The dangerous analyst

Every pre canned report and every email to a fellow analyst or engineer requesting data says the same thing. “SPOON-FEED ME DATA PLEASE!”

A friend and former colleague summarized it best while discussing what it’s like to work with an analyst and/or operator who can’t pull their own data.

“It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you want is a knife” And it’s also not ironic. It’s damn well frustrating.

An analyst with a knife, now that’s a dangerous analyst. 😅

As such, here’s my plea to all my friends in FP&A, Accounting, Business Operations, Marketing Operations, Demand Generation, Sales Operations, and any variation of Analytics at all technology companies.

Get dangerous. Learn to write SQL. It makes you 10x better at your job. I promise.

I wrote about the ways in which analysis today is evolving - it’s more cross functional and horizontal than ever before. The evolution of databases and ETL tools have allowed cross departmental data to be combined in ways unparalleled historically, and writing SQL is the single most powerful tool an analyst can learn to modernize their skills.

Relying on data that’s been pre canned - well you’re analyzing data that’s already been analyzed. That's a constrained place from which to start, while the most interesting analysis sets out to explore uncharted territory.

Relying on others to pull you data - aside from being slow and inefficient, it’s like reading a translation of any piece of literature. You’re depending entirely on the translator, and almost always context is lost in translation.

The beauty of SQL, like any programming language, is that there’s no room for nuance or interpretation. The simple act of writing a query is a forcing function to understand precisely what you’re asking of the business and to document an explicit record of how the question was asked. It’s the most dependable way to build a robust understanding of the business.

There’s a very real flywheel effect to learning SQL and it goes something like this:

  • Develop a better understanding of the business by diving into the data warehouse.
  • Produce better, faster insights.
  • Get asked more questions.
  • Touch more areas of the business.
  • Develop a better understanding of the business
  • 🚀

My advice: like learning any new language, full immersion is best. For example, set a strict rule that for 2-3 weeks you’re only going to access data through SQL queries. By the end of that period, you’ll tangibly feel the benefits. In fact, SQL scripting was never a skill for which I screened when hiring at Intercom, but one I strictly required learning while onboarding.

If you don’t believe me, read the following example of what one person with only Excel and SQL did for a 17+ year old business like PayPal.

There are opportunities like this abound.

Get dangerous. Learn SQL.

Image credit: "The English dance of death Volume 1" by William Comb. https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/death-blow/
Bobby Pinero

Bobby Pinero

CEO and Co-Founder of Equals. Previously built and led Finance and Analytics at Intercom, from <$1M ARR to $150M+ (20 employees to 600+).
San Francisco