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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Harold Torres Marino

By Academy Xi

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From a coding beginner to a hired Software Engineer in just 10 months, Harold’s success story proves that passion and commitment really can trump experience.

When Harold started the Software Engineering: Transform course, his only coding experience was a high school science project. Before graduation, he’d been hired as a Software Engineer. Read about Harold’s Academy Xi journey, which took him from novice to professional specialist in less than a year.

Can you tell us about your studies and career before you joined Academy Xi?

I completed a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering back in Colombia in 2012. After graduating, I worked in quality management systems for about five years and helped companies get their ISO 9001 certifications.

I moved to Australia on a student visa wanting to learn English to a professional level. I finished my English language courses and decided to get a qualification in computer science. Back in Colombia I’d always been interested in studying computer science, but those courses were only available in private universities in my local area and were just too expensive.

In Colombia I’d been working for an international company as a freelance maths tutor. After I moved to Australia, I carried on working for the same company and supplemented my income by picking up some extra private tutoring work. At the same time, I was surfing the internet and discovered Australian coding bootcamps.

I checked out all the different courses and came across Academy Xi. I read some comparison reviews and lots of people commented on how much guidance Academy Xi gave their students. That attracted me to Academy Xi. It was a completely new field and I wanted a course that offered lots of support.

How much experience did you have with coding before the course started?

Honestly, almost none! In real terms, I went into the course as a complete beginner. When I was at the end of high school I completed a final science project and made a calculator using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which involved using some really simple coding skills.

That first interaction with software engineering didn’t give me much experience with coding, but it really caught my attention. That’s the point when I realised I was interested in IT and wanted to learn more about software engineering. It took a few years before I was able to start studying, but when I did the passion was already there.

One of Harold’s ReactJS App projects was a Pokemon matching card game, check it out.

If you picked one highlight of the course, what would it be?

For me, the unlimited one-on-one mentor sessions were one of the stand out features. The advice I received in my conversations with Sha was just as important as the course content. He gave me all kinds of tips based on his professional experience. Sha was really patient, especially at the beginning, because I had a lot of questions. Coding was new and at times I did feel a little bit lost. Those sessions felt like a really safe environment and Sha always explained everything in a very calm, polite and understanding way.

Sha also suggested doing extra research on aspects of software engineering that weren’t covered in the course itself, because he knew I’d need to understand them when I started working. For instance, he recommended understanding how projects are completed by agile teams, which is something I’m now doing regularly. 

Sha didn’t limit the scope of our conversations – we could talk about anything related to a career in software engineering, as well as all the technical details.

I couldn't have found a better mentor. Those one-on-one sessions with Sha were invaluable. Even when it came to applying for jobs and interviews, Sha gave me all the advice I needed. He wasn’t just an instructor, he really was a mentor.

Harold Torres Marino

How did you find learning Software Engineering?

I realised early in the course that if you want to learn how to code, it’s not enough to just read the course material and attend the live classes. Even if you think you’ve understood a skill you’ve been taught in a class, it’s when you actually start programming and building something that you learn.

I completed five projects throughout the course, which is when I really developed my coding skills. I built a platform that had all the latest information for the European soccer leagues, and a web scraping app that took all the ratings on IMDB and generated different ‘greatest ever movies’ lists.

For me, the best project was creating a Pokemon card matching game, which was featured on the Academy Xi website. My final project was a full-stack React and Rails app. It connects different people who want to make new friends based on their common likes. For that final project I applied all the tools and tech stack I learned throughout the course.

After every class we had a live coding lab, which meant I could put what I’d learned into practice straight away. It gave us all the chance to learn by doing, which definitely suited me. The labs, projects and my time with Sha really helped me figure out exactly what it takes to be a software engineer.

How did you find studying online?

My prior experience with online learning was with very short courses, which took about a month to complete. The Academy Xi course was 100% remote and lasted ten months, but the whole process went very smoothly. I felt really comfortable in an online learning environment.

If I had to choose in the future, I’d definitely pick a remote course. There’s a bit of a trade – you lose a little of the interactivity that comes with meeting in a place face-to-face, but you get the convenience of being able to study anywhere without needing to travel.

I was still working as a maths tutor throughout the course, and even took on some extra work as a COVID-19 sanitizer in the city, which kept me pretty busy during the day.

Without the flexibility of learning remotely, I just wouldn’t have been able to complete the certification. For me, studying online was a perfect fit.

Harold Torres Marino

How did you find your new role?

I started applying for positions when we were waiting to start the client project. For two applications, I was narrowed down to the stage of technical interviews.  

When it came to telling the interviewers about my skills, the practical projects were so important. I didn’t have any professional experience before the course, but having a portfolio of work enabled me to say “this is what I can do, and here’s the end product”. 

Sha gave me tips on what was likely to come up in the interviews and told me to talk confidently about things, even if I wasn’t totally sure. There were coding challenges and Sha explained that I didn’t necessarily have to solve them. What’s more important is to actively communicate, tell the interviewers exactly what you’re doing and demonstrate good soft skills. 

I also had ‘take home’ coding challenges, which took me anything from a day to four days to complete. They let me choose my own stack and I picked React for the front-end and Ruby on Rails for the back-end, which I’d specialised in throughout the course.

When the interview processes were completed, before I’d even graduated I had two job offers. Both offers were made in the space of two hours! That really helped when it came to negotiating my salary.

Harold Torres Marino

Honestly, it did feel like I was in the right place at the right time, but I also made my own luck. I turned down an offer from a tech start-up and accepted my role with Lexicon.

What are you doing with Lexicon?

Lexicon is a scale-up with about 150 employees and I’m currently part of their new website cross-functional team. It’s an exciting time to join the company – they earned an award in LinkedIn’s top 25 start-ups 2021. The interview process took about ten days and gave me a good sense of the company culture. I met the founder and engineering manager and they explained the vision and long-term goals and I immediately liked the vibe. Throughout the interviews, it was the role I had my heart set on. 

I feel very lucky to be doing what I am. It’s given me the chance to work in agile teams, and I love the fast pace of the projects. Being a full-time software engineer is really satisfying. I’m the kind of person that loves to solve a problem. When you’re programming, you fix something, and then immediately fix something else. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with my work. 

When I was working in quality management, I met amazing people and had incredible employers but I found myself waiting for the day to end. When I’m coding, time absolutely flies by. Plus, there’s always new tech and software to work with, and plenty of chances to evolve what you’re doing.

I feel like I’ve started a career for life, and I’m really grateful to Academy Xi for helping me break into it. For anyone who wants to become a programmer, I would definitely recommend the Software Engineering: Transform course.

I’m living proof that if you’re dedicated, even a complete beginner can quickly find their place in the industry.

Harold Torres Marino

If you’re ready to redefine your career and make waves in the tech space just like Harold, check out our Software Engineering courses.

Academy Xi Blog

The fireside chat transcripts: I’m a UX Designer–Ask Me Anything!

By Academy Xi

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Here’s the transcript of the latest Q&A in Academy Xi’s Fireside Chat series. We met with Senior UX UI Designer Sylvia Xu Connor and discussed what it’s like being a UX designer, the current UX industry landscape, the UX interview process, and much, much more.

We also got the chance to answer some of our audience’s burning questions and trust us, whether you’re a seasoned UX Designer or an upcoming junior in the design world, Sylvia delivers the goods, and we had a blast! Enjoy!

Academy Xi (event host):  Our guest today took the human-centred and digital design route after 15 years in the fashion industry. She graduated from our UX UI Design Transform course last year and is now helping to deliver cloud communications as a senior UX UI designer at Symbio. In addition to her banging portfolio, she also serves as a speaker and mentor to our emerging designers here at Academy Xi, and recently hired two of our UX design grads to work with her! Please welcome Sylvia Xu Connor. 

Sylvia: Hi, everybody! 

Academy Xi: To start, can you introduce yourself and take us through the journey that led you to UX and UI Design?

Sylvia: I’ve been a [fashion] designer for many, many years. I have a Bachelor of Design from UTS, but realised that UX UI is such an end-to-end process. Even though it was a relatively new term to me at that stage in my career, I realised that everybody goes through UX UI to some degree, whether you start as a designer and have that massive design background or you don’t. 

Because UX is about problem solving and as you get older there are many, many situations –  I’m sure everybody will relate to this –  that you would need to solve a problem, and how you would solve that problem is the UX process. And UI I suppose, comes hand in hand with how you appreciate visual hierarchy and things like that so there’s a lot of graphic designers who also transition into UI. It’s a very natural progression, I did a lot of graphic design work as well in my design career. So to me, UX UI is something that’s always been within me, in my spirit, but never solidly considered until recently.

Academy Xi: What was your motivation going into this industry? 

Sylvia: It’s lovely for me at this stage of my life because I’ve got two young kids and you get a little bit of freedom back when you’re not on the road, going into a physical studio. 

UX work can be done anywhere in the world, because it’s all about problem solving and if you are online, you can solve a problem. 

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi:  We have a lot of potential students here, and some people who are interested in breaking into the industry. You finished the UX UI design course with us last year. Can you take us through what skills or major takeaways you got from this course?

Sylvia: I think what’s important about the course is that it gives you a really good overview from start to finish of what the whole design process looks like. Many people will come in and reaffirm what they already know. Deep down it’s a venue for them to solidify the idea in their head that they already know what they could do to solve a problem, and then apply that in an end-to-end design process. 

You can learn some fresh skills, such as collaborating in a team. A lot of people are really collaborating in teams, whether you are in the design team, or you have been working at a hospital. The course lets you finish a project from end-to-end, so you can have a really good understanding and overview of the design process.

Academy Xi: You mentioned end-to-end projects. Can you tell us a little bit about the projects that you’ve worked on? I hear that you’ve worked with some clients as well during your time with Academy Xi. Can you talk more about that?

Sylvia:  Yeah, I was given this wonderful opportunity whereby we worked with EndeavourX who were such a wonderful team of people and really great with feedback. We were given the opportunity to look at their career site, suggest some changes and make improvements. We were able to survey the people looking to move into tech that fit within the client’s age range. It was really good, because we had a problem to solve and we took a step back and looked at how we could solve that problem by getting validation from the target audience.  So that was one of the projects. 

The other project was also with EndeavourX. We were tasked with looking at their current chatbot and how to make it more engaging. 

Both these projects were just fantastic and helped me springboard into my current career. Even though I came from a design background, with these client projects you could just show what you can do very, very quickly, in a short amount of time - it’s something concrete.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi:  Absolutely – it’s so important to build a portfolio especially at the beginning of your career. How long did it actually take you to finish your course and then land that job at Symbio?

Sylvia: It was funny because I started the course during the Sydney lockdown. It was just timing, you know? Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. I didn’t want to commute into the city every single day, which came with my old design job. 

Serendipity wise, I started the course and I did the Transform course which is three months. It was hectic. It was hard work. I expected it to be hard, and it was hard. So the expectation was there versus the reality and I got everything I needed out of it. 

I put in the hard yards and learnt new software. Let’s be open minded about software because they are tools. And what a great way to be introduced to tools if you haven’t been using a lot of software, right?

From start to finish, [the course took] three months and I started looking to apply with different companies and I got a couple of job offers pretty much as soon as I finished. Within a week, I had a couple of concrete choices to deep dive into and make a good decision about where I wanted to go. 

Academy Xi: How about some of your colleagues who were in the class with you? How are they doing? 

Sylvia: I’m still really good friends with all of them. There were six of us who finished the transform course and from start to finish, we’re just such good mates. I think that the key ingredient to having a good design team is to actually really value and trust each other. 

Everyone’s going to be good at different things, and so it’s really important to build that relationship whereby you trust that the other person is going to do their job. Obviously, there’s  a healthy amount of discussion. They’re all doing really well, I believe most of them have landed jobs. 

Academy Xi: Lots of prospective students ask us “How do I pivot or transition into a career, such as UX UI design, if I don’t come from a design background? What skills or mindset do I need to have as a junior UX designer?”.

Sylvia: That’s a very common question and I think something that could potentially put a lot of people off transitioning into a design career. UX Design is primarily about problem solving and about validation and, as I mentioned earlier, anyone could have those skills. From the day you’re born, you’re problem solving. Believe it or not, even though you might not think you’re a good problem solver, you really are! 

You’ve got lots of problems and you have to find different routes into thinking – “how am I going to solve this problem?”. Normally it’s by trial and error. 

So trial and error would be your testing. You trial something to see if the idea that you’ve got to solve a problem works. And you should be able to get validation very quickly, if you test it with the right people. 

So having a problem-solving mindset is the best thing you can do as an aspiring UX Designer.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: So it’s about having that open mindset and always being empathetic? 

Sylvia: Empathy is so important. There’s not going to be many UX designers who are not empathetic because it’s so fundamental to being a good UX designer. 

If you are an empathetic person, you’re going to look at a product and say “what are the pain points that are currently in this product?”. 

You’re going to ask the people who are using a product and really try to understand where they’re coming from. As soon as you understand that there is a problem to solve and you really try and get into the mindset of what it is that they’re struggling with, then you’re going to be able to offer a better solution.

Academy Xi:  That’s right – it’s all about putting yourself in the user’s shoes. Let’s shift gears a little bit – what’s happening in the Australian market right now in terms of UX? Can you paint us a picture of the big and small challenges of the industry?

Sylvia: I think we’re probably not as mature as overseas in terms of the understanding of what UX can bring to the table. I know that UX arrived early in the States and in Europe. And a lot of companies in Australia because of COVID they’ve been pushed into thinking more about “how do I get my product that already exists into the digital world and then into the hands of people who are always on their phones, their laptops, their tablets?”. 

I think in that way, the challenge would be really about educating businesses to know the value of UX and what UX can bring to the table.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: And how does that relate to the number of jobs that are out there in the market for UX designers? 

I think there’s going to be a snowball effect. The more UX designers get into the job market, the more that they will be able to stay at the top of the hill.  They’ll add value to a business and that business will show another business that, “Oh hey, I’ve got ‘UX’ on my side and we’re growing really well and very healthily”. More companies will be inspired to hire UX UI designers. In that way, I believe it will have a snowball effect. 

To answer your first question on how and what the job prospects are, they’re good. It’s certainly better than it was even 12 months ago, but the challenge is still there because businesses don’t know what they don’t know. If they don’t know anything about UX, then they don’t think they need UX. It would be like a constant education piece.

Academy Xi: We often have people ask us what’s a typical day in the life of a UX designer. Can you give us an example of your work day from start to finish?

Sylvia : Oh gosh! Lots and lots of meetings, because you’re always collaborating, and not just with other UX designers. If you’re lucky enough to work in a design team then you would collaborate a lot with other designers that specialise in different stages of the UX UI cycle. 

But if you are not as lucky to work in a design team and you are a one-man band, you’re doing end-to-end design work–that’s also good because you get to experience the whole lot. But it doesn’t mean you’re not collaborating. You’ll be collaborating with your product manager, product owner, the back-end engineers, front-end engineers. 

There’s a lot of collaboration. UX is not in its own bubble.

Sylvia Xu Connor

Academy Xi: For sure – it’s all about collaborating and making sure that everything works together, because then you’re balancing user needs with business needs and seeing what’s feasible, right? 

Sylvia: And what is possible with technology – can you build what you and the business want to build for the client? If you imagine the venn diagram, you’d be sitting in the middle as a UX designer –  designing a product that the business needs, the user wants, and what is possible technology-wise to deliver.

Below are questions from our audience ranging from career, salary, software, skills, and more. 

Audience question: I am considering a career change, at 38 years old. I am currently a learning designer, writing assessments and curriculum for Universities. I am a photographer, so I seek creative jobs. What advice would you give me to calm the fears I have about starting anew with really no background/ experience, but hopefully some transferable skills? My plan is to start the Transform course with Academy Xi and I’m just doing some research to build my confidence. I’m also studying a short course in Figma but I’m nervous.

Sylvia: Hi there! I think that’s a valid question and certainly it warrants the amount of research that you have already been doing, because research is your best friend. I think you definitely have a lot of transferable skills. Don’t forget a lot of UX skills are actually soft skills. You seem like you have a lot of those. 

As a learning designer you need to talk to the people that you are designing the learning material for, so you already have the right background, believe it or not.

And then also you’re upskilling in Figma and any software that certainly helps because if you are going to be into design, you need to obviously solve a problem. But how you show the solution would be down to how well you’ve grasped the tools, so I think it’s definitely a really good move to try and upskill in Figma and any other software, because when you use one software, you’re more adaptable to using any other software that comes along. 

Audience question: What could I develop further which is not covered in the Academy Xi course, which could help for transitioning from a student to UX UI designer?

Sylvia: So I think a lot of the time, it’s very valuable to be able to grasp the tools, because that is something very concrete and you can demonstrate your capabilities straight away. For example, your portfolio is going to look amazing. And also, you might be given a design challenge when you first go into a lot of job interviews. If you grasp the tools really well, that would definitely be an advantage.

[Academy Xi: What tools specifically?]

Sylvia: Figma, definitely. Miro would be another one that is used industry-wide. Figjam and Miro are whiteboarding tools. They would be the ones that I’d be looking for specifically and then the other added bonus would be Adobe Creative suite. A lot of graphic designers are whizzes in Adobe Creative Suite. I am because I come from that sort of background, but I think it just really helps top-up your software skills. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you’re looking for something extra that would be what I would look at.

Audience question: Is it reasonable to expect resistance to human-centred design as opposed to business or process centred?  Also, given the niche market of UX right now, is it expected that you will do everything with the end-to-end process including UI?

Sylvia: I think it depends on the business and how mature the UX function is. While you’re studying it is probably really important to look at UX UI as a holistic design process, whereby you should try to do it all. And then I think, as you mature as a designer you’re probably going to realise and really understand yourself a little bit better what you excel in and then focus on that.

It’s really, really important that you understand that you can’t do everything, and that you really need to try and get knowledge from other experts that might have better insights.  For example, if you are a UX-heavy designer, you are really great at research and problem solving and not so good at tools, try and really feed off your colleagues who might be better at tools and don’t think “I can do it all”, because maybe someone else has got better ideas than you.

[Academy Xi: Absolutely, it is all about teamwork.]

Audience question: Do you have any advice/tips for what to include in a portfolio and also what to avoid putting into a portfolio?

Sylvia: I think it depends on what it is that you’re looking for. So if you are thinking you are going to go heavy on UX because that’s what you really want to do as opposed to UI, then you really need to show your thinking process in your portfolio. It might not be as pretty or polished as a UI portfolio but it doesn’t certainly doesn’t stop you from making your portfolio, top to tail, design process plus extremely polished-looking, look good. 

You really need to understand what your strengths are and how you want to sell yourself in this end-to-end process, so, as I said, if you think that you are going to be quite a UX-focused designer, and this is the type of roles that you want to go for, really show how you approach a problem and show all the data or the insights that you get from looking at a problem and then try to show that in your portfolio. 

Audience question: How many case studies do you recommend to have in my portfolio as a beginner who is looking for a job in the UX industry?

Sylvia: Probably no more than six. Mainly because a lot of hiring managers are really busy, and they’re looking at a lot of portfolios. As well as reading CVs as well as doing their jobs. So I would say, quality over quantity for sure. 

Audience question: How much did your website and case studies help you land your current role?

Sylvia: That’s a good question! I don’t know because I didn’t hire myself (laughs), but what I think happened was that I certainly had what I thought was going to get me an interview, and I think it’s only a springboard to how well you’re going to do in an interview. The portfolio is not your be all and end all, because you would still need to do well in the interviews. And it’s during the interviews you need to get across how well you can explain your design process and what you could bring to the business.

Audience question: I see a number of people on LinkedIn saying that they have been looking for jobs for months and starting to get deflated. What do you think could be the reason? Is there anything as a soon-to-be UX designer that I could do to avoid this long wait for my first gig?

Sylvia: I would say, keep at it, but maybe try something different so don’t keep doing the same thing. In the way that you know if you never refresh your portfolio, then perhaps if it’s not going to get you noticed six months ago, it’s not going to get you noticed now, so try different things and see if any of them stick. 

Keep doing the projects, I know that there is some volunteer work around UX in Australia and I think from what I hear these volunteer work can help you basically bump up your skills.

While you’re looking for a job, I know it sometimes can be really difficult to work for free, but I think as a designer who’s been working for many years, I have done my fair share of free work as well, because I know that, eventually, it would lead to something but also look at it as a way to practice your skills and perhaps once you get hired, it would all be worth it. 

Audience question: The full-time course recommends 25-30 hours per week. You mentioned the more you put into it, the better the outcomes. Would you recommend allocating more time than that recommendation to get the most out of the course? If so, how much more? I am balancing part-time study and work.

Sylvia: That’s like seven hours a day which is a full day of office work. I would say, I did more than that. Yeah so serendipity, as I said. What happened was it was during the entire Sydney lockdown, I really had nothing else to do except to just be in my house and do my projects. 

So I suppose, maybe, it’s not fair to compare but I also have young kids and personal responsibilities but I am also very goal-orientated. So I knew that if I just put in the hard work now, three months down the end is what makes it all worth it. 

So I would probably say it’s fair to say that I stopped my life for about three months, and I just went really hard in the course. Any skill that you pick up is good, it’s going to be beneficial to you.

Having said that it’s not required, you know, like it’s not something that someone is going to look over your shoulder and say you haven’t put in enough work, but I think the quality of work speaks for itself after the course, because whatever it is that you put in your portfolio or or at the interview process, you might just be able to explain your process a little bit better–if you actually might be a fit or like, went above and beyond, during the course.

Audience question: I’m 24 years old, wanting to change my career from medicine/sports science to UX UI Design, so I essentially have limited experience. My greatest concern is getting a job after completing a UX UI Transform course as someone with less experience in design. What are the key skills (both technical and soft) that you think employers search for?

Sylvia: Great question. The junior designer that I’ve got on board comes from a podiatry background. 

I would say he’s brilliant at his job because from day to day, while being a podiatrist, he was diagnosing problems, you know, he was talking to people about how they were feeling. What hurts, what we could do to make it better, those are kind of all the things that you do as a UX designer anyway! So obviously having the people skills really helps.

It just gives you that extra level of being able to ask someone openly about what are the pain points, for example. Do not be discouraged, because you definitely have something to bring to the table.

Also, work on Figma! Because it’s tangible. You can look online and look on YouTube and learn, it’s something that you can actually do. Whereas you know if I say to someone who’s perhaps not the biggest extrovert, improve your people skills–it’s harder to grasp how that could help (or how to even do that). But anyone can learn to work on software.

Audience question: What job titles are you able to apply for as soon as you finish a UX course and what’s the range of pay for beginners? I would also like to ask about the range of pay from beginner to a seasoned UX design and how fast or slow is the progression.

Sylvia: I think it’s not a one-size-fits-all question and it’s a very case-by-case basis. I would think that if you have no design background and you come out, you might be a little bit more handicapped to look for a senior position, a UX position, rather than starting at a junior mid-level. 

However, having said that, I’ve heard people coming out with no design background and then going straight into a senior job because they could explain the design thinking process and they’re at the right place at the right time, with the company looking for something very specific that they could give.

I think it’s really a case by case basis and really hard to answer! So I’m sorry if I kind of skirted around that question. 

In terms of pay, again, case by case basis, but if you’re starting as a junior UX designer, I would say the benchmark of a junior UX designer would be more than what you would get as a graphic designer, that is an industry benchmark.

Audience question: As a UX designer how much work do you do remotely at home in comparison to in person? 

Sylvia: I would say, as a UX designer you probably would be able to do all your work remotely. However, it would be up to the company to implement any sort of mandate to come to the office normally during team days. Sometimes you do get a little bit more out of a collaborative space if you’re all together socialising and doing a bit of work as well.

Audience question: Are there any tips, advice or insight, you can give regarding the interview process for UX design role and what can we do to prepare? 

Sylvia: Make sure you are as approachable as possible and as empathetic as possible, because they’re going to ask you whatever they want to ask. Aim yourself with the knowledge of how you solve a problem and how you approach your testing. How you solve a problem is possibly what they’re really interested in.

Academy Xi: Thank you so much Sylvia, you shared your story with us today, and I think you’ve shared a lot of really interesting insights about the industry and how to break into it, especially for anyone who is a novice in UX and UI. 

We’ve all learned a lot, I learned a lot today, and I hope that all of you here on the call as well have been able to take something away from Sylvia’s story.

Kick start your career and gain in-demand skills with our 100% online UX UI Design course.  

Academy Xi Blog

The Five Essential Data Skills for Non-Data Professionals

By Academy Xi

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Gone are the days of data being analysed, assessed, and applied only within the confines of I.T departments. Now, more than ever, senior management teams need to embrace data and view data skills as being a critical part of the foundation for employees’ professional knowledge across all departments.

Your people need data literacy to be able to handle data confidently and effectively. We aren’t talking complicated analysis concepts, but practical, hands-on skills that can be applied to daily tasks and projects.

Why?

Simply, data is power. It isn’t theoretical, or an opinion and if you equip your teams with the ability to understand how to use data meaningfully, they will grow within their roles and your organisation will reap the benefits.

We have identified five essential data skills for non-data professionals. While it is possible that some of these skills might already exist within your teams at varying levels, it’s important to note that this skill set is a journey, with each step building on the one before. The best results will be experienced when your people have a working understanding and ability to apply the full suite.

Let’s check them out:

Skill 1: Defining the problem

Why fumble around with guess work and opinions on how to tackle business problems when you likely have access to data that can point you in a direction that is more likely to result in a meaningful outcome?

Being able to translate a known or perceived business challenge into a data analysis problem offers individuals and teams the opportunity to set goals and scope solutions.

Once a problem has been clearly articulated and defined, it is possible to then plan how you can analyse datasets to arrive at helpful and actionable insights, which can reveal options for how to approach solutions.

Asking data-driven questions

Asking the right kind of questions is key to getting truly useful detail and insights from your data. You can have the most intricate IT infrastructure in your organisation, but it won’t generate insights of its own accord.

The more specific you can be with your questions, the higher the quality of results you will receive. For example, ‘How can product X generate us more money?’. This could be made more specific: ‘Which of our marketing efforts generated the highest return on investment this quarter, which we can modify to promote product X and in turn increase profits?’. Clarity is also key – what exactly are you wanting to find out?

Data analytics training provides teams with the tools for how to understand and define a problem as the first step, which is the foundation of any data analysis work.

Skill 2: Collecting data

The notion of collecting data can be intimidating to those who aren’t used to working with datasets, but the fact is, your teams are likely already collecting data and perhaps even using it.

What can data look like in non-data roles?

Your marketing team might have a thousand subscribers to a monthly email newsletter. The data behind these sign-ups could reveal several details about the demographic who engage with the content that could influence future marketing activity or be shared with other departments for their benefit. 

Within other departments, such as customer service teams, there is often an abundance of what is known as ‘behavioural data’ available and is one of the most common types of data. This can include purchase and transaction records, website use and internet search history.  

A recent study from Google revealed that a customer journey today can incorporate anywhere from 20 to 500 touch points. All touch points equate to data.

Why learn how to collect data?

When your teams understand why data is important and how it can benefit their outcomes and those of the wider organisation, giving them the ability to know how to collect it empowers them to create benefit. One important aspect of data collection is it can enable more personalised product and service delivery to customers.

Mckinsey research reveals that companies that use data to effectively personalise their product and service offering to customers generate 40% more revenue than those who don’t or do an average job of it. Furthermore, “71% of consumers expect companies to personalise interactions and three quarters will switch if they don’t like their experience”.

Empowering teams with the knowledge of how to collect data will enable them to:

  • measure and evaluate project outcomes
  • understand how to apply findings to create powerful marketing
  • personalise customer experiences
  • effectively encourage stakeholder buy-in
  • save time and increase productivity.

When individuals and teams are able to harness data effectively and perform these tasks, there is no way but up for your organisation.

Skill 3: Pulling insights from data

An insight report from McKinsey states that by 2025 ‘nearly all employees will naturally and regularly leverage data to support their work…they will be empowered to ask how innovative data techniques could resolve challenges in hours, days or weeks’ – McKinsey (2022)

By giving your teams access to training that will enable them to pull insights that are actionable from your company data, you’ll be preparing your workforce for what is to come in the next few years and keep your organisation ahead of the pack.

What is a data insight?

All too often, what are called ‘data insights’ can simply be more information. That’s not an insight. Let’s clearly define this.

  • Data = unprocessed facts (often numbers in a spreadsheet)
  • Information = prepared data, providing context and presented in a more human-friendly fashion (eg: dashboard, report, chart)
  • Insights = generated by analysing the information and drawing conclusions. 

 The combination of the data and the information can lead to the discovery of insights.

Why are data-driven insights important?

Fundamentally, insights achieve impact. By using data driven insights, you’re working from an evidence base, as opposed to preference, instinct, or assumption. Once analysed, the conclusions that can be drawn from data are a lot more powerful, accurate and effective.

Mckinsey Global Institute reports that data-driven companies report above market growth in the range of 15-25%. Their findings reveal that there are five levers that enable data-driven sales growth by using data insights.

This particular study focused on the benefits of data insights on sales growth, but it is highly likely that any department would benefit from applying data insights to achieve significant benefits.

McKinsey continues to reveal that data-driven businesses are 23 times more likely to gain customers, but additionally six times as likely to retain them and a whopping 19 times more likely to be profitable.

Benefits of your teams learning this skill:

  • They will know what an insight is and how to pull it from your company data
  • Ability to access meaningful insights to empower projects
  • Actively knowing how to use insights to influence and drive change
  • Evidence-based insights will be used, not instinct or assumption based.

By investing in training that provides the hard data skills and is tailored to suit the needs of your industry and organisation, your team will learn how to embed these abilities into the way they work daily.

An integral part of this learning will be how to apply data driven insights.

Skill 4: Visualising data

Once data has been collected and analysed, it can be represented visually to make it easier for conclusions to be made. It is ultimately an efficient way to deliver data so that meaningful discussion and decision making can take place.

Learning to visualise data is a useful skill for any industry and team. It’s an effective way to share information with stakeholders and to communicate a large data set efficiently.

Examples of visualisation methods include:

  • Heat maps
  • Tables and pie charts
  • Infographics
  • Scatter plots
  • Line charts.
Image source: Neil Patel, "How to use data visualisation"

Let’s be clear that visualising data isn’t simply making a spreadsheet into a colourful chart or graph. The power of presenting data in a visually appealing way, is ultimately to clearly communicate an idea. You might be outright declaring something with what you present or perhaps be planting a seed to encourage an exploration of an idea or a possibility, driven by the dataset.

Why learn how to visualise data?

  • Assists in clarifying ideas from datasets.
  • Makes concepts easier to comprehend and more memorable for stakeholders.
  • Assists in gaining insights into large amounts of dry data.
  • Helps to understand consumer behaviour.
  • Can aid in predicting volumes of sales.
  • Quickly pinpoint business areas that need improvement or more focus.
  • Promotes identification of relationships, patterns, trends, and opportunities
  • Reduces errors across the business.

When teams know how to visualise data, they will be able to support faster decision making, which will ultimately increase the productivity of your organisation and generate more profit. Don’t let your data go to waste. Give your people the power to bring it to life.

Skill 5: Crafting data driven stories

It’s clear to most teams that data isn’t impactful when it simply sits in a spreadsheet. By visualising the dataset, we bring it to life and when put in the context of a story, we increase the engagement and buy-in with whoever we are presenting the data to.

Increasingly, there are more sources of data available to companies and they are rapidly becoming larger and more complex datasets. Being able to distil the data through a story is a vital skill. 

By getting your teams trained in basic data analytics, they will be able to learn how to present datasets visually and within a storyline. You don’t need to be a degree qualified data analyst or Hollywood screenwriter to generate a compelling data narrative. 

Essential in your company marketing, storytelling can drive conversions and return on investment, but before that stage, it is also greatly useful in-house when presenting datasets.

 Why you should focus on data storytelling:

  • Storytelling brings data to life and makes it more memorable
  • You are more likely to engage stakeholders with story
  • Increase influence of strategic decision making
  • Stories can inspire and drive business change

The bottom line

Chances are that your organisation is sitting on a minefield of valuable data without even realising it. It’s also likely that your teams don’t know how to recognise and use data meaningfully, so it is disregarded in favour of other tasks that are known and familiar. 

Investing in a short training program in data analytics for your teams that is geared for practical application in any department, will provide people with the skills to: 

  • Identify different data types
  • Know how to collect data effectively
  • Understand data samples
  • Pull meaningful insights from data
  • Visualise data meaningfully
  • Communicate with data-driven storytelling

Combined, these skills will ramp up your organisation’s evidence-based decision making, planning and prioritisation. This equals a substantial leap in productivity and subsequent growth, both for individuals and your overall business.

Ready for a data-driven culture?

At Academy Xi we design and deliver tailored, work-ready upskilling and reskilling programs. We work with industry experts to ensure that organisations of all sizes are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills across design, tech and data, business, and marketing.

We offer a range of data training solutions to help you transform your workforce. These range from one or two-day workshops right through to highly-tailored data enablement programs designed to elevate the data capability of your entire organisation. We offer these in-person or online and are flexible in terms of delivery requirements and timeframes.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you transform your organisation by teaching you how to maximise your data.

Academy Xi Blog

3 Reasons Your Company Needs Digital Leaders

By Academy Xi

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While digital transformation and disruption are not new concepts, the pandemic accelerated the need for any aspects of company processes that weren’t working optimally to be addressed. In many cases the issues were impossible to ignore. And we aren’t just talking about the technology sector – every industry is impacted by digital transformation and the pandemic has amplified it.

As companies require more sophisticated approaches to business to remain competitive, and technology continues to advance, the need for our workforce to be equipped to handle digitally based tasks is paramount and organisations are struggling to keep up.

Thankfully there is a solution that can be driven by senior leadership, which will provide crucial benefits to your company and people for the longer term.

Digital Leaders

If you want your business to thrive rather than simply survive through a digital transformation and you want to retain your people and see them empowered and engaged, then championing digital leaders within your company is vital.

In this article we’ll explore digital leadership and three reasons why your business needs to promote and support digital leaders:

  • What is a Digital Leader
  • Reason #1: Bridge the digital skills gap
  • Reason #2: Save Resources & Increase Productivity
  • Reason #3: Drive Engagement & Innovation

What is a Digital Leader?

It is important to keep in mind that the most impressive tech on the market won’t make a meaningful impact on the bottom line of your business or company culture, but the humans driving it will. In order for digital transformation to truly ‘stick’ in your company, there needs to be commitment from the very top of the organisation and they need to be 100% behind the digital leaders.

Empathetic, patient and forever learning and exploring opportunities to embrace new and emerging technology that can elevate your operation, digital leaders are entrepreneurs at heart. But the role is much more than scoping out new tech.

With a customer-centric focus, a digital leader will join the dots between strategy, culture, structure and technology and using data driven insights, create a vision for your organisation. They inspire individuals and teams by demonstrating the benefits of new ways of working and lead with a focus on desired outcomes.

Recent research completed by McKinsey reveals that digital leaders “appear to keep up a drumbeat in their businesses that can be four times faster, and twice as powerful, as those of their peers.”

Now is the time to begin identifying who would make great digital leaders in your company and here are the top three reasons your organisation needs them.

Reason #1: Bridge the Skills Gap

With 87% of jobs now requiring digital literacy skills, the capability gap is a very real concern for Australia’s workforce and the national government is supporting a range of initiatives to try and remedy the acute situation.

While the challenge of finding strong digital talent continues to be a struggle for HR teams and external recruiters alike, championing digital leaders within your organisation is a proactive step you can take to help transition your workforce and rise to meet the latest digital demands.

One of many workforce trends in 2021 was less of a focus on job roles and more on specific skills needed to give organisations a competitive edge. This trend will certainly continue into 2022 and beyond as company’s address skills shortages and disrupted business models. McKinsey’s quarterly research also supports this, with 53% of executives seeing reskilling their existing workforce as the most useful action to close capability gaps.

  • What is the digital leader’s role in this process?

Aligned with a data driven vision that reflects the needs of the customer and business strategy, digital leaders empower others by sharing their knowledge and skills and identifying and arranging appropriate training needs to increase capability across the company. 

Bolstered with new skills and awareness and understanding of the longer term strategy and where they fit, people are more open to embracing new ideas and change. This results in less trepidation, more confidence and can lead to higher rates of engagement and retention. 

  • Make digital maturity your aim 

Ideally, you want your company to reach digital maturity as a benchmark. This means you are able to respond and adapt to tech challenges and trends effectively as an entire business, and not deflect them to the I.T department. 

With technology continually developing, digital maturity is an ongoing process. While it isn’t something to tick off your hit list, you can still aim for a shared digital growth mindset across the organisation. Individuals across all teams in any industry have digital skill requirements and having the mindset to match is important. 

Digital leaders will support your teams to embrace this mindset and help your company get well on the way to digital maturity.

Reason #2: Save Resources & Increase Productivity

Digital transformation can improve efficiency in organisations by automating what were previously routine tasks. A study by the Hackett Group in the U.S found that administrative and functional labour costs were being reduced by the ‘digital world class’ by 29%.

Your digital leaders can drive transformation in your company to create such savings and reinvest them into tech and training for your existing teams. The outcomes can drive more impact, increase productivity and reduce budgets spent on recruiting consultants or contracting external partners. (Link to new ‘Build, Buy, Partner blog)

Time is also saved with digital leaders steering projects backed by data. Senior leadership recognise that data driven insights are clear indicators of which direction to take and this ultimately results in faster strategic decision making. This often means getting ideas through the gate and to market at pace.

Reason #3: Drive Engagement & Innovation

The main concepts of digital leadership need to be adopted at the top of an organisation for engagement and innovation to be able to trickle down through the entire business. 

Lead by example. An oldie, but a goodie. 

A report in the PwC Australia Rebooted series clearly emphasises that digital transformation isn’t about investing a large sum into new technology and thinking the job is done. The overarching culture and mindset of your organisation needs to be one of innovation, so that digital transformation exists at the core of your strategy and runs through the veins of what you do, as opposed to being a range of digital side projects.

Digital leadership is about overriding ‘Business As Usual’ thinking. It requires a high level of curiosity and asking a lot of questions of team members because when it comes to innovation, no one has all of the answers. As a result, this encourages engagement, with everyone’s experience and ideas contributing to forming new and creative approaches to old and expired ways of working.

Individuals and teams are enthusiastically encouraged by digital leaders to be fearless, step out of their comfort zones, to say yes to challenges and to seek out opportunities. 

When senior leadership empower digital leaders in their organisations to truly embrace their role, it can change the culture and outcomes of your company and ultimately put you ahead of the competition.

The Bottom Line

It isn’t a question of ‘if’ you should have digital leaders, but when. And the time is now.

Championing digital leaders to drive digital transformation and bridge the skills gap requires your business-model to be reinvented to enable all teams, departments and functions to work together in new ways. This can only occur with commitment from the top of your organisation. 

Taking a proactive role in addressing the digital skills gap in your business will empower individuals and ultimately benefit all stakeholders across your operation and positively impact your bottom line. Encouraging digital leadership within your ranks is a wise move in future proofing your company and keeping it ahead of the competition.

Ready to Put Your Company Ahead of the Digital Curve?

At Academy Xi, our mission is to optimise your organisation’s culture and performance through concise, actionable training in:

  • human-centred design
  • digital business
  • emerging technology.

Help your people thrive in new digital environments, instead of being left behind with training solutions for all staff levels, customised to meet the unique needs of your industry and organisation.