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1 year ago
The Missing Analytics Executive

Originally published in Benn.Substack, Nov 19, 2021.

There’s a treadmill at the mountain top.

Among the data leaders I know, many of their stories are the same. After rising up the ranks of their organizations, from junior analysts and data scientists, through positions as team leads and managers, and eventually to directors and VPs, their data careers stalled. Somewhere between senior management and the executive team, they found themselves caught at sea, adrift between the land they loved and the aspirational new world they left it for.

The shoreline behind them—the ones many of us leave, in the name of career advancement—are those of our intellectual homeland: The creative work that attracted many of us to the data industry in the first place. By making the leap into management, we gave up data’s puzzles and problems to lead teams, set OKRs, and manage vendor contracts;1 we gave up giving in to curiosity; we gave up, in a more subtle sense, the work that makes many of us us.2 We traded them away for pay and prestige, and for a sense of professional progress.3

Our aspirational destination is a position of senior leadership. It’s in the CEO’s inner circle, in board meetings, in the room where it happens. It’s where strategic decisions get made, and where we aren’t handling requests from other teams, but making them. It’s where, as the cliché goes, we have an impact.

Most people never make it. Companies rarely have data leaders that sit among those at the top of the org chart. Analysts are typically told to drop anchor just offshore, one step below the c-suite, buried underneath some other function and some other executive.

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