November 1st, 2021, I celebrated joining Maven Analytics on a full-time basis. It was a time of great joy for me, but I may be even happier about how this full-time role came to be.
If I’ve learned anything in my time with Maven, it’s that context is king. So here is a bit of context for you.
I’m not a risk-prone individual and I come from a cultural background where changes are not welcome. I have a traditional upbringing that ideally follows a simple pattern: go to school, get a job (in a state-owned company if possible), and stay in that job until retirement.
Changing jobs, which means taking a risk when you already have a steady income and a contract, was considered downright insane and was (still is) frowned upon by the vast majority of my peers and even more so by older generations. Additionally, continued learning and education (after formal schooling is done) is not an extremely high priority. Unsurprisingly then, once school was over, I started down this familiar path. I had a stable job, was a few years into my career, and everything was going as “planned.”
Fast forward a few years and now I work from home with a group of people that I haven’t actually met in person yet. Plus, Maven’s offices are 7,000 km (4,300 miles) away from my home.
You may be asking yourself; how did this happen?
It all started with a Google search. I was getting into a routine that, to be blunt, was getting quite dull. Don’t get me wrong, things were going ok, but it was increasingly obvious that things were as good as they were ever going to be. I felt that some of the experience and skills I had were starting to fade, simply from not being used. So, I decided to do something about it in my free time. In my job I used Excel on a daily basis but in a very narrow scope, I decided to try and expand on that.
I didn't find Maven so much as it found me. Specifically, it was either LinkedIn or YouTube (I don’t remember anymore) that threw a suggestion at me – it was Chris Dutton’s Excel Formulas and Functions course.
At the time I fancied myself somewhat of an advanced Excel user, but I was way off. The course blew my mind. The delivery, the tone, the slides, and the narrative were so well packaged that it required no effort at all to go through the course. It struck me how important these nuances are when learning a new topic as they allowed me to focus completely on the content (think very boring vs. engaging college professor) and not waste any energy on trying to decipher what was being said. Yet still, the best thing by far about the course was the content. It was so applicable that my wife (who has very little Excel skill) even took some slides to work and used them to help with her own tasks.
After a short while, I ended up going through Chris’s courses as a hobby. I would do it instead of reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a game. Bonus: my productivity at work increased, allowing more free time!
I worked through almost every Excel course Maven had at the time, at least the courses covering topics that I was already familiar with or knew existed. This approach left one course that I was reluctant to take – Power Pivot, Power Query and DAX. I had no idea that Excel had this type of capability, I didn’t even know it existed. But, after taking the course everything changed for me. Through the Power Pivot, Power Query, and DAX course, I learned about Power BI and the whole BI ecosystem. I realized that I used some parts of this ecosystem in my work without even being aware of the whole picture. It opened my eyes to a whole new world that I was completely oblivious about. And this course gave me another lifelong passion – DAX. For as long as I’m around, I’ll probably tinker with DAX and be in awe at the complexity of its simplicity.
At this point I was hooked and my view of how Excel and Power BI could be used in the workplace was forever changed.
In early 2020 I was working from home, because of the lockdown, and I noticed an announcement about a teaching assistant (TA) role for Maven’s courses on Udemy. The announcement was already 6-7 months old, and I felt nowhere near confident enough to consider teaching others to use Excel - let alone Power BI. I was about to close out of the page, but I paused. I really liked Maven’s teaching style, I thoroughly enjoyed any work using Excel or Power BI, and the idea of doing this on a daily basis, and getting compensated for it, was flawless.
So, I did something I’ve done a precious few times before in my life. I reached out.
I was surprised to see an answer in my inbox in a very short time. So short in fact that I was sure it was a one-line polite refusal. It wasn’t. It was an introduction to Aaron Parry, Head of Customer Success at Maven Analytics, and a guy responsible for Udemy Q&A. Aaron had a quite simple request – jump in and try it out.
We agreed on a timeframe where I’d comb through the questions and help as best I can with answers and support. I threw everything I had at this. I rewatched Maven’s course videos, I read articles and posts, binge watched YouTube videos, recreated issues, and tested different solutions. I did everything I could to feel 100% confident that I could break down a problem and provide a solution so the person asking the question would understand it too.
At the end of the trial period, Aaron offered me a position as a TA for 2 courses on Udemy – Power Pivot, Power Query & DAX and Up and Running with Power BI Desktop. And so, in April 2020, my adventure with Maven began as a part time side gig.
I loved every minute of it. I was learning so much, and once I left the “go to school, get a job, and stay in it forever” comfort zone, I started asking myself: if this is possible, then what else is?
What else was I missing out on by staying in my comfort zone?
After a few weeks, as if my thoughts were read, Aaron emailed me my very first performance evaluation and asked if I’d consider taking on another course. In my head I said “yes,” even before I read which course he wanted me to manage. And just like that I added the Microsoft Excel: Pro Tips course to my TA responsibilities.
At this point, I’d completely let my guard down with Maven and was open to any new opportunity they threw my way. Within the calendar year, I added Advanced DAX and Power BI Service to my TA responsibilities. Was I an expert in DAX or Power BI Service? Absolutely not. But as I had learned, and proved to myself, I was able to pick things up quickly and learn by doing. I think a lot of people can relate to this, learning by doing is far superior to learning by watching or listening.
It was around this time that two things became clear:
I was enjoying my work with students and the BI ecosystem far more than I did working at my regular day job.
The total amount of time needed for two jobs was starting to become too much to manage, especially as my family became larger
It was time to make a big choice.
This is right about the time in my story where I’d tell you to do the same thing I did, to let go, leave your comfort zone, trust in yourself and good things will happen. But that’s only half the story, and as analysts we mustn’t skew the data to make it look nice. Think back to the context I outlined at the beginning of this post and add to it 10 years in a corporate world that had very little to do with BI or online education and support. The truth is choices like this are tough and scary, and I honestly hope that if you’re faced with a similar decision that you’re as fortunate as I was to have help making it.
It would have been so simple, so easy to stick with the easy, known choice (the blue pill as it were). But the thing is, I already knew where that choice led.
So, I reached out again.
And now, here I am at Maven, as someone who has played many different roles. I’m an economist, a sales guy, an office guy, a support guy, but more importantly I’m on my way to becoming something more than a guy working a job at the same company until retirement.
What is that something more?
Maybe it’s a student support manager, a DAX guru, or a Power BI instructor. I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that the path I’m on is awesome!
See you on the other side!
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