An Interview with Alexandra Hanna

by Andy Kriebel

In another addition of our “an interview with…” series, we spoke to one the original Data School cohort, Alexandra (Sasha) Hanna. Taking it back to where it all began, Sasha talks us through how she got into applying for the Data School, working closely with her peers and why a Friday afternoon sugar rush was much needed!

Thanks for speaking to us today, Sasha. To start things off, what were you doing before you joined the Data School?

“I did a bit of volunteering, but I was mainly looking out for opportunities to improve my learning, which meant I was dotted around for quite a while. I originally studied molecular biology in Manchester, before moving to London to study my degree in animal sciences. After graduating, I knew I wanted to be involved in the technology side of a lot of different jobs, so I had chances to apply everything I’d learned at school and university.”

What was it that drew you into joining the Data School?

“I initially saw the advert for applying for the Data School online; I looked into it in more detail and thought it was definitely something that suited both my work and way of working. The process of solving data problems – no matter how big or small – combined with the variety of learning and people, along with the diversity in business problems and different industries was what made the Data School really standout for me.

Did you have any experience with Tableau before joining?

“I didn’t know anything about Tableau at all, so I was self-taught at first; I began learning it during the application process and it went on from there really.”

Looking back, what was the most valuable lesson you took from your time at the Data School?

“I think it was working with a small, closely-knit group of people. There were only eight of us, so by the end we were very close. At the same time, it gave us quite a variety – for each project we would have eight different ideas and different skills to work with. It was a great mix, as between us we had all possible areas covered, really. I found it to be a very friendly and supportive atmosphere. It was an incredibly welcoming and appreciative network, that was definitely a highlight for me.”

What was an average week like for you?

“Well it was definitely a rush! We had client projects on Mondays, where we divided all the tasks between the group. We basically dived in straight away and kept working the whole time! It could be good or bad, sometimes the project would run smoothly and other times we’d get stuck on something in particular so would work together to find an answer. The end result was normally a dashboard, although at times we didn’t always have to produce one, because the data would need to be investigated further.”

What were some of the biggest challenges for you, personally?

“Am I allowed to say the whole thing?! It was just so different to what I was used to. It was extremely methodical. I had to learn lots of new methods and do so on a frequent basis. I’d also never blogged before, even though the process of writing wasn’t new to me.”

So how was the blogging experience for you?

“As a first-time blogger I definitely enjoyed it! I think it’s a great option for reflection: I can break down everything that I figure out both personally and for clients, and by doing so I can easily share this information with everyone else. And the technique of blogging itself reinforced everything I learned.”

How do you feel the Data School has set you up for success?

“It’s definitely given me the structure of how I should work through any problems. By the time we graduated, I felt confident I knew all the different stages and approaches to problem solving. They were invaluable lessons for me, I think, because problem solving and approaching challenges from different angles is a key part of being a consultant.”

What was your experience like as a part of the Tableau and Alteryx community?

“It was something that we were introduced to right at the start. As soon as we started doing our individual blogging, we were introduced to the community. It was great, I’ve started partnerships with different people, and building contacts who can help me in different areas. It’s one of the biggest communities I’ve seen in general, let alone in just the area of data analysis! And it’s still growing which I think is very impressive.”

What was the best bit of advice given to you by your Data School coaches?

“The process of thinking about what the business problem was. That is something that has resonated through my placements. But there were so many – Andy made sure we never did a ‘data dump’, which meant we should always build our visualisations to answer a question, not just heap a load of data together. Ask the questions beforehand, then design accordingly – don’t just produce pretty visualizations for the sake of it.”

Sounds like useful information! So, for someone undecided about applying, what would you say to them?

“It’s definitely worth the experience! If you like a challenge and, more importantly, the process of solving and beating those challenges – it’s the best job you can take. Considering the scale of the Tableau community, with the knowledge and expertise of so many professionals, it’s a perfect opportunity to create a bigger profile for yourself.”

How have things gone since you graduated from the Data School?

“Yeah, it’s been really exciting. My first placement went really well – I was responsible for the full training of a couple of teams, and they later became absolute Tableau fanatics! (laughs). It was a bit tricky at times, as we were working almost exclusively with an international team in Poland. So, there was a bit of a barrier at times because everything was done online, but when they came to London we were able to cover what was lost in translation, as such!”

So, our last question – what was your favourite thing about the Data School?

“Hmm… I think it has to be the doughnuts! (laughs) Andy brought some in for us every Friday – the sugar rush was pretty much vital at that point in the week! Otherwise, I think the most rewarding thing for me personally was being part of the very first class [DS1]. And even though we were the first, the teaching and general atmosphere made us all feel incredibly at home. I never would have guessed we were all doing this thing for the first time!”