Alteryx recently announced an exciting new partnership between SparkED, our Analytics Education Program, and the US Department of Defense. It incorporates SparkED learning journey into DoD’s valuable SkillBridge Program, which seeks to help solve ongoing data analytics skill gaps in our industry.
That announcement inspired us to dig a little deeper into who are the people making the jump from the military to the data world. We didn’t have to look too far for insights–four of our Alteryx veteran colleagues stepped up to help.
- Melanie Goulette, Public Sector, Sales Engineer, Alteryx
Goulette was a DoD contractor before becoming a Military Intelligence Analyst. She served for six years, including a deployment to Afghanistan.
- John Wheeler, Customer Success Manager, Alteryx
Major Wheeler spent 11 years as an electronic warfare officer flying on EA-6B Prowlers, including four overseas deployments. He’s spent the past six years in the Reserves.
- Albert Bellamy, Customer Training Instructor, Alteryx
Bellamy enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1998 and served as a logistician doing maintenance management on trucks and artillery equipment. He re-enlisted after 9/11 and became an officer in 2006. He deployed six times to Iraq and Afghanistan and retired in 2021 with 23 years of service under his belt.
- Joshua Burkhow, Chief Evangelist, Alteryx
Burkhow enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1997 and initially started as a communications center operator for classified intelligence but got selected to the prestigious Marine Security Guard Battalion where he served in US Embassies in London, England and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
We asked the group to share how and why they got into data and analytics as a career and what the transition from the armed services was like. These were our five big takeaways.
1. Moving from military service to the data world is more common than you might realize
Long before Wheeler landed at Alteryx, he worked as an electronic warfare officer doing ambiguity analysis that separated signals from noise. It sounds like a pretty good analog to what data scientists do every day. “I started my post-military career in sales,” he says. “I learned how important data is to businesses and how those that know how to turn data into actionable insights come out ahead of their competition.”
Bellamy says he always wanted to do analytics in the Marine Corps but never got a chance to do so full-time. “Solving problems with data has always been in my blood,” he says. “Maintenance management had some analytical elements and, towards the end of my career, I did three years of HR analytics at Quantico while also earning a Masters in Analytics through Naval Postgraduate School.” He says he considered staying in the Marine Corps to be a full-time analyst but opted out due to family considerations. “Once I retired, I knew there was only one job for me. But I had no idea that the data field was so rich and diverse.” After a cursory Google search of Data Science, he says, “a whole new world opened up to me.”
A one-time “tech guy” for a financial firm, Burkhow became a field engineer who fixed retail equipment while also earning his digital networking degree. “That journey,” he says, “spurred a curious path of finding out what the heck we are doing with all this data we’re moving around.” He got his first data job learning Cognos and building reports, then moved on to models and SQL.
2. There are ways of telling whether you are a good fit for a career in data and analytics
It’s an open secret that many companies will hire people without a data background for data jobs. So, what kind of people do our veterans think have the right qualities to make the right fit? For Burkhow, it’s all about a single word. “Curiosity,” he says. “That is the fundamental trait. You can’t sit on the sidelines and be good at Data and Analytics. You need to get your hands dirty and try stuff, learn, question things, and go at it again and again.”
“Definitely someone who is a self-starter and go-getter,” says Goulette, who had no prior experience in data before landing at Alteryx. “It sounds cliché, but there are so many questions you won’t know the answer to and you have to find a way to get those answers.”
Bellamy says his obsession with LinkedIn content metrics serves as a fitting example. “I worked hard on a post, and nobody liked it. I cracked a joke, and it went viral. I asked why? If you ask questions out of a genuine curiosity for the world around you, analytics might be for you.”
3. A history of service translates beautifully into a data career.
Military culture is not so different from corporate culture, according to Goulette. “My career has always been about the grind,” she says. “Just keep going until you make it. And honestly, that’s exactly what military culture is like. It’s all about the mission, the team, the unit, and you do what it takes to be successful.” As a service member, Goulette was part of an intel section in Afghanistan that pioneered a new intel collection method. “This really gave me the confidence to start something from scratch knowing that, if I put in the effort, good things would happen.”
Another link between military and Alteryx life? Wheeler says it’s about putting your team before yourself. “I joined the Marine Corps because many of its values aligned with my personal values. I joined Alteryx for the same reasons. There are times I need to put organizational goals ahead of my personal goals. Forcing myself to step outside my comfort zone has been critical to my personal and professional growth.”
Bellamy likes the way military life–and the data life–helped clarify his priorities. “It gives me a sense of order and direction in the midst of chaos,” he says. “Once you learn how to think clearly with machine guns and artillery firing in the background, nothing can ever truly distract you again.” He says his work has helped him develop a strong sense of what is truly important. “Work is work, and family is family. I know where my priorities are at all times.”
Burkhow rattles off three commonalities he sees between military life and Alteryx life: self-discipline, thinking about the bigger picture, and pushing past discomfort. “Pushing past discomfort is drilled into us as veterans,” he recalls. “It is a fundamental truth that most of the greatest achievements in our lives come on the other side of discomfort.”
4. Career advice for veterans is everywhere you look
Goulette urges interested transitioning service members to check out the SkillBridge program. “It allows service members to transition into secure fields of work without having to worry if their military skills directly translate,” she says. “With SkillBridge, they can prove their ability to learn and be agile even if they didn’t come from a data science background.”
Wheeler says data science is “an incredibly rewarding career and one in which you can choose your own destiny.” He urges interested veterans to develop an analytic skill set that makes them valuable in many positions across multiple private and public sector functions.
At his last job before coming to Alteryx, Bellamy says he built a veteran talent pipeline, bringing in vets with varying degrees of data literacy and turning them into data professionals. “I think some veterans think ‘I was bad at math in school’ and assume that a data career is beyond their reach,” he says. “But I want to express to them that an analytical mindset and general curiosity are the real requirements for this job, not a track record of high-level nerdery. The love of figuring out how things work and why events occur is the only real requirement.”
Analytics and Data Science can be challenging fields, acknowledges Burkhow. But, he adds, “Veterans who bring a can-do motivated attitude along with a level of discipline to keep pushing the barriers will become leaders for those around them.”
5. The future of data looks awfully bright.
Service members considering a career in data and analytics might wonder how our veterans view the future of the profession. Good news: their answers range from encouraging to ebullient.
“Everything is running–and will continue to be run–on data,” says Goulette. “The military is all about readiness, and data helps with readiness. The private sector runs on profits, and data helps increase profits. It just makes sense.” The data and analytics profession is full of opportunities, says Burkhow. “After 5-10 years of hyper-growth, we still don’t have enough people to handle all the work needed. With AI and ML advances, that number is going to remain big for the next 50 years.”
Any predictions for where it’s all going? “I think analytics tools and platforms will become easier and more intuitive to use,” Wheeler says, “which will make data and analytics accessible to more people.” Bellamy adds, “I firmly believe that the trend in analytics will be away from the coders who know what’s going on inside the black box, and towards the low code/no-code data professionals using BI tools like Alteryx and Tableau. The amount of data will continue to increase exponentially, and the need for analysts to process and interpret that data will continue to expand.”
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Alteryx is helping many active-duty personnel working in analytics to accelerate mission outcomes today, and through SkillBridge will soon help transitioning service members build a fulfilling career in data and analytics.
Big thanks to all of our Alteryx veterans for sharing their insights and best of luck to all of those armed service professionals with an eye towards a future in data and analytics.