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What Is Data Analysis and How Can You Start Learning It Today?

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Did you know that data science and analysis positions are often the hardest ones for a company to fill? Thanks to exploding demand for data professionals, there are a ton of open roles and not enough candidates to fill them.

Translation? It's an exciting field to get into and the career prospects are amazing.

Now, just to clear up a common misconception right off the bat: you don’t need to be a math/computer science/coding whiz to land a job in data analysis.

But how do you know if data analysis is something that might interest you? And how can you start a career in data analysis if you have no background in it?

In this sponsored post in partnership with Udemy, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting started with data analysis. What is data analysis? What possible jobs are available in the field? How can you start learning the tools and skills you’ll need to land a data analysis job?

Let's jump right in!

What is data analysis?

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Udemy and I’m also an affiliate for them. If you buy a Udemy course through the links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!


What Is Data Analysis?

First things first: what IS data analysis?

In short, data analysis involves sorting through massive amounts of unstructured information and deriving key insights from it. These insights are enormously valuable for decision-making at companies of all sizes.

A quick note here: data analysis and data science are not the same. Although they belong to the same family, data science is typically more advanced (a lot more programming, creating new algorithms, building predictive models, etc.).

How is data analysis done?

Here's an overview of how data analysis is done:

  1. Define the question or goal behind the analysis: what are you trying to discover?
  2. Collect the right data to help answer this question.
  3. Perform data cleaning/data wrangling to improve data quality and prepare it for analysis and interpretation–getting data into the right format, getting rid of unnecessary data, correcting spelling mistakes, etc.
  4. Manipulate data using Excel or Google Sheets. This may include plotting the data out, creating pivot tables, and so on.
  5. Analyze and interpret the data using statistical tools (i.e. finding correlations, trends, outliers, etc.).
  6. Present this data in meaningful ways: graphs, visualizations, charts, tables, etc. Data analysts may report their findings to project managers, department heads, and senior-level business executives to help them make decisions and spot patterns and trends.

The great thing about data analysis is that it’s more of an entry-level role, meaning you can jump right in with basic knowledge after you sharpen a few key skills. (Of course, it certainly won't hurt if you already have experience with coding, math, or statistics!)

Becoming a data analyst can also open the door to lucrative careers like data science and data engineering (just to name a few) as you gain more experience on the job.

Why You Should Learn Data Analysis Skills

To see why data analysis is a great career field to get into, it seems only right that we look at the data!

  • Job growth: The anticipated job growth for market research analysts (another term for data analysts) between 2014-2024 is 19%, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a significant amount of new positions being created.
  • Demand: According to Digital Learning Academy, creators of Introduction to Data Analysis and Statistics Using SQL, “There is a demand for people who can use data to perform reporting and analysis, thus helping businesses and organizations make important and critical decisions.”
  • Salary: Data analysts are paid well even if they don't continue on to data science or engineering! How much do data analysts make? According to Payscale, entry-level data analysts will receive an annual salary between $40,000 – $77,000 (average of $56,000). Senior data analysts can bump that up as high as $109,000.
  • Competitive advantage: According to Ian Littlejohn, instructor of Complete Introduction to Business Data Analysis,  “The ability to ask questions of your data is a powerful competitive advantage, resulting in new income streams, better decision making and improved productivity.”
  • Universal need: According to Symon He and Travis Chow, instructors of Intro to Data Analysis using EXCEL for Beginners, “Every business generates data. But [its value] depends on your ability to process, manipulate, and ultimately translate that data into useful insights.”

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Popular Careers That Rely on Data Analysis

One really cool thing about gaining data analysis skills is that they don't lock you into a single career. Sure, you could become a data analyst and stay there for decades if you love it–but there's also freedom to pivot in other directions if you choose.

Businesses in nearly every industry use data to power decisions, gain a competitive advantage, boost sales, win new customers, improve internal operations, maximize profits, etc. This makes data analysis skills useful in many roles.

Here are some of the top jobs that involve data analysis.

1. Data Analyst

First of all, let's look a little more at actual data analyst roles.

What is a data analysis role? Data analysts retrieve and gather large volumes of data, organize it, and turn it into insights businesses can use to make better decisions and reach conclusions (they create charts, visual presentations, etc.). In short: they take worthless data and produce meaningful, actionable results.

For example, a data analyst might take an overwhelming amount of information collected from thousands of customer surveys (or look at past customer purchases, etc.), clean it up, and produce reports and visual representations of the data to pinpoint ways to improve the company’s product/increase revenues (whether it’s an app, luxury car manufacturer, supermarket, etc.)

data analyst

Quick facts about data analysis as a career:

  • You can work in a wide variety of industries like healthcare, finance, marketing, fast food, retail IT, etc. Whatever you’re interested in!
  • Average salary: $65,470
  • Demand has exploded for data analysts because we’re creating more and more new data every day. For example, Google processes 40,000+ search queries every second on average (3.5M searches each day, 1.2 trillion searches per year). And this continues to climb!
  • Data Analyst ranked #38 in Glassdoor’s 50 Best Jobs in America, 2018

2. Business Analyst

What do business analysts do? They identify meaningful patterns in data to drive business decisions, working closely with business VPs and senior managers. Their duties may involve predictions, optimizations, risk management, and so forth.

business analyst

Quick facts about business analysis as a career:

  • A business analyst is mostly concerned with the day-to-day operations of a business and how to fine-tune business processes
  • Great if you’re interested in/have a background in business or finance
  • Less science/math based than the traditional data analyst role
  • Average salary: $70,170

3. Product Manager

What do product managers do? Product managers own and guide the success of products from conception to launch. Each stage requires data analytics! You must analyze the market for trends and problems to solve, leverage data to determine how to improve features, and figure out how to make the product even better in subsequent versions.

product manager

Quick facts about product management as a career:

  • All businesses have products (services count!). This opens up a ton of possibilities as far as what industry or type of company you can work in
  • Great for those coming from a customer-facing background as you can better understand users
  • Average salary: $108,978

4. Digital Marketer

What do digital marketers do? Digital marketers must understand consumer habits/motivations, detect changing trends, and track performance in order to improve ads, social media campaigns, and SEO strategies.

digital marketer

Quick facts about digital marketing as a career:

  • Successful digital marketers must rely on data! Whether it's identifying user demographics, measuring clicks and conversions to determine campaign success, or sifting through historical data to choose high-performing strategies, data is important
  • Great hybrid role for someone coming from a content creation, advertising, or traditional marketing background
  • Average salary: $67,230

5. Quantitative Analyst

What do quantitative analysts do? Quantitative analysts  (“quants”) are data analysis professionals who work in the financial industry, leveraging data and data models to manage risk, predict changes in the valuation of stock and bonds, and make data-driven investment decisions.

quantitative analyst

Quick facts about quantitative analysis as a career:

  • Great if you love math!
  • Perfect role for someone who can't decide between tech and finance
  • Usually requires a master's degree in a related field
  • Average salary: $94,051


Key Data Analysis Skills to Learn (And Where You Can Learn Them!)

Beyond great problem solving, communication, and creativity skills, you’ll also need some specific tech skills to succeed at data analysis.

Each of the tech skills below will build on the next, so don’t worry about learning everything at once. There are some you can learn right now through analytics courses on Udemy, and others you can learn and improve on the job.

Here are the most common skills/tools you’ll need to get a career in data analysis or grow your data analysis skills to help in another role! Plus, the data analytics courses where you can start learning them.

Excel (Spreadsheets)

What it is: Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program that allows you to perform complex data analysis. Excel’s built in pivot tables are one of the most popular analytic tools.

Why learn it: According to Diego Fernandez, instructor of Excel for Data Analysis: Basic to Expert Level, “Learning Excel is essential for any professional or academic career based on data analysis. It is the most commonly used data analysis software both professionally and academically and it’s a solid foundation before learning any other.”

Where to learn it: Microsoft Excel – Data Analysis with Excel Pivot Tables

What the course covers: You’ll learn the Excel skills to take you from zero to pro with Excel's most powerful data analysis tools.

Course facts:

  • Course Name: Microsoft Excel – Data Analysis with Excel Pivot Tables
  • Course URL: https://www.udemy.com/data-analysis-with-excel-pivot-tables/
  • Instructed by: Chris Dutton
  • Price: $174.99
  • Students enrolled: 17,231
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • What you’ll learn: Excel, including PivotTables & PivotCharts
  • Course includes:
    • 6 hours on-demand video
    • 6 supplemental resources
    • Full lifetime access

What past students say:

“This is a great course. You can feel confident putting this skill on your resume after taking this course. The lectures are in-depth and easy to follow. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to not just learn PivotTables, but become a true expert.” – Monique Chin

SQL (Database Language)

What it is: SQL (Structured Query Language) is a language used to interact with databases that store data, allowing us to retrieve data quickly and easily.

Why learn it: SQL allows you perform operations on millions of rows of data. It’s the 2nd most in-demand skill for data analysis jobs (only after data analysis itself!)

Where to learn it: SQL for Newbs: Data Analysis for Beginners

What the course covers: You’ll learn real-world SQL (not just the theory in abstract, but real skills you can start using immediately), as well as how to find actionable customer/business insights and make data-driven decisions.

Course facts:

  • Course Name: SQL for Newbs: Data Analysis for Beginners
  • Course URL: https://www.udemy.com/sql-for-newbs/
  • Instructed by: David Kim & Peter Sefton
  • Price: $199.99
  • Students enrolled: 37,152
  • Fun fact: This course has been taken by marketing employees at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Lyft, and Udemy!
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • What you’ll learn: SQL, including MySQL
  • Course includes:
    • 3.5 hours on-demand video
    • Full lifetime access
    • 5 bonus lectures

What past students say:

“Very understandable and practical. Was able to do some real world use cases at my work after first couple of lessons. Wonderful intro to SQL with very engaging instructors. Cudos!” – Rimvydas Jančiauskas

R (Programming Language)

What it is: R is a programming language for statistical computing and graphics. It is widely used among statisticians, data miners, data analysts, business analysts, and data scientists for developing statistical software, data analysis, machine learning and so on.

Why learn it: According to Arpan Gupta, instructor of R Programming for Data Analysis & Data Visualization, “R gives aspiring analysts and data scientists the ability to represent complex sets of data in an impressive way.” R has been adopted by many high-profile companies like Google and Facebook as the language of choice to analyze data.

Where to learn it: Applied Statistical Modeling for Data Analysis in R

What the course covers: It provides a robust foundation to carry out practical, real-life statistical data analysis tasks in R, one of the most popular and free data analysis frameworks.

Course facts:

  • Course Name: Applied Statistical Modeling for Data Analysis in R
  • Course URL: https://www.udemy.com/applied-statistical-modeling-for-data-analysis-in-r/
  • Instructed by: Minerva Singh
  • Price: $199.99
  • Students enrolled: 2,152
  • Skill level: All levels
  • What you’ll learn: R for statistical data analysis and visualization tasks for data modelling
  • Course includes:
    • 9.5 hours of lectures
    • 40 Supplemental Resources
    • Full lifetime access

What past students say:

“Everything you need is here in clear, concise value-packed content.” – Vladimir Vitch

Data Visualization

What it is: Data visualization helps key decision-makers in a business (usually non-tech senior execs) see analytics presented visually in graphs, charts, etc. so they can identify trends and patterns and understand complex information.

Why learn it: If you are creative, this may be the perfect skill to learn. Learning data visualization can give you an edge over other job applicants since employers are looking for people who understand both the science and art behind data analysis.

Where to learn it: Introduction to Data Visualization

What the course covers: Everything you need to start your own data visualization project, including basic and advanced chart types and the psychology of visualization with Gestalt Principles.

Course facts:

  • Course Name: Introduction to Data Visualization
  • Course URL: https://www.udemy.com/introduction-to-data-visualization/
  • Instructed by: Ajay Nayak
  • Price: $49.99
  • Students enrolled: 11,989
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • What you’ll learn: All of the key aspects of data visualization
  • Course includes:
    • 1.5 hours on-demand video
    • Full lifetime access

What past students say:

“Really good! Concise and very clear! If you're not familiar with data visualization, want to learn and don't know where to start, start here and take this course!” – Sandy Putranto

Other Skills to Consider Learning:

These skills will also give you a leg up in data analysis roles:

  • Google Sheets (basically the cloud version of Excel)
  • Tableau (you can download a free version to get started!)
  • Data Studio (Google’s free data visualization tool)
  • Google Analytics/Google AdWords
  • College algebra math skills (linear algebra and multivariable calculus will give you a competitive advantage, but it’s by no means required to land a data analysis job)
  • Basic understanding of machine learning (you don’t need to know how to invent new algorithms, just the basic foundation of machine learning). Learn more about machine learning here.

If you're interested in going to school, typical college majors of data analysts include business, economics, statistics, and computer science.


Today's companies are being flooded with data, and they desperately need people capable of making sense of it for them. As the Internet of Things comes into its own, those needs will only multiply.

If you're unsure about which direction to take in tech, data is a good place to be. Large global companies are already appointing Chief Data Officers (CDOs), showing the extent to which they're taking data management seriously. Someone who starts pursuing a data career today could be in a very lucrative position in very little time.

According to IBM, by 2020 the number of jobs for all US data professionals will increase to 2,720,000–adding over 350,000 roles during those three years.

Will you be able to fill one of them?!

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