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The Data School: Former Facebook employee launches training programme for future data analysts

After working at Facebook as a data analyst, Andy Kriebel explains why he moved to the UK and launched a training programme for data scientists

Former Facebook analyst Andy Kriebel has launched an apprenticeship initiative to equip trainees with the skills needed to fill the data skills gap.

Dubbed the The Data School, the programme uses a mixture of project work and placements to train selected individuals in tools used for visualisation of data analytics Tableau and Alteryx.

Kriebel is head coach at data visualisation firm The Information Lab. He previously ran the Tableau implementation at Facebook.

“I travelled the world and trained employees and answered business questions. My job was to enable people in their roles to do data analysis more quickly with Tableau,” he said.

Lack of data skills

After moving to London, Kriebel joined The Information Lab and launched the training arm to provide people with the data analytics and visualisation skills the firm’s customers claimed they could not find.

“We thought, ‘we can’t find the people anywhere so we’ll just make them’, and that’s how it got started,” he said.

Kriebel said there was a limited pool of people with the required data skills because they are not commonly taught at universities. Instead, people pick up the skills on the job, but companies often require fully trained applicants who can step straight into the job.

“Participants go through four months of dedicated training and they’re paid by us – so they’re being paid to undertake this training,” said Kriebel.

“The idea is they’re learning everything they could possibly need to know about Tableau and Alteryx, but we also supplement that with weekly projects that they do from start to finish.”

Some projects will be for clients and others will be set by the school, but all of them develop the practical skills needed for a job in data.

During this time, the trainees will take exams to gain certification for their skills.

“They’re moving at a super-fast pace – I’m trying to prepare them for moving on and doing high-quality work really fast so when they go on assignments they’ll feel well equipped,” said Kriebel.

After four months of training at The Information Lab, the trainees will complete three work placements at client firms on a six-month rotation period to gain real-world skills and experience.

The programme will see the students gain skills and mentoring for two years, after which client firms are given the option to take them on. Alternatively, the students can stay at The Information Lab as a consultant.

“Recruiters don’t really know what makes a good Tableau or Alteryx person and they don’t know how to judge the quality of the person, whereas we build the people. We know they’re good and we know we have the best trainers in the world,” said Kriebel.

“So when we’re placing them with customers for full-time roles, the customers know they’re going to be high-quality people.”

After moving on from the programme, access to mentoring and The Information Lab’s network will be available for a further year to help trainees settle into a role.

Who do they need?

Tableau is used during the programme’s application process, but applicants do not need to have used the software before or necessarily have previous skills in the area.

“What we’re looking for is enthusiasm. If someone is willing to learn a tool just for the job, they’re probably pretty keen and they’ll fit in well, so it’s been a great filter,” said Kriebel.

Candidates are initially judged on the outcome of their submitted Tableau project before they are interviewed.

“Our target is typically someone who has been working for a couple of years and has figured out what they want to do, but we don’t limit it to that,” said Kriebel.

“It could be a 60-year-old former teacher or someone who has never worked with data before – if they have the passion to do it it’s fine by me.”

Although many of The Information Lab’s clients believe the industry is in need of more people with skills in data, they are not always able to afford to take apprentices on in full-time contracted roles for six months at a time as part of the programme. However, organisations involved in the initiative have been positive about their participation and what it is trying to achieve.

“They all recognise this is a great talent pool for them to pull from and everybody thinks it’s a brilliant idea,” said Kriebel.

The current cohort of eight trainees is a mixture of men and women from around the world. Applications for the next cohort will be accepted until 25 September 2015 for the programme starting in November.

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That sounds like an excellent program. It seems unreasonable to me for a company to expect to easily find candidates that are highly trained in a niche area. Let them learn on the job; smart and enthusiastic people can learn the concepts and tools in a matter of months. The company will build loyal employees this way.
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