podcast, which is really good. They have a podcast called Manager Tools. I think they've been doing it for like 10 years or something. It's a wild amount of time. So there's literally thousands of episodes of that, and there are episodes for X happened, what do I do? And it'll be so relatable, it'll be something that's definitely going to happen to you. So I highly recommend that podcast as well. It's nice to have a different format if you're not big into reading. 

Axelle: Yeah, same thing for Radical Candor. They have a podcast version of it. And for me, I remember when I started listening to it, I was like, this is all very obvious. And that's the thing too, I think, with people management, and the same thing with what you just said, Lindsay, of the effective managers like the basics, but yet you don't go over it. It's because it's assumed that you'll just know, but sometimes it's a good reminder. Something that seems obvious is like, well, just remember if it happens, make sure you do it this way, not that way. So I think for me, that's the impression that I've had with Radical Candor, is it seems very obvious, but it's a good refresher just in case.

Brittany: And sometimes when we get those refreshers and we just have them in our brain, it helps us not get as emotionally charged in those situations because we're all reactive. That's just the nature, again, of communicating. And so, I agree that I've read some things sometimes too, and I'm like, well, this just seems obvious, blah, blah, blah. But then you encounter a situation that you've read about and you're like, oh wait, actually, instead of feeling offended, or instead of feeling like I have to go and attack or whatever it might be, let me revert back to the things I read. And that way, you're not stuck in your brain as much about what am I supposed to do, dah, dah, dah, dah, because you have something that you've outlined. Even if when you were listening to it, you were like, of course, I have to do this. It's a little bit of an extra reminder. It takes you a little bit out of your own brain and lets you approach the situation with a bit more clarity, which we can all use a little bit more clarity, especially during tough conversations. We've got about five minutes left. I'm not seeing any other questions come through right now, but with the five minutes left, I was wondering if either of you wanted to plug some stuff, do a little self-promo. Axelle, I'll start with you. Anything you want to promo, we'd be happy to hear it.

Axelle: We're hiring for a couple roles at Gorgias. Not necessarily mostly data roles, but I will say that – I guess it’s cliché  now, but we're very intense with data in all teams. I will say we push all teams to learn SQL, which may or may not be a good thing, but that's our way of working. So we push every role to be very analytical and be critical also of what they're seeing. I think Gorgias is a good company to join if that's the type of environment that you're looking for. But other than that, I guess I'd promote the MTS test, but I'll let Lindsay talk.

Brittany: What is that?

Lindsay: That's definitely what I was going to mention. So we're doing a virtual conference next week for the data community, driven by data community members. So the talks are really data practitioners solving real-world problems. I think we have over 50 speakers, and it's starting next week. So if you're interested you can sign up for the sessions here at, and that stands for Modern Data Stack, in case anyone's not sure. We have some really great panels, lots of great different topics, more soft skills topics like we talked about today, but then also very technical focused topics. So if you're looking to learn some things, it's all free, definitely go sign up. We've got tons of great content.

Brittany: Nothing like free content. It's the best. It’s like barrier-free, going in and learn, learn, learn. Like these sessions. And these sessions, of course, they're not possible without, firstly, our marketing team at Secoda and all the folks at Secoda who help put these together. It's really, really fantastic. Our fantastic panelists who have joined over several different sessions, Lindsay's here all the time, she's kind of de facto. Thank you so much to Axelle as well. I think there's some of your Gorgias peers watching too. I saw in the comment, “We are Gorgias!” At first, I thought that was someone just complimenting us, but I see now.

Brittany: I think one of the things that I'm really excited about with MDS Fest is just the data community is so big on sharing knowledge and learning from one another and growing together. We see that in the excitement that we get about these sessions, being able to bring wonderful panelists on, and we see that with just how many speakers we have at MDS Fest too. So there's a lot to celebrate, a lot we're really excited about. So thank you both for joining today, for chatting about this topic, for getting a little bit vulnerable and personal about things that surprised you, and soft skills that you've had to learn over the years and will likely continue to learn, because that's how it goes. And thank you for everyone who joined. Please check out MDS Fest, follow us on LinkedIn and all of the other socials. Can you tell I'm not in marketing? Keep joining these sessions. They're a lot of fun for us to do, and hopefully, they're a lot of fun to partake in as well. And that brings us to three o'clock, almost on the dot, EST. Again, thank you. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of their day, and I'll see you all at MDS Fest.

Axelle: Thank you.

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