Tackle great opportunities for a successful big data career

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This article was contributed by Carolyn Duby, field CTO and cybersecurity lead at Cloudera.

Digital transformation, big data analytics, the rise of AI and a desperate demand for cybersecurity expertise make this a great time to work in technology. In a way, the opportunity for anyone looking to advance into a tech career or data career this year feels just like it did over 30 years ago.

In those early days, the potential for a computer revolution was clear, and while no one had any idea how quickly computers would become dominant, there were huge career opportunities.

Today we live in a time of enormous change. The impact of the pandemic on digital transformation is well documented. It is overwhelming that businesses and consumers alike have embraced technology as the infrastructure for every interaction in our lives.

From a data career perspective, 2022 looks like the mid-1980s. With all the technological advancement and social disruption comes enormous opportunities. Cloud, big data and AI technologies are already reshaping businesses, and with the ever-increasing cybersecurity threats, no one can say exactly what the future holds. But I promise you this: Big data will be in high demand and data career opportunities will be plentiful.

How can you take advantage of these opportunities?

Be open to change, be flexible

I started college with the goal of becoming a doctor and studied medicine at Brown University. Computers were new then. There was no internet and people were just starting to rely on email for business and academic communication. No one has ever talked about cybersecurity.

Programming at the time was frustrating. You had to do most of your programming on paper because you had to wait for a limited amount of time on slow computers. But something so new was exciting. Leaving the more traditional path to a medical career, I would do an internship at a startup working on the hypertext system that became the foundation of the Internet.

The most important thing about those early years is that technology changes so quickly that you don’t know where you will end up when you start your career. To be successful, you need to build basic skills that you can apply in a variety of areas throughout your career. Fundamental skills such as problem solving, logical thinking, problem solving, research and design are generally relevant to many different functions and industries.

You have to be flexible and adaptable, open to new possibilities and constantly learning new things.

Be a problem solver, be persistent and succeed in a data career

Being open to change is just as important once you’ve made a career in a particular field, especially in technology. If you don’t like change, don’t go into technology. However, it is important not to confuse being open to change with avoiding a challenge.

You must learn from challenges no matter what position you are in. From the pressure to respond to hectic phone calls in tech support, to suddenly leading a large team at a large company, to doing everything yourself at a startup you launch – taking out the trash, dealing with angry customers, developing a business plan, etc. – the key to successfully taking on a new challenge is persistence. Every problem you solve, and every obstacle you jump over, becomes an unforgettable lesson.

Learn to be a leader

As I progressed through Hortonworks, and eventually Cloudera after the merger of the companies, I was again challenged to learn and adapt. Leadership should always be a learning process – when you make that shift to senior leadership, you become responsible for new people with different mindsets and backgrounds, new processes and new strategic goals.

With more experience comes more responsibility to learn. You need to go beyond what you have already achieved to build skills that may be atypical of your education, background, or even personality.

The top three things that have helped me succeed so far are:

Support technical experience with great communication and presentation skills. It is not enough to master the technical aspects of your job. As a leader, you must be able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, with your colleagues and with your teams. You must be able to present your ideas clearly and argue logically. You must be able to explain to your staff what you want done and, if necessary, how. Most importantly, you must be able to listen. Effective communication is always a two-way street. Learn more about business issues. As a business leader, your decisions are no longer purely technical. They need to consider the business issues your organization faces, from finance to human resources to sales and support issues. Whether through courses or certificate programs or interacting with your colleagues, absorb everything you can about how the business works and what the business needs. Understand how to use all organizational levers to get things done. As with learning about business issues, it is important to learn how a large organization works. If you want to achieve something (e.g. create a new product), or if you want to change something (e.g. how your organization approaches diversity), you need to understand all the mechanisms that make change possible. Who makes the decisions? Who controls the money? Who controls the data? What are the legal, compliance and governance issues?

No matter what stage you are at in your data career, and regardless of your background and level of hands-on tech experience, a big data career offers many opportunities in both the short and long term. Most importantly, don’t be intimidated by the challenges ahead. Broaden your skills, embrace new experiences and be ready to go.

Carolyn Duby is the field CTO and cybersecurity lead at cloudera.

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