Data Analyst: Making Data Actionable

The data analyst is responsible for helping to distill an organization's technical data in a way that is meaningful to business decision makers.

Christina Giglio, branch manager for Robert Half Technology, says raw data would be “useless” to nontechnical users without help from data analysts. “Technical information needs an interpreter,” she says.

Data analyst salaries due to increase in 2014

Skilled data analysts are in demand, according to Giglio, and many leading employers are increasing starting compensation for this role. Robert Half Technology’s 2014 Salary Guide reports that the average starting salary for a data analyst in the United States is expected to increase 5.3 percent in 2014, ranging from $67,750 to $101,000.* (You can use the Robert Half Technology Salary Calculator to find salary information specific to your city.)

Becoming a data analyst

If you’re thinking about exploring a data analyst career, here are some of the qualifications that potential employers will be looking for:

  • Several years of experience working with major database platforms, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and IBM DB2
  • Strong analytical, quantitative and problem-solving abilities
  • A thorough knowledge of relational database theory and practice
  • A bachelor's degree in computer science, information systems or a related field
  • The ability to work both independently and collaboratively with data systems teams
  • Strong verbal and written communication, analytical and problem-solving skills

Giglio says that an ideal candidate for the data analyst role will have at least five years of experience with accounting or financials. For students who would like to pursue a data analyst career, she suggests obtaining degree in computer science or statistics and taking courses in math, data integrity and data modeling. For aspiring data analysts already on the hunt for entry-level positions, Giglio says, "Look for opportunities working with databases such as Microsoft SQL Server to get the key skills needed for your resume."

The responsibilities of the data analyst

Data analysts are responsible for analyzing complex data systems and documenting data elements, data flow, relationships and dependencies. In addition, they are often tasked with developing automated and reusable routines for extracting requested information from database systems. Data analysts also will usually work in partnership with business analysts, data architects and database developers to build data transaction and warehousing systems. Compiling detailed reports using data reporting tools such as Crystal Reports is another typical responsibility of the data analyst. “For this role, candidates need to be skilled in the tools used to retrieve and manipulate data,” says Giglio. “An understanding of the Microsoft stack of technologies and the Microsoft .NET development system can be helpful.” She adds that experience with Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle or IBM DB2 is also important for data analysts because these types of tools are essential for actually working with the data. While the data analyst job description is similar to that of the business intelligence analyst, data analysts do not typically play a part in making business decisions — although management may ask them to make recommendations based on their findings, says Giglio.

Look to Robert Half Technology's latest Salary Guide for job descriptions and starting compensation trends for a wide range of IT jobs — including data analyst. Want to learn about other types of analyst roles in IT? See this post about data warehouse analysts. *Data analyst/report writer salaries in Canada are expected to increase 5.1 percent in 2014, with starting compensation ranging from $72,250 - $99,250. Figures are in Canadian dollars.