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How long does it take to move from a curiosity about data to actually falling in love with analytics? Or to move from the college classroom to a thriving data career?
As it turns out, not very long! Using Alteryx in the curriculum accelerates students’ learning, their excitement about data analytics and their career growth. Dean West and Kai Larsen shared their experiences of teaching and learning with Alteryx. West is a graduate of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. He discovered Alteryx in professor Kai Larsen’s courses, and later worked as a teaching assistant for Kai. West is now a business analyst with Alteryx partner, AB Data Consulting. Larsen, associate professor of information systems, at UC Boulder, has been teaching analytics using Alteryx since 2015 as part of the school’s business analytics curriculum.
When students master data analytics skills and Alteryx Designer in their college courses, many land data jobs. West and Larsen explain how Alteryx contributes to that success.
Learning Analytics Faster
When he first met Alteryx Designer, West says it was “love at first sight.”
“It's amazing to see my entire analytic process laid out right in front of me,” he says. “My whole process is streamlined and simple to configure. It’s also easy to troubleshoot. I'm not spending hours digging through lines of code upstream to try to figure something out.”
That ease of use helps students master new concepts and analytics strategies quickly, Larsen said. Instead of struggling with formulating and perfecting code, students can learn about Alteryx tools and immediately see them in action.
“When teaching these concepts using Python, students don’t get nearly as far and do not become as proficient. Conceptually speaking, I'm able to cover all that content faster with Alteryx and still have time left for covering some supervised machine learning. That's one of the parts that makes Alteryx worth it,” Larsen said.
West points out that the concepts are transferable, no matter which tools students might later use.
“All of the same principles of transforming data, cleaning data, and extrapolating information from it, are pretty much the same. That has made me very confident going into the field and being able to talk to professionals about it,” West said. “Kai's class and Alteryx have really been the foundation.”
“All of the same principles of transforming data, cleaning data, and extrapolating information from it, are pretty much the same. That has made me very confident going into the field and being able to talk to professionals about it.” —Kai Larsen, associate professor of information systems, UC Boulder
The Alteryx Community is a powerful resource for learning and sharing knowledge. “I've been very impressed with the Community, both in terms of how fast people respond and the depth of knowledge that they’re willing to share,” Larsen said. “There are some communities that are not very tolerant of beginners, [but] the Alteryx Community is not like that at all. More often than not, you'll find that if you have a question, someone's going to produce a workflow for you that contains the solution to your problem.”
Students’ enthusiasm for analytics is also critical for success. “If I can get people excited about analytics with a tool like Alteryx better than I can with Python, then I'm going to use Alteryx,” Larsen said. That excitement is the first step on what he calls the “lifelong journey” of a successful data career.
Moving Quickly to Career Success
It’s no secret that data skills are in demand on the job market. West’s own experience seeking opportunities confirms that.
“At least in the Denver area, we have tons of tech companies coming in, and all of them are looking for some form of analytics. The field right now is explosive, and there are probably more jobs than there are qualified professionals.”
Larsen sees his students’ career potential being enhanced by their Alteryx experience in three ways.
For jobs where Alteryx skills aren’t expected, students with those capabilities can bring a new level of sophistication. Kai recently referred a student to such an opportunity, knowing that the student “can also use Alteryx to speed things up significantly in terms of their processes and [will] look extra valuable to that company.”
For Alteryx-focused jobs, the fit is obvious, and those are increasing in number. Kai notes that many large accounting firms have adopted Alteryx as their analytics tool of choice. Their roles are “easy plugins” for his skilled students.
Finally, Alteryx can launch students into roles as important contributors to a data team. An undergraduate degree typically doesn’t make students into full-fledged data scientists, Kai notes, but an undergraduate degree with a significant analytics component, combined with the right mindset, will take a graduate anywhere.
Advice for Analytics Students
Larsen’s advice to students who are new to data analytics is all about mindset.
“They need to be entrepreneurs at heart. And I know that sounds weird for technology training, but here's what you're looking at: You're going to learn some skills, and in two to three years, those skills are going to have reached their half-life,” he said. “Always look for ways to learn new things because otherwise you're going to get left behind very fast. …And if I teach [students] anything, I hope it's that they can learn a lot of stuff fast.”
That ongoing learning can be fun, West says. He gamified his learning by consistently tackling the Weekly Challenges posted on the Alteryx Community every Monday morning.
“I'd wake up before they posted it. I'd be refreshing the page, waiting for them to post it,” he said. “It's a great way to start the week with a problem solved and the right mindset to continue your learning process — not to mention it really helped level me up.”
And when it’s time for students to move into the business world, the fun can continue. West describes his satisfying experience using his data skills and Alteryx to solve data problems that people thought were “unsolvable.”
“The smile that puts on people's faces — it's a great feeling,” he says.