By Marsha Castello

“The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data” – The Economist

In today’s data-driven world, prowess in the field of data analytics is not only wise but invaluable. Human beings generate 2.5 quintillion bytes worth of data each day and there are currently over 44 zettabytes, that’s 44 000,000,000,000,000,000,00 bits of data in the entire digital universe. Hence, from business and finance to healthcare, and indeed every other sector, the ability to extract insights from data is indispensable and most importantly, future-proof. Especially with the evolution of AI systems and tools which need to be fed data to function and to have their own data outputs analysed to be of value. So data analysts are high in demand. Yet what separates a great data analyst from the rest of the pack? While it is certainly true that technical skills are essential, what truly sets apart an exceptional data analyst is a combination of key attributes, comprising both hard and soft skills.

Let’s delve deeper:

Technical proficiency: A strong foundation in statistics, mathematics, advanced excel and coding languages such as Python, R, and/or SQL is fundamental for any great data analyst. Alongside proficiency in data visualisation tools like Tableau or Power BI which are crucial for effectively bringing the story behind the data to life for stakeholders, via beautifully dynamic and interactive visuals.

Critical thinking: Excellent data analysts also possess robust critical thinking skills. They can swiftly identify patterns, outliers, and anomalies within datasets, facilitating the unveiling of valuable insights. They approach problems with a curious mindset and are adept at asking the right questions to guide their analysis and interrogate the data further.

Attention to detail: Data analysis as a skill, demands expert precision. Exceptional data analysts pay meticulous attention to detail, ensuring accuracy in their work. From cleaning and preprocessing data to conducting rigorous analysis, an exceptional data analyst will leave no stone unturned in their quest for valuable insights which will resolve the problem or question they seek to answer.

Industry/domain knowledge: Understanding the context and environment in which data operates is crucial for effective analysis. A brilliant data analyst will possess industry knowledge relevant to their field, whether that’s marketing, healthcare, finance, or any other industry. They are then able to ask the right insightful questions, interrogate the data appropriately, interpret results accurately, and provide pertinent and actionable recommendations.

Communication skills: Translating complex data findings into easily understandable insights is the hallmark of an exceptionable data analyst. They recognise the need to communicate effectively with both technical and non-technical stakeholders and can do so with dexterity, presenting findings clearly and compellingly. Whether it’s through reports, presentations, or data visualisations, a skilled data analyst will convey information with confidence, clarity, and coherence.

Problem-solving abilities: Data analysis naturally involves tackling complex problems. Great data analysts approach challenges with a problem-solving mindset, breaking down issues into manageable components and devising innovative solutions. They are resourceful, leveraging various techniques and methodologies to address a diverse range of analytical tasks.

Adaptability and continuous learning: The field of data analysis is in constant flux, with new technologies, tools, and techniques emerging frequently, transforming, and reshaping the data landscape. A first-rate data analyst not only embraces change but anticipates tectonic shifts in the industry. In response, they are committed to continuous learning and self-improvement. They stay up to date with the latest trends and advancements in the field, adapting their skills to pre-empt evolving demands.

Ethical integrity: As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Data analysts handle sensitive information that impacts individuals, organisations, and society at large and can leave them vulnerable.  Data leaks and breaches can have both disastrous and distressing fallout for all concerned. To be a first-rate data analyst you need to adhere to strict ethical principles and procedures, ensuring the responsible handling and use of data while protecting privacy and confidentiality. You will prioritise integrity and transparency in your work, and in turn, foster trust and credibility.

Team player mindset: Effective Data analysis cannot exist in a silo. Notable data analysts can collaborate effectively with a range of colleagues and stakeholders across their teams, organisation and external environment and from diverse backgrounds and levels of authority and specialisms. They recognise the value of teamwork in not only achieving common goals but for the cross-fertilisation of ideas and information leading to innovation and efficiency savings. They contribute their expertise while also being receptive to feedback and ideas from others, fostering collaborative, inclusive and dynamic work environments.

Business acumen: The ultimate aim of the exceptional data analyst is to drive informed decision-making and create value for organisations. Possessing an in-depth understanding of the broader business context, an adept data analyst will align their analysis with wider strategic objectives and business priorities. They bridge the gap between data insights and actionable outcomes, enabling organisations to make data-driven decisions that lead to success. This can include mitigating risk, scaling optimal processes, and automating where necessary to create efficiency savings.

Love what you do: Perhaps most importantly you must love what you do. A love and appreciation of Data Analysis will help the above skills and attributes become progressively intuitive, spurred on by genuine interest and engagement. This is also infectious and has a ripple effect, and therefore immense value for the rest of your team and organisation.

Hence, to stand out as a data analyst you need to not only excel in your role, but also drive innovation, foster collaboration, and contribute to the success of your wider organisation in an ever-evolving data landscape. To achieve this, you must have an attractive blend of technical prowess and relevant transferable soft skills, but most importantly, as with all things, a great love and passion for what you do!

‘When you love your work, you will be exceptionally diligent in what you do, and you will excel in delivering both quality and quantity.’ – Dr Prem Jagyasi


About the author

Marsha Castello is both a certified and multi-award-winning Data Analyst, Software Engineer and Cloud professional, with PRINCE2 Practitioner project management and over 10 years’ experience in turning raw data into actionable insights and business intelligence, getting to the heart of the story behind the data and making this story come alive with beautiful visualisations and AI ML data models.

Winner of top 20 Women in Data® & Tech Award Series 6 – 2024, Winner of the Black Tech Achievement Award for Developer of the Year 2024, nominated for a WeAreTheCity Rising Star Award 2024 and shortlisted for the UN Women UK Outstanding Community Champion Award.

Marsha appears in several publications including GTA’s 51 Black Women in Tech – Voices in The Shadow Vol. 3, where she shares her story alongside fellow trailblazers in tech. The book has been distributed to several schools and archived in the British Library to inspire future generations.

She also appears in the  Magazine-Book, Disruptors 3: 60 Stories of Women Challenging the Status Quo!

Marsha is passionate about gender equity, which entails ensuring that all women have equal access to human rights, financial independence and attainment, self-determination, and education.

Granting all women and girls access to “safety, a voice, and choice”.

In tune with her values, Marsha is a serving UN Women UK  Delegate to the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women, advocating for the rights of women and girls on an international stage.

A STEM Ambassador, Marsha is also a mentor on several social equity programmes, where she has mentored over 20 teens in STEM from underserved communities.

These programmes include The STEM Passport for Inclusion (in partnership with Microsoft),  The Catalyst Collective – providing role models and guidance to Black girls interested in STEM, and Brightside –  providing guidance and information on post 16 options.

See Marsha’s LinkTree