Interviews

Announcing The OA Club Community Data Champions

Allie Beazell
Allie Beazell March 16, 2023

Allie Beazell is director of developer marketing @ Census. She loves getting to connect with data practitioners about their day-to-day work, helping technical folks communicate their expertise through writing, and bringing people together to learn from each other. Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, California, United States

We have some pretty stellar folks on the teams behind Census and The OA Club, but let’s be honest: The real stars of our Community are the experts who freely share their knowledge with their peers every day. 🤩

For the last year, these folks have stepped up to answer questions, share resources, and act as sounding boards to their peers. Now, we’re naming names to honor them in our first-ever cohort of The OA Club Data Champions program. 

The OA Club is all about supporting the next generation of data leaders, and this program is no exception. As part of our Data Champions program, we get to partner with today’s (and tomorrow’s) data leaders to help them build their personal brands, give back to their peers, and elevate their career skills (all while generating some awesome educational resources for the Community). 

If you’re already in our Slack community, you’ve seen these folks around. And, in the past few weeks, you’ve likely seen them acting as the mayors of some of your favorite topical data channels. ✨ So, without further ado, we give you our inaugural cohort of OA Club Data Champions: 🥁

  1. Nadine Merheb, senior manager of data strategy & analytics at the Chicago Bulls (you can find her hanging out in #data-viz)
  2. Nikesh Bhakta, product manager at BigSpring (you can find him hanging out in #data-automation)
  3. Nikolas Artadi, business solution analyst at Pleo (you can find him hanging out in #rev-ops and #learn-sql)
  4. Stephen Ebrey, founder at Sawtelle Analytics (you can find him hanging out in #data-modeling)
  5. Ella Runciman, data engineer at 1Password (you can find her hanging out in #destination-salesforce)
  6. Robele Baker, senior data analyst at Hubilo (you can find him hanging out #data-automation)
  7. Jerrie Kumalah, analytics engineer at SeatGeek (you can find her hanging out in #leading-data-teams)
  8. Charlie Summers, staff software engineer at Merit (you can find him hanging out in #sources-snowflake)
  9. Matthew Brandt, data analyst at Well Gesundheit AG (you can find him hanging out in #learn-sql)
  10. Anish Giri, senior analytics engineer at Growblocks, (you can find him hanging out in #learn-sql and #leading-data-teams) 

We’re so excited to have these experts in The OA Club community and get the chance to help support their work. If you already know the folks above, you’re well aware of the great work they do within their companies and in the Community at large. And, if you’re not acquainted with them yet, we’ve rounded up some of their insights about their careers, the data industry, and the importance of community below so you can get to know them better.

Check out some of our video interviews with our Data Champions below 👇

Question: What’s your data origin story? 

Everyone – and we mean everyone – comes from a background different from the next person. So, it’s no surprise that each of our OA Data Champions came upon the data industry from a unique entry point. For instance, Stephen Ebrey, founder at Sawtelle Analytics, got his start in data by learning SQL while working in ad operations.

“It was also useful during my stints as a QA tester and a Product Manager,” recalled Stephen. “It was when I discovered dbt in 2019 that I really learned how much you could do with data, and now I’m obsessed!”

Each person has a distinct set of experiences, skills, and perspectives that they bring to the table. These differences can enrich our interactions and help us learn from each other, so we ❤️ that each of our Data Champions has a different perspective and career journey. 

“A pivotal moment for me was when the science faculty was in need of first-year statistics workshop tutors,” Ella Runciman, data engineer at 1Password, mentioned. “I was a biology tutor at the time and had finished a course on biostatistics, which changed my perspective on statistics. But transitioning to being a statistics tutor changed my life. Getting others excited about statistics and helping them find insights into data made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in data.” 

For other ambassadors, the dream of building a self-serve offering is what gets them out of bed in the morning. Take Anish Giri, senior analytics engineer @ Growblocks, for example.

“My journey started as a Data Analyst, where I helped build BI for a 400-person company with just a 2-person data team,” he said. “This is where I discovered the power of the modern data stack, and how it allows someone with plain-old SQL skills to become a jack of all trades. Now, I'm on a mission to scale data models in Snowflake by productizing the data modeling journey into a self-serve offering for our customers.” 

Question: What's your favorite part of your job?

Working with data often means no two days are the same. You have to excel at thinking quickly and adapting to changes at a moment's notice. This is especially true when you work in data for a national sports team, like the Chicago Bulls. 🏀 But luckily for them, Nadine Merheb, senior manager of data strategy & analytics at the Chicago Bulls, loves the variation in work.

“A lot of my work is impacted by what happens on the basketball court, and I have no control over that,” Nadine said. “Will we need to plan for the playoffs? Does the sales team have enough bandwidth to handle incoming leads? Do we have the right pre-game marketing audiences? We have to accommodate changes in operations and processes within the data while trying to move forward on brand new initiatives.” 

While some folks are fueled by dynamic environments, others enjoy the “mystery-solving” aspect of data. 🔍 Nikesh Bhakta, product manager at BigSpring, for instance, loves the unending variety of questions he gets to tackle in his position. 

“I love uncovering insights, being able to answer questions using data, and generating new questions,” Nikesh said. “I have a curious mind, and being able to manipulate and extract information from data is a game changer.”

An added bonus? Uncovering pivotal insights usually calls for working with sweet, cutting-edge tools. 👀

“What I think is so cool about the data space today is how much awesome stuff you can do with so few people just compared to what we were doing even just a couple of years ago,” Charlie Summers, staff software engineer at Merit, said. “Being at the cutting edge and getting to think deeply about how we handle all of the interesting variety of data problems that we have is really a ton of fun.”

🤠 Psst… If you want to hear the story behind the cowboy hat, check out Charlie’s full interview with Parker below. 

‎‎Question: What do you think is the most challenging part of your job?

Of course, no job is without its challenges. But facing challenges is an integral part of growth and development. By overcoming obstacles, we learn new skills, gain valuable experience, and build resilience. 💪 And, more often than not, the things that challenge us are also the aspects we enjoy the most. 

“While one of my favorite parts of the job is how many parts of the business our analytics team gets to touch, it is simultaneously the most challenging part of my job too,” Nadine said. “I’ll be in one meeting related to ticket sales, and the next is about corporate partner activation. I can work on data governance for thirty minutes and then switch to customizing CRM. It takes a lot of mental energy to switch between so many topics, stakeholders, and tools throughout the day.”

And with all that variation comes many different approaches to data which – as Jerrie Kumalah, analytics engineer at SeatGeek, noted – can be extremely tricky to navigate. You need to be able to manage your stakeholders, understand exactly what they need, and plan accordingly. 

“Just like many data roles out there, every company approaches it differently,” Jerrie stated. “So what's challenging is just making sure that I'm focusing on the right things for what we need as a company right now. Is it leaning more on the data engineering angle? Is it handholding and defining things? Or is it just jump in and problem solve and build?”

🎙️Check out Jerrie’s full interview.👇

‎Once you uncover what it is your stakeholders really need, you have to be able to communicate your roadmap effectively. 🗺️ Because ultimately, at the core of a strong company is a strong data organization and data culture. 

“I think sometimes, depending on the organization, you want to try to make do with as little as possible,” Robele Baker, senior data analyst at Hubilo, explained. “But while actually setting up your warehousing and making sure that everyone's aligned on the definitions takes a lot of work, it's rewarding once you're able to convince or work with stakeholders to believe in these types of activities. And it's even more rewarding once all teams are aligned on a single focus and working together.” 🤝

📍From Guatemala to Ecuador and seemingly everywhere in between, Robele is a travel nut. Want to find out where Robele is off to next? Check out his full interview. 👇

‎Question: Why do you think that community is important in the data industry?

With job challenges on the brain, it's important to recognize that we don't have to face them alone. That’s why we created The OA Club! 🙌 We wanted to curate a community where mid- to senior-level data folks of all backgrounds can get support from colleagues, mentors, and peers. Because, if you’re stumped on a problem, it’s likely that someone else has been there before.

“We’ve been spending so much time working on the same problems as everyone else,” Stephen stressed. “We should help each other on Slack, create open-source frameworks, write blog posts, and give talks. “By making the common problems as easy as possible, we can focus on the really interesting ones!”

We 👏 love 👏 that. 👏 When we work together and share our experiences and knowledge, we can overcome challenges more effectively and pave the way for innovation. 💡

“In my point of view, data is not only a way of working but a way of thinking,” said Nikolas Artadi, business solution analyst at Pleo. “There are different schools of thought and without these clashing together, nothing new can be born. The exchange of information is a must – that’s the way we have learned and continue to learn.”

These community spaces act as, in Anish’s words, “town squares” where we can all come together to exchange our ideas and insights. 

“This exchange of ideas is truly positive-sum, where everyone benefits from the insights and contributions of others,” Anish said. “As more people join the community and share their perspectives, the community as a whole becomes stronger and more vibrant. Ultimately, the collective intelligence of the community can help to drive innovation, solve complex problems, and push the industry forward in new and exciting ways.” 

And the benefits of this collective gathering go beyond just the data industry we’re all working within – it has the potential to change the world. 🌍

“I believe that education is the great equalizer of our generation,” Matthew Brandt, data analyst at Well Gesundheit AG, said. “What has the power to really change things for the planet – and for people individually – is understanding different points of view, understanding different technologies, and understanding different approaches. And that only happens through exchange with others.”

👟Want to hear more about data expert & Twitch streamer Matthew Brandt (AKA MattyTwoShoes)? Check out his full interview.👇

‎Bonus question: What’s your go-to podcast (that doesn’t necessarily have to do with data). Why?

Technical or not, folks in the data industry love learning from experts willing to share their experiences and insights. That’s exactly why data folks love podcasts. 💗 Here are some of our Data Champions’ favorites. 👇

Armchair Expert or Sarde After Dinner

“Both podcasts bring on a wide range of guests and then have conversations like they’re long-time friends, going between light-hearted and hard-hitting topics,” said Nadine. “I like that I never know what I’m walking into, but I always walk out reflecting on what I heard.”.

🎧 Listen to Armchair Expert and Sarde after Dinner.

All-In 

“I started listening to it during the pandemic, but it has quickly become an interesting source of information for me with respect to current events, tech, global affairs, the economy, etc,” Nikesh said. “I appreciate the fact that the different members of the pod have competing points of view, which allows for a relatively diverse flow of information.” 

🎧 Listen to All-In.

Plain English

“Derek Thompson does a fantastic job of going in-depth on a wide variety of subjects without requiring you to have any prior knowledge of them,” Stephen shared.

🎧 Listen to Plain English.

DataTalks.Club and Arjan Codes

Though not a podcast per se (Ella admits she listened to way too many during the COVID lockdown), she’s currently watching these two YouTubers.👇

📹 Watch DataTalks.Club and Arjan Codes.

The Tim Ferriss Show

“While I don't listen to every episode, I find myself coming back to it time and time again. Since my first listen in 2017, it has become a go-to for me whenever I face challenges in my life. The podcast has helped me understand how the best in the world deal with their struggles, and some episodes are also highly entertaining. Overall, it's like comfort food for me in the podcast space, ” Anish said.

🎧 Listen to The Tim Ferriss Show

The OA Club: Where our Community grows from here 

While Census fosters The OA Club with ❤️, it’s our expert Community members that make the space (and the industry) what it is today. As our Champions continue their work with The OA Club, you can catch their webinars on our community channels, their content over on the Census blog, and their insights throughout our Slack space. 

We’ll also be partnering with these Champions to host local data happy hours in their cities throughout 2023, so make sure to keep an eye on our events calendar for an OA Club happy hour coming to a city near you. 🥂

And, if you want to join in on the fun, check out our Data Champions program and apply to join. After all, it takes a village to build a community together. 

✨ Want to chat with our OA Data Champions and learn more about their work? Head on over and join The OA Club.