How I found my Career in Digital Analytics on Craigslist 7 Years Ago

semphonic_staff_xchange_2010_monterey_ca

Semphonic Staff at XChange 2010 Monterey California

Digital Analytics is an amazing field. I am so lucky to have found something so interesting so early in my career. Like most web analytics professionals I didn’t plan on being a web analyst. In fact before I started searching for a new job in spring of 2008 I had never heard of web analytics. In my 7 year web analytics career I’ve been fortunate to work for Semphonic and for the last 2 years plus Ernst & Young following the acquisition of Semphonic in March 2013. Thankfully Gary Angel and Joel Hadary hired me in July 2008. I’ve been lucky to have Paul Legutko as my mentor, manager and my professor of digital analytics for the entire 7 years. When people ask me about Paul I describe him as the professor that you wished you had in college: smart, patient, funny, willing to take the time to answer your questions and truly an amazing teacher. (Before web analytics Paul spent time teaching and doing post-doctoral research at the University of Michigan and Stanford University). I can’t believe it has been 7 years. Before too much more time passed I wanted to make sure to recount how I got into digital analytics. I responded to Semphonic’s Craiglist job post and the rest is history. Here is the story.

Glow in the Dark Stars- Living Back at Home with My Parents

It was the spring of 2008, I was less than a year out of college and I found myself living with my parents. I was laying in my single bed looking up at the glow in the dark stars. My brother and I put the stars up on our bedroom ceiling 15 years earlier. I was wondering how I was back here. After I graduated with an economics degree from Colby College in 2007 I got an interesting job in healthcare analytics in Boston. I was living with college buddies enjoying my city life. Like any first real job I was trying to figure out the working world. I ended up working a few days a week on projects in a satellite office in the town next to my parent’s town in Connecticut. At first I would drive down from Boston to my parent’s house every week for a couple days and split my time on projects in the Connecticut office and Boston office. A few months into this routine I found myself less involved in the Boston projects and more involved in the Connecticut projects. The next thing I know I was asked to work full time in Connecticut. I had an apartment that I was paying rent on in Boston and a new life that I was missing out on. I was pretty bummed to be back living at home with my parents. I enjoyed analytics and had learned a lot on the job, but I decided that it was time to start looking for jobs back in Boston.

Rejection by a Financial Analytics Company Led me to Digital Analytics

I was an economics major in college and most of my classmates seemed to have jobs in finance and consulting so I started the job search in those fields. When searching for jobs I figured I would try to use my analytics experience to help me stand out from the crowd. I looked for jobs with “analyst” in the title and “quantitative” requirements in the job descriptions. I looked everywhere I could think of and sent out hundreds of resumes and cover letters. I ended up findings two jobs that both seemed to be really good fits. The first was a consulting position at a well established financial analytics company that I found on the company’s website. The second job was a quantitative web analyst position with a small consulting company called Semphonic that I found on Craigslist. The financial analytics job had a fancy office, great benefits, nice perks and seemed like the safer choice. I had two great interviews with the financial analytics company and I felt like I was a great fit for the position and company. The web analyst job with Semphonic had no Boston office yet, no benefits, no perks, but it did have a nice starting salary. Being a web analyst did seem intriguing to me even though it was clearly a more risky choice at the time. Fortunately, the financial analytics company made the choice for me and rejected me with the email below:rejection_email

 

Semphonic: Web Analytics or Bust

At this point I had no other job prospects, it was web analytics or bust. I applied to Semphonic via Craigslist with my resume and the cover letter below:

May 29th, 2008

Dear Semphonic Team,

I am interested in applying to the Quantitative Web Analyst position with Semphonic in Boston, MA. After finding the position on Craigslist and researching your company and web analytics, I feel my skills and experience are a good fit for the position.

For the last year I have worked for Urix, Inc., a health care analytic company that provides business intelligence, reporting, and predictive modeling applications for health plans, provider health organizations and self-insured groups. In my tenure as a business analyst with Urix, Inc. I have faced analytical situations that have tested my quantitative ability on a daily basis. I’ve taken the strong analytical foundation that I built as an economics major at Colby College and applied my skills on the analysis of complex healthcare data. My position has allowed me to become highly proficient using Microsoft Excel and ProClarity to manipulate, analyze, and report on data. I also have a working knowledge of SQL Server for mining data and multidimensional query language (MDX) for querying and reporting. I’ve been responsible for translating complex data into concise graphical presentations using Adobe Illustrator. Along with Urix’s co-founder, I presented a claims based analysis of the cost, utilization, demographic profiles and strategies to manage the diabetic population of a 50,000 member self-insured group. As the analysis progressed, we presented to several large provider groups in hopes of creating actionable incentives to better manage the group’s diabetics and provide better more affordable care.

My current position has helped refine my analytical skills and provided an entrepreneurial environment where hard work and ideas are valued from every level of the organization. I hope to find a similar culture at Semphonic. It has also opened my eyes to the future of web based software applications. I am interested in working hard to understand how web use and behavior will continue to transform in the future. Semphonic is at the forefront of measuring web interactions quantitatively and creating optimization strategies. Web analytics is a cutting edge field that I am highly interested in getting into.

My strong academic background combined with my work experience has prepared me to be an ideal candidate for the Quantitative Web Analyst position with Semphonic. My ability to analyze and understand complex healthcare issues demonstrates that I have the ability to apply my academic foundation to business questions and deliver effective solutions. I am confident that I can learn the intricacies of web analytics and look forward to the challenge. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Ryan Praskievicz

I guess my cover letter must have caught someone’s eye at Semphonic because shortly after applying I had a phone interview with HR. From there I was assigned Excel exercises and a site analysis project. The Excel exercises were around using vlookup, hlookup and offset functions. The site analysis was very open ended. I was asked to use WebSideStory HBX measurement software to compare month over month site data and then present the findings in a PowerPoint presentation. The instructions said: “If you are not familiar with either the tool or the web site, don’t worry about it. Just have fun with looking at a new tool and a new data set. We’re not expecting any great insights. We just want to see if you can pick-up a new tool and reason logically.”

Being fluent with Excel is a core skill for a web analyst and thankfully in my first healthcare analytics job I worked in Excel every day. I had no problem completing the Excel exercises and moved on to the site analysis. Digging into a web analytics tool for the first time was awesome. As I went through HBX I was fascinated by all the things that could be measured on a website. I took the information from the web analytics tool and put together a site analysis in PowerPoint. I look back at that site analysis from 7 years ago and am impressed and proud that I put that presentation together with no web analytics experience. Then I had to present the analysis over the phone to Semphonic’s co-founder Joel Hadary. I had spent so much time digging into the data and putting together the presentation that when it came time to present to Joel everything went smoothly.

Download the site analysis that got me my job in web analytics

Over my years at Semphonic we used these Excel exercises and site analysis presentations to evaluate potential job candidates. They were a great tool to see if the candidate possessed the intellectual curiosity and analytical mindset necessary to be a successful web analyst. Making candidates present the site analysis over the phone or in person ensured that they could communicate analysis findings effectively. I would highly recommend this process to anyone hiring a web analytics candidate.

Starbucks Lexington, MA: My Introduction to Web Analytics Dashboards

After the site analysis presentation with Joel I felt confident of my chances of getting the job. Joel asked me to do a phone interview with Paul Legutko. That call was my first introduction to Paul. It ended up being more of a discussion about what web analytics was and what kind of work I would be doing if I got the job. Paul informed me that I would be working directly with him and he was the only person on the east coast as Semphonic was based in Novato, California. He also told me that there was no Boston office yet, but if I was hired Semphonic would get an office for us to work in. It was definitely a risk, but at this point it was my only other job option. After this call with Paul I didn’t hear anything back from Joel for a week or two. I emailed him to see if I was still be considered for the position and he asked me to meet with Paul in person. I connected with Paul and we set up an in person meeting at the Starbucks in Lexington, MA. In Starbucks Paul and I chatted and he showed me a bunch of different Excel dashboards. He explained that my first job as a web analyst would be working on Excel dashboards. He also explained that my hiring would be dependent on Semphonic getting a new project. At this time Semphonic had around 10 full time employees.

The Start of my Career in Digital Analytics

The project came through and 2 weeks later Joel emailed me with my Semphonic web analytics job offer. I was so excited to be starting my new career in digital analytics and happy to be able to move out of my parent’s house and back to my apartment and my life in Boston. Looking back 7 years later I couldn’t have dreamed of everything working out so well. I am so thankful to Semphonic for taking the chance on me. I have worked with so many great people and such an incredible variety of companies. There is always so much to learn and that is truly what makes digital analytics a special field.

I’d love to hear from you. How did you get started in digital analytics? If you are trying to get into digital analytics what questions do you have? Please comment below or let me know on Twitter @ryanpraski.

  • Ken

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the great post! I really enjoyed reading about your journey. I’m currently trying to make a career change from office manager of a commercial real estate company to digital analyst and enrolled in the UCLA Extension Certificate in marketing with emphasis in social media and digital analytics program. I’m really having a hard time as I can only take one class because I’m working full-time and my commute is 1 1/2 hour each way, so it leaves little time for homework. I’ve read some blogs about learning GA, Excel, Javascript, etc., but is there anything you’d recommend in addition while I’m going to school? A lot of my courses are general marketing but I’m learning a lot. I just wish I could start this new career now but I know it’s not possible yet.

    Thanks,
    Ken

    • Hi Ken,

      Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you are on your well on your way to breaking into a career in digital analytics. The extension program sounds like a great step. Hopefully in addition to the general knowledge you are learning in the program, you are getting a chance to dig deeper in more practical application of a digital analyst. A great opportunity to dig into the practical application opened up just last week when Google gave everyone access to a Demo Google Analytics account here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/6367342?hl=en
      This account has real live Google Analytics data including e-commerce data from the Google Store. I would recommend digging into this resource and learning everything you can about Google Analytics.

      Another option is to add Google Analytics to a personal blog or to ask a non profit or business for access to their Analytics data. The benefit over the Google Demo account is that you can learn the technical side of digital analytics: implementation, tag management and QA testing and troubleshooting skills. An additional benefit is you’ll be able to analyze data and make recommendations then test and evaluate the results of your data driven recommendations.

      I also want to mention that the great thing about digital analytics is that you get to constantly learn and improve your skills. Everyday you come across new challenges. The chance to constantly learn and improve is what makes the career of a digital analyst so exciting and rewarding.

      You have clearly shown the desire to learn and improve yourself so you are well on your way to landing a career as a web analyst.

      Best,
      Ryan