Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
MaddieJ
Alteryx Community Team
Alteryx Community Team

Tax professional Jennifer Snow, is passionate about Alteryx, and has become an advocate for adopting data literacy in schools so kids can learn skills essential for the workplace.

 


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Jennifer Snow title card.png

 


Transcript

 

Episode Transcription

JENNIFER 00:00

The business world has changed. So what started when I first started this profession was these humongous worksheets. Everything was in one or two workbooks. And when you had to change the information, it would take hours or days. The world has changed. Now, it's cloud based with all these ETL tools, etc. and you can change it in minutes. But unfortunately, these older companies, it's a huge investment for them to change. They have to change their data. They have to change their management. They have to change training the people. So to do this huge shift, you have to go further back in time meaning to the schools, to the people that you're hiring to convince these companies to do this shit. It's a change of mindset. So I've seen it evolve through my career, but it's interesting because it's the same information. It's the same exact job, but how we look at the data has changed.

 

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ANNIE 01:07

Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Annie Mais and I'll be your host. I'm part of a team at Alteryx that oversees our education initiatives, SparkED, which empowers learners at all different skill levels to question, understand, and solve with data. You just heard the voice of Jennifer Snow, a tax professional who is passionate about upskilling others, including her kids.

JENNIFER 01:30

I've always been the curious type, asked a lot of questions by being a tax professional for over 20 years.

ANNIE 01:38

Throughout our conversation, you'll hear Jennifer talk about why data literacy has become increasingly essential to the workplace and how she's leveraging the Spark program to advocate for data literacy to be included in her kids' school curriculum so that they can be set up for success from a young age. Let's get started.

 

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ANNIE 02:01

When I think of what we are trying to do through the SparkED program, we are all about empowering learners at all different skill levels across industry sectors, starting with data literacy. And I'm curious just for you, Jennifer, I know that you have had a lot of experience now in this space, how would you define data literacy in the workplace?

JENNIFER 02:25

With tax, you're dealing with information that is provided from different sources, different systems, different people, different departments. So you have to deal with a lot of wrangling of information and you have to make sense of it for what you need to use it. I think people need to understand what the data is being used for, not just for them. And I think that's where a lot of people are getting hung up on-- everyone's working in silos, they're just looking for themselves. If you if you take a step back, information like, say, for example, payroll, when someone is hired and they're getting their paycheck, that payroll information is not just being used to be a line item for the financials. You have operations using it for job costing. You have HR using it for recruiting. You have tax using it for apportionment. You have payroll using it for payroll returns. It's all the same information. So if that information is mapped a certain way, you can structure it totally different and then the whole business can be structured differently. So it's a foundation for education, and it's not just for business. It's for everything. Like, say, for example, when you're teaching someone math, math is not just for someone to become a mathematician. They use math when they're doing recipes, when they're doing their checkbook, when someone's in medicine. They become a pharmacist. How are they going to sit there and measure your prescription? It's a foundation for something, and that's the same thing for data literacy in a workplace. So I think you need to simplify it. You need to step back and look at a big picture and then approach it that way.

ANNIE 04:15

Yeah. I can hear the passion in your voice, first of all, around just data literacy and feeling empowered to look at data and manipulate data to get a certain outcome. But I'm wondering for you personally, what has your journey looked like? Did you enter the workplace having that background knowledge in data analytics or is it something that has been more evolved over time? And what was that like?

JENNIFER 04:38

Basically, I started looking through a straw like everyone else, especially being in tax, because we get information after everyone's done. The financials are done, they give you the information. They're like, "Okay. Now put it on a form to do the return." And you're going and asking people questions and they're telling you, "I don't remember. That was months ago. That was a year ago." So I started digging because I want to know why. Why did you do it that way? Why did you do that? Why did you do that? And as I'm digging, I'm seeing how, wait, these people are doing the exact same thing, using this exact same information, but they're getting a different result and we're wasting all this energy, time, etc. And that's when I started getting exposed to the tools. And then meeting more data scientist and I'm like, "They're doing it. They're seeing it," but then they don't necessarily understand what I need it for and understanding that there's got to be this crossover. There's people in finance and tax that need to understand what people in IT and software development are doing and vice versa. There has to be that investment because it all comes together.

ANNIE 05:57

Yeah. That's definitely true. And I think what I'm hearing from you is just that need for people to understand or at least to look at data a little bit differently upon entry to the workplace. And I think that's a really cool approach. I think that's what we're trying to do through the SparkED program, which is really exciting to kind of take a step back from Alteryx, the platform, all the tools and resources we offer and think through what could best empower learners with the skills they need to even just enter the workplace more knowledgeable. Can you talk a little bit about just some of the advocacy work you have done too around data science and analytics for people maybe not in the workplace?

JENNIFER 06:40

Yeah. I mean, I try to push it on my kids and my husband. No. I've approached my kids' schools and there's another school locally that I'm approaching. I find that there is some pushback with the schools, the level that you're approaching. Three things that we need to consider is taking it from the school standpoint. They have standards and requirements, there's funding you have to think about, and then influence. So from a standards and requirements, they have the curriculum, they have the time restraints that we have to consider. So for example, with high school, they have credits. So Alteryx, getting certified, you can fall onto credits, but elementary school, how is that going to fit in? Then you have the time restraints. The kids go to school for a certain time. If we can't fit it in that, you go talk to a principal and ask them to put it in the curriculum, they don't have that flexibility. They don't have the ability to make that decision.

JENNIFER 07:46

Then when it comes to funding, while Alteryx is free, the licensing, some of these schools, they don't have the bandwidth. How are they going to pay for that? How are they going to pay for the computers? Some schools, the teachers are paying for the school supplies in the classroom. We have to help them come up with answers for this. Then what about stipends for the teachers or a grant to help these schools come up with ways to get this done? Maybe what we need to do is we need to show the schools how it can be incorporated in there every day. You go to a principal and you tell the principal, "This would be great for the students. Don't you want the competitive edge that when they go to college they have this experience?" Telling a school that it's good for the kids isn't enough. You need to tell the schools they need this to survive. How do you influence a principal that they need this unless you show them that they need it?

JENNIFER 08:45

So you need it to run your budget. So one of the things I was thinking is, why don't we take Alteryx for Good and SparkED and bring the two programs together, go in and help the schools run their budget? Show the administration that you need it to run your programs. So when the administration knows how to use it, they know how to teach the principals how to run their business.

ANNIE 09:11

Yeah. That's interesting. You brought up just kind of that combination of Alteryx for Good and SparkED. And I think that's a really amazing idea because for those that are familiar with the two programs, Alteryx for Good has technical volunteers that they have sourced, they're individuals who are close to the data analytics space and they do technical volunteering projects and then the Spark program provides the free licensing. So I think that's one thing that I've been thinking quite a bit about is, how can we mobilize all of our users who are so passionate about data analytics to help do some of these things that you're talking about? So I think that's great. I was wondering, Jennifer, what is your son's exposure to data analytics? What does that look like? Has he had any in school?

JENNIFER 10:02

No. There's none. And this year, we're actually homeschooling him. So the good thing is with Florida Virtual School, what they do is they allow you to create an elective. So that's what we're going to try and do this year. So we're going to use Alteryx and use it where you can create your own elective. So hopefully, he will get to use this as his elective that he created, and then I'm going to try to get Florida to put it on their list as electives. And that's one way to get around the red tape per se, because if they let him do it and we didn't have to change anything, then that would be one way to circumvent the other issues, the funding and all that stuff. My cousin, she actually has a doctorate in education management. And her thesis, what she did was she did an online education academy and she partnered with Lynn University. And she's been a really good resource for me. And she was telling me how that was one of the problems she had was trying to do something online that was all her pushback that she had. And she's going to help me try to go through Florida to try and get this as one of the electives--

ANNIE 11:20

That's really cool.

JENNIFER 11:20

--with you guys, obviously. [laughter]

ANNIE 11:22

Yeah. And we are more than happy to help in that regard. But that's really insightful, I think, too, which is even the work that she has done. And I don't think-- I mean, this is an assumption here on my part, but a lot of our users who are working with data analytics day in, day out using Alteryx, so now they're using Alteryx, might not have that insight into what schools right now are really like. And maybe you can expand on that a little bit, Jennifer. I know in the last question, you touched on it briefly. But for those individuals who don't have that insight to what it takes to get a new program into a school, can you talk a little bit about that or explain what you've noticed?

JENNIFER 12:05

Yeah. I mean, you have to understand, like my son, he was going to a private school, so I didn't even have to deal with Florida. I just had to deal with what was for the private school. And even with them, they're not going to listen to some mom that walks in and says, "I like this." So I was taking the approach that I will do your budget using it so I can show you how it works, and then maybe by next year, you can incorporate it. That's how I was trying to take the approach. And even then, they were having a hard time with it because they don't know it, they don't understand it. And they're not going to introduce all these kids to it without understanding it. They go with what is tried and true, what's proven, what's known. So they're going to have a hard time with it. So one of the things I was thinking of was maybe-- say, for example, what is in the schools right now is robotics. They have after-school programs. That's how, I think, that's started, was the robotics. And at his school, they started incorporating it as one of the classes. One of the electives is the robotics. So maybe that's something Alteryx can think about is doing the Grand Prix, where it's an after school Grand Prix. And then as schools start feeling more comfortable with it, then they make it a class. That gives the teachers the opportunity to start getting comfortable with it and then they can feel comfortable to incorporate it as a class.

ANNIE 13:38

That's a great idea. That is a great idea and it's pretty cool, too. We've seen it work fairly well in higher ed specifically. We have had some of our users, some of our Alteryx associates, who might be adjunct instructors at various universities across the country and across the globe actually, go into the university setting with something like a Grand Prix. And that model seems to work pretty well. Students are engaged, the educators don't have to do much. They might have to act as facilitators, but when you have the actual practitioners, people who use Alteryx day in and day out, helping with something like a data challenge or a Grand Prix, the impact is huge. So I guess, what I'm thinking of when I'm hearing that story is how we can mobilize just all of our listeners to this podcast to perhaps go in and do something, whether it's a local school, a local university, their alma mater, go in and start having these conversations. It could be really powerful. One thing we have developed internally at Alteryx, we call it SparkED-in-a-Box. And essentially, it's a resource guide to hopefully help do some of the things that you're talking about going into the schools. Were you able to use any of the assets from SparkED-in-a-Box in any of your conversations at the school?

JENNIFER 15:01

Yes. Actually, this SparkED-in-the-box is what helped me get the idea for my older son for homeschool. So by doing that, that's when I found the outline of the curriculum. And that's what helped me determined that, "Oh, I'm going to use this as elective and that's going to be an easier sell." Because there's also another school that for my younger son-- he's going to go to high school next year. So we've already started talking to them. That's going to be a lot easier to meet with them having a program like how you guys set it up, because when I met with the last school, I didn't have that. I put my own thing together to meet with them. So that's going to be more structured, more professional looking. Not that I didn't try to do it professional, but that's more professional looking. Presentation is everything. When something is simplified and standardized, they're going to have more confidence that it's legit.

ANNIE 15:58

Right. And we're trying to do that with the SparkED-in-a-Box asset. It's essentially a menu of different items that you can leverage to go in and start having these conversations. Anything from email templates. There's some video assets on there, too, and a quick snapshot of the Spark program, which I think is helpful. And you can find SparkED-in-a-Box in the show notes. I'm going to switch gears a little bit, Jennifer, because I'm trying to make the connection between your passion and enthusiasm for this advocacy and then what you're seeing in the workplace. I think there must be something in there that you're seeing. I know you talked about data across the different lines of business. Do you work with many early in career professionals or what do you see in the workplace as far as people entering without this skillset?

JENNIFER 16:48

With tax, we have people that come in and they don't necessarily see that the information is coming in. It's the same in all different departments. So they don't necessarily see the same thing that I'm seeing. So I'm trying to teach them that. If they have that understanding already coming from school, it's going to be an easier thing for me to teach. Does that make sense?

ANNIE 17:11

Yes. And I think, I guess, the follow up question to that would be, what would it do to your business or a business if entry level employees across different lines of business came in with this background knowledge? How might that affect the company as a whole?

JENNIFER 17:29

Oh my God, it would save so much time and energy because it allows people, instead of looking through a straw, to see a big picture, to understand that you're able to take this platform and you can think so much more clearly. I mean, that's what happened to me when I started using Alteryx. I knew that things weren't right. Right? So then when I started using Alteryx, it was like this light bulb went off and I was like, "This is what I thought. This is what I thought, but I could never figure out how to make it flow the way that I needed it to flow." And it was like, I'm a visual person, so finally, I was able to see what I was trying to picture in my mind. Learning something like this applies a visual to it. These little icons, put it together and you can show someone like, "See, this is your data sources. And you're going to do all these things and then you're going to spit it out. It flows through here. This is how we're doing the wrangling. This is how we're doing the formatting." And I think it helps bridge a gap.

ANNIE 18:36

So I'm thinking of your son in particular, how do you explain why he might want to or need to learn data analytics?

JENNIFER 18:46

Well, him, I use it for baseball. So he wants to play baseball in college. He's a catcher. So I said, "What you do is you will use this and you say every college wants four catchers. So for you to decide what colleges you want to approach, you need to be able to pull the information to find out which colleges have openings and which divisions they're in, which division you can play in. So you will be able to do that a lot faster with a tool like this."

ANNIE 19:20

Was he able to kind of grasp what that meant? Was he excited by that?

JENNIFER 19:25

Yeah. He was like, "Oh, really?" I was like, "Yeah." I'm like, "What are you going to look up? Every single college?" I'm like, "There's databases. You can pull this and you can very quickly push update." And he's like, "Oh." And I was like, "Yeah. That's why you want to learn this." And he's like, "Oh, okay." And I'm like, "For your team and you want to say, 'Okay. What do we need to do so we can win states?' You just pull the information and you can do it." And he likes numbers. That's what this does. It lets you pull the information. It helps you clean it all up so that you can get the information to do what you want to do.

ANNIE 20:00

Right. That makes sense. And it's almost frustrating because when you are able to tie data analytics to individual learners or students' interests, it's that light bulb moment. And we've seen this several times, even in sitting in front of university students. Undergraduate students, who are part of our program, often they miss the connection between their interest and what data analytics can do. So, for example, we've sat in front of students who are marketing majors, undergraduate students, and ask the show of hands how many of them have taken a course that included data analytics and none of them have raised their hands. So even that far along in their schooling, when we know digital marketing and demand generation, all of these things that make a business flourish and function aren't being taught till the later levels of school. It is very frustrating because you want to be able to say, "But no, this connects to what you're already interested in." So that's what we are trying to solve for through the SparkED program. I'm wondering, Jennifer, you talked a little bit about influence earlier, what advice can you give to our listeners about how they might be able to influence that connection between interests and career with data analytics?

JENNIFER 21:21

I definitely think finding what someone is interested in and then showing them how they can use it with their interest. I mean, that's the key. Like with my son, "Oh, you want to go to college, then narrow down your search," because otherwise people don't know the connection. When I went to that principal, she was showing me how she keeps track of the budget for her books. She had a spreadsheet and trying to show her how much easier it would be-- trying to explain to her there's an investment up front, but in the end, it's easier, to break it down into pieces. So you find something that is going to impact them, that they're going to get a benefit from, then it's not so overwhelming for them, then they're willing to listen to it.

ANNIE 22:06

Right? And I think that can translate to influence, like you were talking about earlier, at the school level. So there is the one path to influence individual learners who might not see that connection on why this is important. But I think bringing that to an institutional level is really, really important. We've seen some success with some Alteryx associates actually who have gone back to their alma maters. They are equipped with just who we are, what we're all about, and why it might be important to get into school. But I think what we're really hoping is that those who feel that desire or need to connect outside of their workplace to get this into the schools, we're hoping that it goes beyond just Alteryx. Data analytics needs to be across all areas of study. It's not just tax, it's not just accounting, it's not just marketing. It can be geography, it could be economics, it can be the social sciences. So that's where SparkED is really trying to change the conversation. But we need help. We need help to do that. It can't come just from us. So, Jennifer, I'm wondering, just with this conversation, how you might approach other conversations with individuals or schools? And what might you do differently than the approach you took the first time with the principal who maybe wasn't interested at first?

JENNIFER 23:31

I would almost start with getting information and already be ready to present it. You know what I mean? Trying to get historical information and showing them. Because I think they get so overwhelmed because they're not used to this. And even when I would explain to her that it was free, they're like, "What do you mean it's free?" I'm like, "It's free." So granted, I didn't have SparkED-in-a-Box. So I think that would have helped. But definitely, I would try to have something to show. "Okay. This is the information I pulled. And this is what you can do with it," and see, even something simple. Or even if you took one of the challenges and just showed--

ANNIE 24:16

That's a good idea.

JENNIFER 24:17

--this is what it can do. Just take your information and I would stress that it's a change of mindset. You're going to have to change how you collect your data. But that's the hardest part. It's the hardest part in the sense that you're changing the way you do things, but it's actually easier in the long run because you're trying to put it all in one place where you get to organize it better and it's going to make life easier.

ANNIE 24:46

Right. And we're hoping it's going to help just change the way people think about data in general. And we're hoping that, at least for now, the SparkED-in-a-Box resources can be leveraged so that people feel empowered to go have these conversations because, like I mentioned before, we can't do it just from us alone. It needs to come from individuals like you who are in the field, who are practitioners, who see this on the day-to-day, so that schools, both K-12, community college, higher ed institutions understand the gap that you spoke about between data analytics and what they're not getting in school and what is in the workplace. And I think that's what our main goal and mission is with the Spark program. I'm wondering, Jennifer, in your dream scenario of how data analytics is brought into schools, you can start at any age group, what would be your dream scenario for students?

JENNIFER 25:42

I would definitely at least start at middle school where they understand the organizing of information, they understand having tables, like Master List, Master List, Master List, bringing it together to understand you have this master list and how it can be interpreted multiple ways. Just to ask those questions, I think it's going to help people down the road.

ANNIE 26:12

Yeah. I agree. And it's making me think of some podcast episodes that we did I believe it was in 2020. We called it Data [in the] Sandbox. It was a podcast that put data terms in the mindset of someone who's much younger. The podcast, we talked about ice cream flavors and summertime at the beach and what that could mean to a young person who's trying to understand even just things at a category level. They do understand. So how can we tap into where they are and create that shift in mindset for them that carries them through their whole academic career? And I'm wondering, Jennifer, have you used Alteryx outside of work for anything that interests you?

JENNIFER 27:02

Personally, other than trying to get my-- I was trying to get my son's baseball team to use it because I was trying to talk them into using it for stats, but they didn't want me running the stats. [laughter]

ANNIE 27:18

[laughter] That's interesting. I have heard a use case, actually, where a Little League organization used Alteryx for recruitment and retention very similar to schools of Little League players so that they could sustain the Little League over time, and they used Alteryx to do that. So that's interesting. I would love to follow up with you to see if you ever get Alteryx used for stats for your son's baseball. I think that would be very cool.

JENNIFER 27:46

I think they were afraid of me telling them what the stats were. Last thing they want is mom saying, "Nope. This person's better at this."

ANNIE 27:54

I think what they need is for a mom to be able to say that.

JENNIFER 27:57

I think so too.

ANNIE 27:59

Exactly.

 

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ANNIE 28:04

Thanks for listening. For more on the SparkED program, including links to the SparkED-in-a-Box resource guide, check out our show notes at community.alteryx.com/podcast.

 

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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.