2 Months in - the Half-way House.

by Samuel Shurmer

It only feels like a week since I wrote my first blog, discussing what I had learnt during my first week at the data school; they do say time flies when you are having fun. I now feel in a much better position to add some perspective to this reflection, and hopefully add some additional insights into what life at the data school really is like day to day.

Tableau & Alteryx – the tools for the task:


During the application process many of us (DS13) had spent some time with Tableau to create our application dashboards (you can find more about applying to the data school through Jacks great blog), during these first few weeks we spent time revising the basics of Tableau & learning the process that go on in the background (such as the order of operations), which really helped to consolidate our current levels of understanding. After this we started to go through, in heavy detail more advanced technical skills; such as level of detail and table calculations, but through head coaches Andy & Carl (and some guidance from other information lab team members) we were able to get to grips with these concepts and begin to regularly apply them in various situations. Within these weeks we were also encouraged to take the Tableau Qualified Desktop Associate exam, which is an official certification ran by Tableau. However, due to the brilliant guidance and teaching we had been given so far during our time at TIL all members of DS13 were able to pass the first time; for more information on the exam and the concepts, Alessandro has a great blog about his experience.


The learning process for Alteryx during this time, however, has been quite a different journey. Unlike Tableau, Alteryx was completely new to all of us within DS13 with many of us unaware of the power it contained, and how simple it COULD be to access and harness this. With Alteryx we were quickly thrown in at the deep end because unlike Tableau, it is a lot more difficult to understand contextually without immersing yourself and experimenting with the various functions.

While some of us took to Alteryx like ducks to water some of us were less able to quickly take to the various functionalities and nuances that Alteryx has. Fortunately, through the encouragement given to us by the data school, and the emphasis put on peer learning we were able to work together in the cohort and quickly learn and support each other. This led to an understanding of Alteryx in the way that we were able to far quicker garner with Tableau. The excellent support we also received from the coaches and core team members at the Information Lab also cannot be understated on this growth either. We were also encouraged to undertake the Alteryx Core certification to help grow our understanding of Alteryx, and as of the writing of this article, the majority of us had undertaken and passed this, with some even undertaking and passing the Advanced certification! Hanna does a great blog on her experience of this (Both the core & Advanced).

Over this time we’ve come to love both of these tools, with their excellent logical and modular nature, but also some of their nuances and I can’t wait to undertake another 2 months of getting to grips with them, however the training and tools aren’t the only thing that makes the data school a great place to grow and learn.

Friday is project day – the best and worst day of the week

Every Friday we undertake a task, either working alongside an external client or a project set by Andy & Carl (which we don’t know till that Friday morning).

1-day Projects:

For some more information on what makes these projects both horrible and wonderful, you should check out Déborah’s blog (post). In the rest of this blog I will go through how these projects work, and how a quick Friday project differs from a week-long client project.

The 1-day projects aren’t really 1 day (that’d be too easy), they are more like 3 hours. On arrival at the DS on a Friday morning we are given instructions at 9am sharp to carry out a project that we will present to the rest of the DS in the afternoon (this is both cohorts (so DS13 & DS12 in our case so far, but soon to be DS14) as well as Andy, Carl, & often any of the core team who happen to also be in the office). These are often stressful with many of us often only getting to grips with the data after the 1st hour or so; but over time through the feedback given to us we have been able to get a better grip on how to handle the various tasks and undertake them in a more professional manner – these often include remembering to rehearse, facing the audience, and even as simple as just planning out our dashboards.

Weekly Projects

The weekly (client) projects however, behave quite differently. Unlike the Friday projects, we work together within our cohort to produce the desired task(s) for the client; an external company who wishes for the DS to carry out some work. During our time at the DS we haven’t had too many of these, but we will be undertaking many more of these over the next 8 weeks. During these projects a project manager is assigned from the cohort who is tasked with guiding and managing the project as well as assigning tasks and being the key point of contact with the client. Unlike the Friday projects we are given a week to tackle these projects, though this is often considerably shorter than this as we also have lots of teaching amongst other things during the week. Also, whilst we have more time the project is also far more exhaustive than a 1-day project. On Monday morning we are given a briefing by the client before we begin work upon the project, we also catch up with the client on a Wednesday to ask questions and assess progress before we present in to the rest of the DS and the client on a Friday afternoon. These projects are exhaustive, but also extremely rewarding.

The Data School

One of the main things I have taken away from my first 2 months at the data school is the family and friendly spirit within both DS13 & the information lab. This is kindled by having an ethos and structure that has everyone pulling in the same direction. While it can be daunting to think you are going “back to school” it’s not like that, it is most definitely a workplace where you are able to share, collaborate, and learn; whenever you are stuck or need help there is someone to find and more than willing to help. This is also further harnessed by the array of activities undertook by the information lab for both public consumptions, and within the company itself. These build bonds and understandings that are difficult to grow in other ways.

My time at the DS so far has absolutely flown by and it will be a strange feeling on Monday morning to see no DS12, but I am excited to meet DS14 and see the challenges that will unfold as the “senior” cohort. As for learning, I’m excited to continue on my journey and even further the skills I have gained so far, so here’s to another fantastic 2 months!