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Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Want to “hit the ground running” in a new job role? Alteryx ACE, Samantha Hughes, shares the playbook she followed when she started her new role at Avon. Spoiler alert: bring some Alteryx skills!











Episode Transcription

MADDIE: 00:00

Okay. Can you hear me, Sam?


Yeah. Can you hear me?

MADDIE: 00:05

Yes, I can. Perfect. And I always call you Sam. Do you prefer Samantha?


I'm absolutely fine with either. Sam is absolutely fine. I honestly don't mind at all.

MADDIE: 00:18

Cool. Awesome. Well, to start, would you like to introduce yourself?


Hi, yeah. So I'm Samantha Hughes. I'm an Alteryx ACE. I love to work with Alteryx every day. I work in Avon. You probably know me best from my days at Sainsbury's. I've been on the stage at Inspire many times, and hope to be at Analyticon in the future. I have been using Alteryx since 2014 when I first received the sort of demo in Sainsbury's, and I've loved it. And I've even been caught on stage saying I would rather be handcuffed to my machine than have it taken away. So I think people pretty much know me from that sentence alone. Why do I love Alteryx? I love it because it allows me to do the everyday things that would generally take you a long time so much faster. It allows me to do end-to-end analysis, end-to-end development in one place that's easily describable to the business as well as the technical teams. I'm often called a translator because I can sit between these two teams and I can show them with the power of Alteryx what they can do and how they can deliver it. And nothing will stop me from enjoying my days in Alteryx.

MADDIE: 01:53

[music] Welcome to Alter Everything, a Podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Maddie Johannsen, and as you just heard, I'm here with Alteryx ACE, Samantha Hughes. She joined me to talk about her passion for helping organisations maximise their potential with Alteryx, and how she was able to hit the ground running after a career shift in the middle of the pandemic. She also leaves us with great tips for any listeners out there who are thinking about transitioning into a new career. Let's get started. [music]

MADDIE: 02:26

That's great. And I love the callouts to translating between teams and just really being a subject-matter expert with all of your experience, and how good it makes you feel. Because I feel like sometimes being a subject-matter expert, you absolutely have to be passionate about it. So I love that you are excited about it and that it makes you happy, and that's really great to hear.


Yeah. There's no point in doing it if you're not passionate about it, right?

MADDIE: 02:55

Exactly, exactly. So you mentioned people probably know you from Sainsbury's, and that's when I met you is when you were still there. And you were there for seven years, is that right?


That's absolutely right. You've been doing your homework.

MADDIE: 03:10

Yes. And so I mean, it's just such a huge transition to move somewhere after seven years. I would love to hear how you made the transition and how you were able to hit the ground running when you made the move to Avon?


Yeah. I mean, first let's start, why? Why did I choose to move to Avon? And after seven wonderful years at Sainsbury's. It's a fantastic place to work. And I think the reasoning behind that initially was, we've got this amazing company that is using Alteryx. Everyone's trained up, everyone's enjoying it, they're in a great place. And it's like, "What more can I bring?" These guys are happy, everything's going great, and then I know of organisations across UK who maybe are not up to that level of analytics. They're not self-serving, they're not in a place where they really want to be able to maximise the data that they have. And I heard about the challenges that Avon had. And I mean, Avon itself is a great organisation for women, so perfect for International Women's Day in that for 135 years across the world they have been running, and over 60 here in the UK. Avon, in fact, gave women the opportunity to become entrepreneurs before they had the right to vote. So as a company themselves, they stand up on their own two feet. And they're very well known for that. And I just think that is something to be amazingly proud of to work for, but on the other side, they're really struggling with their data. They need to have a better situation for them to maximise and drive that self-service analytics. They had two Alteryx licenses, and I've met two users at one of my two user groups and I heard about some of their challenges. And I was just drawn in immediately. I needed to know more, and how can I help? Is there something I can offer?


And that's when I heard they were actually looking for somebody. You go through that process, you find out about the company, you understand their values, and that's when I realized it's the right challenge that I've been waiting for for a little while and hadn't quite found my place in Sainsbury's. And I found it quite difficult once I'd be given the ACE sort of opportunity to then go to another area in Sainsbury's where I might not be able to use Alteryx. So my weighing up there was, "Actually, I really want to help another organisation get to the level that I have Sainsbury's. And that's when Avon came in, offered their challenge, and I took them up on it. But as you said rightly, how do I hit the ground running? That's [inaudible] much, I'm nine months in. Yeah. So it's an amazing nine months to begin with. And from the very first day, I opened up my notepads and I talked to many, many people around the organisation and said, "Where are your challenges? What is it that you are struggling with? How can I help? What has always been your pain points?" And I opened those honest conversations from the first day, and I listened. A lot. I made copious notes. So many notes. I don't even think I've referred back to them yet, but it's one of those where, when I make notes I remember.

MADDIE: 06:59

Right. The exercise of it.


Yeah. It's like, "Remember this about this person," and I do. It's just, they were having troubles with this data set, or they really can't see this data and I can't understand why these two numbers don't add up. That sort of stuff. And since then, it's a mission to understand, and almost becoming a data detective across the organisation to really support and enable these guys to have clear access to this data when they need it. But the skill side is where I think we need to focus next.

MADDIE: 07:36

Definitely. Yeah. because I'm picking up on a couple of skills that you mentioned like the listening, asking questions, and obviously, your Alteryx knowledge. And so I'd love to hear just those top skills that you found yourself really relying on that you either have always had, but then I'm sure that they're from Sainsbury's. I'm sure that you saw so much professional growth and you gained so many skills there that you were able to bring into Avon. So I'd love to hear kind of those top skills that you found most valuable in that career transition.


Yeah. So first off, one of my nicknames at Sainsbury's was Purple Unicorn. It kind of roots into that in the skills situation, so I'm going to unpick that, if you like.

MADDIE: 08:23



So the Purple, if you like, comes from the red and blue brain. So the left side being the blue analytical, logical, detail brain that you obviously need when you're dealing with data, problem-solving, automating, mathematical, financial, different things like that across the organisation, as well as the red side of the brain where you're dealing with the creative, empathetic, business kind of connection knowledge. And then being able to put those two together, I call those purple. Because some people are one or the other, but I feel like I'm both. So that gives me that purple kind of ability versus red or blue and helps me become that translator that I already mentioned at the start. So that translation between the two business and technical teams, if you like, allows me to then sit between these teams and really understand from both angles how we get something delivered. I understand their requirements and their language, but I also understand the business requirements and the business language and I kind of make them meet in the middle. And some days I do feel like a mediator, which helps because I did take a bit of law back in college. So I kind of have this background of mathematics, computing, law, and geography which obviously is where my expertise lies in my degrees and Sainsbury's world. But it also expands into that analytical space as well. So all these different layers help sort of build up to this hit the ground running.


And I think when you have skills like computing, mathematics, law, databases, and business knowledge, and you put all this together, you kind of become that unicorn that I mentioned because you can almost pull on all these different strings that you have and enable things to move much faster. And one of the things that I did when I first arrived at Avon was really understand the influences and the drivers in the business. So really work out who are the guys that I need to talk to, who to help assist in these changes, what kind of documentation do I have to complete in order to get that business change in? How do I raise a problem when there's a technical problem? The data set's not refreshing, etc., etc. Because I think once you understand those fundamental processes in an organisation, you really can then maximise and ensure that you are pushing forward the things that you need to happen in the right way, and you're not stepping on toes, and you're not upsetting different teams because you're really understanding how they work. At the same time, you're also trying to implement change. And that can be a little bit difficult for most people, especially when you want to raise the stakes and you want to become that self-serve analytical area for the business.

MADDIE: 11:50

Yeah. And I would love to get into a little bit more how you've been able to advance the data culture as a relatively new associate by coming in with all these skills, as you said, played a huge part. But before we get into that part, I want to hear just a little bit more about the data culture at Avon as it is now because you mentioned a little bit earlier that they were struggling with their data and you met those two people at the user group. And if you're able to share, I would love to just hear kind of what the struggles were. Because I'm sure a lot of our audience, they potentially might be able to relate.


Yeah. So I think what I can share is, everything is absolutely perfectly fine, they're using all the right numbers and things. But they could never elevate, they could never get beyond that level because they were all using Excel. They were crunching numbers in Excel, they were hitting limits. We got access databases sit in the organisation that were at their max. And it's trying to get out of that situation when your day job already hits the max, is the difficulty. And I think that's why somebody new coming into the organisation, being able to take a step back and look at everything holistically and go, "Actually, guys, you're never going to be able to get out of that situation until we build you a data set that enables that." And once you've got that, you can then point to that and that saves you this amount of time. Once you've got that time, you can then spend more time analysing why these things happened. And then it kind of just that circle of, you make someone's life a little bit easier by taking that little bit of pain away. And they step forward and all of a sudden, they're making bigger strides as you go because these little wins that you get add up to big wins in the end. Some days it can be overwhelming. There are some big challenges to face in any organisation, but little by little we're getting there.

MADDIE: 14:00

It is nice to hear you say that because I'm sure it makes a lot of people feel better if they're in the same situation. Hopefully, it makes them realise that they're not the only one, but they don't have to be in that situation, that there's other things out there.


Exactly. And our tech stack is changing by the day. We are taking people from Excel on a journey using Alteryx, putting our data into Snowflake, and utilising Tableau on top. So you can imagine, we're taking people from that Excel world and pushing them into the 21st century of technology stacks with Tableau, Alteryx and Snowflake. I mean, it couldn't be any better right now, right? That's a really great stack to work with. But yeah. I just say it, it can be overwhelming. Especially in lockdown. Especially homeschooling.

MADDIE: 14:51

And as you mentioned, starting your new job in May, middle of quarantine. Yeah. I can totally see that being stressful. But doing work that you're actually helping people and you're changing that culture must feel really good. So I'm glad that you got to be in that position. And also, I wanted to point it out to you when you were saying at Sainsbury that you started to recognise and start to figure out kind of a vision in your head of what you wanted your career to be in terms of helping another organisation get to the place that Sainsbury's was atm or that you really wanted to keep working with Alteryx, especially as an ACE. I just think that's so cool to be able to recognise and know yourself well enough to say, "This is what I want," and to be able to go after it. I think it kind of goes back to that phrase, when you know, you know. And I love when you have that intuition. I find those stories really interesting.


It takes a lot of honesty with yourself to recognise yourself, I think. And having those conversations personally, almost like you go say it out loud, "What is it that I want?" And actually, then you work it out. And it took a while for me to get to that point. I won't lie. I literally, what did I want from my career? I enjoyed my job, did I want to move? Well, not particularly. I loved my job. But the challenge for recognising that I was beginning to have some ambition and being honest about that, and recognising that I wanted to make the most from my new ACE credentials that, that I hadn't done that, necessarily before, hadn't really maximised all these things that I had. I'm a chartered geographer. I really want to maximise that. I'm a member of the British Computing Society and things like that, and then obviously, I've got this ACE status. And I was like, "I've got these things, but I don't do enough with them." So I really want to maximise that, and I really want to take this opportunity and make it that. So that's why I think taking a step and being honest with myself and going for those challenges, that helped me broaden my horizons. Not only because I've stepped out of geospatial into analytics, which has enabled me to broaden, but I've also gone to a whole new organisation that allows me to see all the other kinds of problems that come with data and how I can help, and what are the new techniques and patterns and tools that I can use, and all tricks that enable me to help. So it's really helped a lot with that.

MADDIE: 17:41

That's great. I'm so happy for you. That makes me so happy that you're doing well. So my last question, I'd love to hear just what tips you have for folks who are also about to make a transition into a new role or a new organisation so that they too can kind of hit the ground running and immediately start having an impact?


Great question. I think first, a coach friend of mine always said, "Take the risk. Make the leap." Don't be afraid. If you find this is something that you really want to go for, what's stopping you? So always have that honest conversation with yourself and take that leap. And then once you're there, it's being authentic, a great listener, really show what you can do and how you can help. And I think once you do that, those conversations start flowing and you can really start making an impact on the business from day one. I know in my first months at Avon, they hadn't had channel-split in reporting with digital, we delivered that. They hadn't got rep behavioural grouping, we delivered that. We delivered data into Snowflake almost straight away, and it was just like, "Wow. Where is this coming from?" And it was just like, "Well, Alteryx is enabling us." We're stuck in a way from bureaucracy where making sure we're fitting within the boundary's of all the teams involved, but we are pushing these proof of concepts and getting this data up there to show that it can be simple. It can absolutely be well-documented and understood exactly how these KPIs are made up, and nobody needs question that. And once you show one or two really good examples, all of a sudden the world opens up and that organisation really takes on board what you can deliver with really great new futuristic tools.

MADDIE: 19:51

Absolutely. That's great advice. And hopefully, people out there who are thinking about it, they won't be afraid to take the risk and they'll be able to take these skills with them into their new roles.


All skills are transferable.

MADDIE: 20:08

Absolutely, absolutely. And before we go, I just want to emphasise what you were saying about the user groups and encourage people out there who have more questions or want to see real-life use cases or have conversations, check out the user groups page on the Alteryx community. There's a huge community of people in your local area. Or even if you don't go to the user group's area, just the community in general is a great place to get started and ask questions to some real-life users, so.



MADDIE: 20:40

Awesome. Thanks for joining me, Sam. I'm really glad that we were able to get this time to have a chat. Thanks for listening. During this episode, Sam mentioned that the combination of Alteryx, Snowflake, and Tableau in her tech stack has really helped her utilise data to its full potential. For more on how Snowflake, Alteryx, and Tableau are better together, check out our show notes at community@alteryx.com/podcast. And to hear from a data scientist who's working at Snowflake, we've just released episode three of the new data science mixer podcast featuring Kristen Werner. She's a director of data science and engineering at Snowflake and talks about her fascinating career path from neuroscience to data science. Just search for data science mixer on your favourite podcast app to tune in and subscribe. Catch you next time. [music]

MADDIE: 21:38

Great. Well, that was awesome. I could've kept going.


Was it? I was just winging it. [laughter]

MADDIE: 21:44

No, you are such a good speaker. Very methodical, very thoughtful. And yeah. You did fantastic.


Aw, thanks, Maddie. I miss you.

MADDIE: 21:53

Of course. I miss you too. I'm so happy to hear everything that's going on with you. I'm so glad that you're doing so well. It's really great to hear.


I mean, on the surface I'm doing well. Behind the scenes, I'm running around like a-- I don't know. It's pretty mad at the moment. It's pretty mad.

MADDIE: 22:09

Yeah, yeah. For sure. Well hopefully, as you said, the light is at the end of the tunnel. Great. Well, I'm--


Bless your heart. Thank you for making this so easy.

MADDIE: 22:22

Of course.


And not scary at all.

MADDIE: 22:24

Oh, I'm so glad. Yeah. Definitely.



This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).
Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @TaraM for our album artwork.