Jessie Chen is naturally drawn to analyzing data.
“I just have a natural curiosity about data,” she says. “When I see it, I want to know what the distribution looks like. If I take data and apply it to our customers, I think about what kind of a chart I can use. What kind of conclusion can I draw? Even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it, it'd be hard to stop myself from wondering about these things.”
Outside of work, she has even applied her knack for numbers to creating models for understanding the principles of poker and critically thinking about data presented in the news.
Jessie, originally from China, is the product of her global experiences, which have shaped how she thinks about data and how she leads her team as the Director of Growth Analytics at Thumbtack.
We sat down with Jessie to hear about her experience as a data analyst and learn four valuable tips for working in data.
Finding Her Voice
Right out of college, Jessie joined an American e-commerce company in Shanghai, which moved her all around different regions of Korea, Singapore, the US, and Europe.
Working for such an international company meant that Jessie would have to communicate in English as a non-native speaker. Adding that to the complexity of being a conflict-avoidant woman in the tech world, she found that it could be discouraging to speak up.
“I used to think too much before speaking up,” she explains. “I was afraid that my opinions were not important enough. This led my teams to believe that I wasn’t interested, or that I was disengaged.”
Now, Jessie sees communication as an integral soft skill in data. “I wish someone would've told me earlier in my career that besides being good with data, you also need to be good at communication, talking to people, getting information, knowing who to talk to, knowing what kind of a resource you need to leverage in order to achieve your goal.”
When Jessie talks about ‘leverage’, she’s talking about the skills of influence and persuasion. According to her, data isn’t just about presenting the information or analysis insights.
She says, “Your goal is to make some kind of product change. And to achieve that, it's not only about presenting the data. You also need to have the skill of influence. You need to find the right resource, the right sponsor. You need to know who to talk to so they can support you in pushing this forward.”
Leading a Diverse Team
As the leader of a team composed of various cultural backgrounds, she leans into her international experience to help her empathize with her team members and pass on the indispensable soft skills she has acquired over her career.
“My team members all have very diverse backgrounds,” she shares. “I feel that I can easily understand their difficulties or insecurities because of my own background. As a team leader, I can use my past experiences to relate to them, coach them, and motivate them to grow professionally.”
She challenges her team members to communicate freely by asking for and giving regular feedback with the objective of creating a transparent workplace where each person feels comfortable, no matter who they are.
“Thumbtack intentionally encourages open discussion,” she explains. “They are very transparent, which makes people feel comfortable speaking up. We as employees feel like we are owners because we are trusted with information and given the chance to give feedback. Overall, the company culture is probably the most important thing that allows people to communicate honestly.”
In addition to this communicative culture, Jessie also highlights Thumbtack’s benefits as evidence of a company that truly cares about its employees and recognizes their diverse, international nature.
For example, she explains, “We have flexible PTO, and people are encouraged to take it. It feels a little like going back to Europe where people can feel free to take two weeks in the middle of the summer or in winter and not feel guilty or judged.”
Such a flexible vacation policy gives her and her team members the opportunity to travel home, visit friends abroad, or simply take time away from work.
Four Tips for Working in Data
From previous mentors to her experiences abroad, Jessie has a lot to share in regards to working in data. More than anything, she emphasizes that there’s more to data than just numbers.
She offers these four pieces of advice for anyone wanting to grow as a data professional:
- Build a solid foundation in analytical thinking. “Be a critical thinker. Challenge every number you see and take the time to prove the data.”
- Keep learning. “Refresh your skills and knowledge, and learn about the latest trends and technology.”
- Couple hard skills with soft skills. “Besides being good at data, you also need to be good at communication, presentation, and influence skills. Practice this by talking to people, getting information, knowing who to talk to and what information you need to achieve your goal.”
- Develop your network. “Besides presenting data, you need to know how to find the best resources and sponsors to present the data. It is important to develop a network to have contacts that will help you present data to the right people and meet your goals.”
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Thumbtack team, check out their openings here!