University of Colorado Boulder senior Claire McCollough considered herself an analytics rookie in the summer of 2020. But after spending the next year solving data puzzles on her own time using Alteryx analytics and data science software, she figured she had leveled up to rookie-plus.
It wasn’t until she entered the 2021 Alteryx Grand Prix — a race against the clock to see who can solve data challenges the fastest using Alteryx Designer — that McCollough realized just how far she had come.
In the prelims, she edged out Alteryx power users from around the world, becoming the first full-time student to make it the finals. At Alteryx Virtual Inspire conference, she went toe-to-toe with seasoned data scientists and analytics gurus from firms like HSBC, T-Mobile, and BNP Paribas. She finished fifth among the 10 finalists, making her an instant Alteryx celebrity.
“It’s been a little bit overwhelming,” says McCollough, who generally keeps a low social media profile. “But it’s also been really fun to accept this as part of my identity. And now I get to network with talented people who love Alteryx as much as I do.”
Unleashing Students’ Analytics Skills with Alteryx SparkED
So how did an amateur data sleuth gain the chops to compete with the world’s leading Alteryx pros?
Opportunity played a huge role. McCollough learned Alteryx Designer in Kai Larsen’s Business Analytics course at CU Boulder, which trains students to solve the same type of real-world data challenges as professional analysts. With free Alteryx Designer licenses courtesy of the Alteryx SparkED program, students can experiment with the entire Designer palette to prep, blend, and analyze any type of data, across any discipline. In addition to software licenses, SparkED provides prescriptive learning paths and teaching resources to help educators and students master the software.
McCollough’s self-starter personality did the rest. Outside of class, she participated in nearly 100 Weekly Challenges in the Alteryx Community, where she learned from many of the same users she met in the Grand Prix finals. She received her Alteryx Designer Core Certification in Larsen’s class (it counts as part of the grade), but studied for and passed the Alteryx Designer Advanced Certification on her own time.
“I love solving Alteryx problems in my free time,” McCollough says. “The Weekly Challenges deepened my skills even more than the class. Every single one requires different thinking skills, which is really cool.”
Also cool is Alteryx’s no-code, drag-and-drop interface and transparent workflows, which McCollough says makes data cleaning and analytics more accessible to more people.