Dear Analyst #73: From a career in the U.S. Navy to data analytics YouTuber with Luke Barousse

The path to a career in data analytics can be full of twists and turns. Along the way, you pick up tools like Excel, Python, Tableau, and R. What about learning how to use YouTube and growing an audience of 50,000+ from publishing videos about data analytics? I’m always fascinated by people who are able to combine the technical aspects of being a data analyst with other careers like science, art, and even wastewater treatment. Luke Barousse is a data analyst and YouTuber and we chatted about how he learned Excel, built a portfolio of his data work, and becoming a YouTuber.

From the U.S. Navy to Excel

Prior to joining the U.S. Navy, Luke took a C++ course as an undergrad and got a taste of coding. After joining the Navy and working in various roles, he didn’t get a chance to utilize some of the coding skills he learned at university. Eventually he went to get his MBA and took an Excel course taught by Professor Elliot Bendoly (who also wrote the book Excel Basics to Blackbelt). Luke started seeing the potential of Excel as he dug into VBA and some of the coding capabilities in Excel.

In terms of content creation, Luke’s day-to-day experience as a data analyst influences the videos he creates. The main reason he started getting into creating videos was because his colleagues wanted him to show them how to do things in Excel and other tools. Instead of teaching each of his colleagues one by one, he created videos to avoid the repetitive nature of teaching in person.

I realized that content creation is a way to automate teaching.

Using social media to share a Google Sheets template

For the class’ capstone project, Luke built a meal prep Excel file. Even after the class was over, he took the meal prep Excel file tried to turn it into an application. He transferred it from Excel to Google Sheets and it started to gain some traction. He used Instagram and created content around meal prep and drew more attention to the Google Sheet template. Eventually he started using Python and Django to try and create an application since people were always messing up the formulas on the Google Sheet.

I find it interesting that Google Sheets template become the lowest common denominator when you need to create and share a simple tool, and are ok with it being rough around the edges. It may be too costly (and frankly overkill) to create a custom application with code with a Google Sheets template will suffice.

Realizing Excel is not the solution

Luke realized the Excel file Luke he created for his meal prep use case was going to be an issue because Excel is not the best medium to distribute his template (hence the move to Google Sheets). As Luke started using Excel more at work, he found his Excel files were constantly hitting row limits. His team worked with different suppliers and new data would get ingested every week into the Excel file. He also was building formula on top of formula and the result was an Excel file that took 2-3 minutes to load and was buggy with the cobbled together formulas. Luke details all this in this video below:

Even after he left that group, his old teammates still asked him to update the Excel file since they didn’t know how. In situations like this, you and your team need to make a decision on whether to go with Excel that is “good enough” for the job or start from scratch with better tools for the job. Luke wanted to explore putting the data into SQL but moved to a different team before he could tackle that project.

Differentiating yourself when applying to data analyst jobs

Luke discusses some of his strategies for landing a job as a data analyst (he has some YouTube videos about this too). He talked about the job hunting process being a very humbling experience because you are being rejected left and right. From his business school days, however, he knew that you have to come up with ways to stand out from your competition.

To differentiate himself, Luke created an online portfolio of his data projects to showcase his creativity and skills. He published a project where he did some analysis on the script from The Office using Python. As a huge fan of The Office, I think there are so many ways you could analyze the script and come up with a creative analysis. How many times does Michael say “That’s what she said!”? Were they said in a sentence with positive or negative sentiment? Which characters on the show was Michael saying this to the most? The key takeaway is that some recruiter out there may also be a fan of The Office and they come across your project. Having this public portfolio gives the recruiter a chance to see that you have the actual experience of analyzing a data set and creating data visualizations.

Google data analytics certificate

Luke’s most popular video is about the new Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate in partnership with Coursera. Some believe this certificate could disrupt the college education system since the class gives students and professionals the actual skills they need to do data analytics in the real world. Since publishing the video, Luke’s views about the certificate have changed a little bit.

Luke said he was interviewing a civil engineer, and the candidate wanted to get into engineering analytics. This certificate gives the candidate an opportunity to learn about data analytics and combine it with his education in engineering. This is another way for college students and professionals who are a looking for a career change to differentiate themselves. The certificate by itself won’t guarantee you a job as a data analyst but it will broaden your mind to new skills you may not have picked up from previous roles or in school.

More importantly, the certificate will help you figure out if you even like working in data analytics. It fees like everyone wants to be a software engineer today because the salaries and benefits are great, but do you really enjoy the actual day-to-day responsibilities of a software engineer? Same could be said about data analytics, in my opinion. If you are able to combine your interests from a different field with data analytics, you will have a really unique skillset to showcase to potential employers and recruiters.

Being productive while working at home

Luke tries to get on his mountain bike and do Crossfit once a day. Luke realized he isn’t really that productive in the office and at home, he has “sprints” of 2-3 hours of deep work. If he starts checking his phone or social media, that’s when he knows it’s time for a change of scenery and he’ll go out on the mountain bike or go to his local box.

Instead focusing on the absolute number of hours you spend in the office or are at your desk, Luke believes these 2-3 hour sprints allow him to be more productive because it’s much more focused work. He may be putting in less hours but those hours are much more productive compared to the 8 hours you’re sitting at the office and wasting time. Taking a break and going outside or going to the gym gives your brain time to solve other problems besides the ones you’re given at work. As I’m finishing writing this post, I feel like it’s time to take a break myself and come back later for another block of focused work :).

Best ways to get in touch with Luke are through his YouTube channel (he responds to every comment) and LinkedIn.

Other Podcasts & Blog Posts

In the 2nd half of the episode, I talk about some episodes and blogs from other people I found interesting:

No other podcasts/blog posts mentioned in this episode!