From Barista to Data Analyst: How I Transformed My Career In Less Than 6 Months

Elizabeth holds a special place in CareerFoundry history. She’s our very first data analytics student to land a job in the field—and she’s managed to do so before even finishing the program. Here, she tells her career-change story.

by Emily Stevens on 28 January 2021

Elizabeth Decker, a CareerFoundry student who changed her career from barista to data analyst

Since officially launching the Data Analytics Program in 2020, we’ve been eagerly anticipating where our first cohort of data students will end up, and the kinds of careers they’ll carve out for themselves with their newfound skills. So, when I heard that Elizabeth had already launched her data career a mere four months after starting the program, I couldn’t wait to catch up with her to hear her story. 

Prior to starting the Data Analytics Program, Elizabeth had been working as a barista and supervisor at Starbucks for over six years. Now, she’s a full-time data analyst on a military base. So how did she get there?

Having graduated from university with a degree in mathematics, Elizabeth was ready for a new career—but, a year into her job search, she felt she’d hit a wall. In reality, that wall turned out to be a door…

“After I graduated university, I’d been looking for a job for a year. Then, of course, the pandemic hit. Once I hit the year mark, I decided I had to make a change. I couldn’t keep waiting around and expecting things to just happen. So I did some research, came across CareerFoundry, and decided to take the course. And I’m really glad I did.”

At this point, I’m curious to know what drew Elizabeth to the field of data analytics. She tells me that, although she studied math at university, it wasn’t until the final year of her degree that she discovered data analytics and decided it was something she wanted to pursue. For Elizabeth, a career in data strikes the perfect balance between number-crunching and creativity. 

“I really like dealing with information, doing research, and cleaning data, but also the creative aspect where you get to create dashboards. You get the best of both worlds; working with numbers, but also the opportunity to get creative with visualizations towards the end of the process.”

Before we dive into Elizabeth’s new career as a data analyst, I’m keen to hear about her experience on the CareerFoundry program. It’s not easy working and studying at the same time—so how did she juggle it?

“For the first half of the program, I was working at Starbucks. Then, in October (four months into the program), I started my new job as a data analyst. By that point, I was already used to working and studying at the same time. I would finish work in the afternoon, then come home and do a few hours of studying. I’d already gotten into a rhythm so I just kept with it.”

Elizabeth makes it sound easy, but it’s clear that she approached her career-change with discipline, determination, and motivation—an approach that paid off rather quickly. The flexible pacing of the course also helped, enabling Elizabeth to fit her studies around other work and life commitments. 

“I really enjoyed the flexibly-paced nature of the course. You can do as many exercises as you want—you’re not limited to one a week or anything like that. There were times when I would do one exercise a day, then if something came up, I wouldn’t do anything for a week. And in terms of studying remotely, the tutors and mentors were really helpful. If ever I had any questions, they were more than willing to help. That really makes a difference when you don’t have an instructor right in front of you.” 

So far, everything about Elizabeth’s experience sounds extremely positive. Still, every career change comes with its challenges—and, for anyone reading this, it’s important that we paint a realistic and balanced picture. So what hurdles did Elizabeth come up against, and how did she overcome them?

“When I first started the program, I struggled to get the hang of what I was doing. In the first section of the program, you’re given a dataset and sort of told to just ‘go for it’—but I needed more specific instructions. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if I was doing it right. That’s when I reached out to my tutor, and they helped me figure it out.”

Despite being thrown in at the deep end, Elizabeth really hit the ground running. She started the program in June and, a mere four months later, landed her very first job as a data analyst. We’ve seen some rapid career changes in our time, but that’s a pretty swift turnaround even by our standards! Especially considering that Elizabeth had no prior experience as a data analyst. With that in mind, I’m excited to hear what Elizabeth’s new job entails.

“I’m now working as a data analyst on a military base. It’s one of the largest bases in America where all military personnel come to do their medical training—if they’re going to be a surgeon or a dentist in the military, for example. We basically use data to make sure that they’re being trained in the right things and to identify any issues with the curriculum that need to be reviewed, and any areas for improvement. I mostly deal with survey data; the students and teachers take monthly surveys about their courses and what they think could be improved, and we review that and take action based on what the data is telling us.”

It sounds like a pretty hands-on role, and a great entry into the field! So was there an elaborate hiring process to contend with? Actually, it all sounds pretty straightforward. Elizabeth explains that things moved rather quickly; she uploaded her resumé to a job board, the organization reached out to her, and, two phone interviews later, she was hired. When I catch up with her, she’s been in her new role for about four months. With some experience as a data analyst under her belt, I’m interested to know how she now views the program. Did it prepare her well for her new career path?

“The program definitely prepared me for my new job. I was already prepared for the math and stats part because of my degree, but I didn’t really have any idea about data visualization. My job focuses heavily on data visualization, so the program really set me up for success in that respect.”

Of course, it would be remiss to talk about Elizabeth’s career change without considering the fact that she already had a solid background in maths and statistics—a core component of data analytics. If you’re reading this and thinking about becoming a data analyst yourself, you might think it’s only possible if, like Elizabeth, you’ve studied maths at university. As someone who’s been through the program, I ask Elizabeth if she’s able to provide any insight; does she think the program would be accessible for someone who doesn’t come from a mathematical background?

“Absolutely! I don’t feel like the program really focuses too heavily on math, and when it does, everything is explained really well. The program really focuses on the practical skills you’ll need to work as a data analyst—cleaning the data, creating visualizations, telling a story. Of course my degree helped me with the mathematical components, but that’s just a small part of it. Also, before the program, I didn’t have any kind of portfolio—I honestly didn’t even know what a data analytics portfolio was. But, through the program, I was able to build and develop one.”

It’s incredibly inspiring to speak to someone like Elizabeth. Someone who envisioned a different path for herself and made it happen—through sheer dedication and hard work. And all that in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s clear that Elizabeth has found a career she loves, and her ambition to keep learning and growing is palpable. 

“In five years, I’d like to be the lead data analyst or data manager of a company. My dream job would be working for a non-profit organization or a social justice firm, as that’s something that’s really important to me.”

I have no doubt that Elizabeth will achieve those goals; her career as a data analyst is already off to an excellent start, and I look forward to seeing where the future will take her. Are you thinking about becoming a data analyst? I’ll leave you with some words of advice from Elizabeth, our very first data analytics career-changer. 

“To anyone thinking about a career change, I would just say go ahead and make the change. I know sometimes when you’re debating something, you can’t help thinking ‘Oh, will it work out?’ ‘Should I do it?’ But, if you’re not happy in your current job, I think you should just go ahead and take a leap of faith. You’ll get that new job that you’re actually interested in, and you’ll be really glad you did it!”

by Emily Stevens on 28 January 2021

About the author

Emily Stevens

Originally from England, Emily moved to Berlin after studying French & German at university. When she’s not writing, she can be found travelling, hula-hooping or reading a good book.

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