How to become a data analyst

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 17 January 2023

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Companies today rely on data to make decisions and to identify improvement opportunities. Data analysts translate complex data into useable information that helps executives make solid business decisions. Pursuing a career as a data analyst can help you make a big impact on business decision making processes. In this article, what data analyst do, how to become one and some frequently asked questions about data analysts.

What does a data analyst do?

Data analysts collect, structure and study vast data amounts from different sources and use them to provide meaningful business insights. They work across sectors such as finance, marketing, investment, consulting, education, governance, technology, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. Data analysts generally handle the following responsibilities:

  • Complete data analysis using statistical methods

  • Provide reports to management

  • Obtain data from primary and secondary sources

  • Manage and maintain data systems

  • Convert data into understandable information

  • Use data analysis and statistical modelling tools to identify business trends

  • Advise management on prioritising business information

  • Prepare data graphics and diagrams

  • Report and interpret graphics diagrams

  • Evaluate management questions and data needed to answer them

  • Assist management in understanding data context locally and internationally

Related: What is Quantitative Analysis? (With Definitions and Examples)

Estimate salary for data analysts

Data analysts generally work full-time. Their experience, industry and geographical location can determine their earnings. The average annual salary for data analysts in the United Kingdom (UK) is £32,383. But in London, data analysts earn an average of £40,490 per year according to Indeed Salaries.

Data analysts requirements

To be a data analyst you may need a bachelor's degree, professional certifications, relevant work experience and technical skills:

Education

To be a data analyst you might need a bachelor's degree. However, having a master's degree can boost your earning potential. The degrees to study to qualify as a data analyst include:

  • Computer science: A data analyst's career involves working with complex software applications and tools. Having a degree in computer science gives you a foundation to work with software applications and tools. By studying computer science you learn computer programming, algorithms, artificial intelligence, software engineering, operating systems and computer architecture.

  • Mathematics: A mathematics degree equips data analysts with problem-solving skills, mathematical modelling, formal logic, proof and data structures. Discrete mathematics is the foundation for computer systems used in data analytics and it equips you with mathematical reasoning and abstract thinking skills. Through mathematics, you also learn how to depict numeric outcomes in form of charts, tables and graphs.

  • Statistics: A statistic's degree enables data analysts to understand and learn from the data they work with. After understanding the data, they can interpret it into information that management makes sense of when making business decisions. Studying statistics gives you a foundation in computing, data technology, probability and numerical analysis.

  • Economics: An economics degree equips you with knowledge for using data to answer questions about optimal behaviour. It helps you to analyse data on research papers and case studies and come up with information that management can use. The degree also equips data analystswith skills to work with large datasets, data cleaning and solving unstructured problems.

Training

There are opportunities offered to employees with the degrees mentioned above to train as data analysts in house. The duration of the training can depend on the company and skill levels of trainee data analysts. You can also get data analysis experience by interning at companies or attending coding boot camps.

Certifications

There are software vendors that award certifications to data analysts who use their data analysis software. Their certification proves you are proficient and committed to a data analysis career. Some certifications data analysts study and use include:

  • Cloudera Certified Associate Data Analyst: This certification enables you to generate data reports as a data analyst. With this certification, you can also become a structured query language (SQL) developer, business intelligence specialist or architect, and database administrator.

  • INFORMS Certified Analytics Professional: To get this qualification you may need a bachelor's degree with five years of professional analytics experience or a master's degree with three years of similar experience. To take the examination, you may have to sign a code of ethics and provide a third-party reference.

  • MapR Certified Data Analyst: This certification equips you with skills to manipulate and analyse huge datasets using tools like SQL, Apache Hive, Apache Drill and Apache Pig. To study this certification, you need to have passed a MapR exam and have knowledge of SQL queries and troubleshooting abilities.

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Data Management and Analytics: This certification shows your skills in business intelligence, building enterprise-scale data solutions, database design and SQL administration. To be eligible to study this certification you may need certification in either machine learning, data engineering in Azure, database development, SQL database administration or Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate in SQL Server.

Skills

Many data analysts have developed a wide skill set to become an effective data analyst. Some skills you might consider developing prior to pursuing data analysis include:

  • Data visualisation: Data analysts need skills for creating appealing, clear and meaningful graphical representations of data. Great visualisations and graphs convey the information easily and enable informed decision making.

  • Attention to detail: Data analysts need to be able to spot wrong, outdated, redundant or irrelevant information to maintain data purity. Attention to detail helps data analysts spot inconsistencies and errors in large datasets and correct them.

  • Mathematics and statistics: Strong mathematical and statistical skills enable accurate data analysis. The skills include the use of formulas, combining numbers to get the desired data results, compute depreciation and compound interest. Mathematics and statistical skills also enable data analysts to illustrate numeric results in graphs, charts and tables.

  • Computing skills: Data analysts require a level of proficiency in one or more programming languages like Python, MATLAB, C+++, PHP, Javascript, extensible markup language (XML), Apache Hadoop, and SQL to manipulate data and extract information.

  • Communication skills: Data analysts require good communication skills to convey insights drawn from data to executives that make the company's business decisions, accurately and honestly.

  • Machine learning: Machine learning skills and knowledge enable data analysts to learn how programmed systems make predictions and decisions using data.

Related: Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

How to become a data analyst

Here are some steps to help you become a data analyst:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Studying statistics, computer science, mathematics or economics degrees provide you with a strong foundation for a data analysis career.

2. Attain work experience

After your degree studies, find opportunities to gain experiences like internships or volunteering. Such experience equips you with practical data analysis knowledge and allows you to link up with experienced data analysts who can advise you.

Related: What is a data architect? (With roles)

3. Learn computer programming

Learning a few programming languages enables you to use various data analysis systems. These programs include Python, MATLAB, C+++, PHP, Javascript, extensible markup language (XML), Apache Hadoop, and SQL. You can learn the languages by taking short courses or studying them at a degree level.

4. Pursue professional certifications

There are professional certifications data analysts can earn to be competent with different data analysis softwares. These include, MapR Certified Data Analyst, Cloudera Certified Associate Data Analyst, INFORMS Certified Analytics Professional and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Data Management and Analytics.

5. Prepare a CV and apply for jobs:

After attaining the required basic data analysis qualifications, prepare a CV and start applying for data analysis jobs. On the CV, include your education level, professional certifications, skills and work experience in data analysis or information technology.

Related:

  • How to write an effective data consultant CV (with example)

  • Everything You Need to Know About Academic CVs

Frequently asked questions about data analyst careers

To further understand a data analyst career path, here are some frequently asked questions and answers:

What is the difference between a business analyst and a data analyst?

The key role of a business analyst is to uncover insights in data that enhance business performance like sales, consumer trends and company expenses. Data analysts examine trends, hidden patterns and discover insights in data that management can use to predict behaviours and improve decision making in marketing and business strategies.

What is the difference between a data scientist and a data analyst?

A data analyst presents information extracted from data on the current state of the business or organisation to management executives. Those executives then use that data to make new business decisions. Data scientists work on long term research and predictions to design fresh products and develop insights that anticipate future consumer needs.

Related: Data analyst vs data scientist

Do data analysts work remotely?

Many data analysts work remotely and use the internet to access data on cloud platforms to run the data analysis software.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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