We recently caught up with Julian Pietrangelo. Julian works at UK children’s charity, Barnardo’s, and was recently awarded an impressive grade in his Data Analyst apprenticeship.
Alongside his job as a data analyst, Julian, who identifies as a trans man, is chair of the Trans Network at Barnardo’s.
What made you go for an apprenticeship?
Retraining, essentially. I did a physics degree and worked as a teacher at the beginning of my career, but when I stopped teaching I wasn’t sure what else I was qualified for. I started working at Barnardo’s with an internship, then took a couple of admin or office assistant type roles.
Within these jobs, I didn’t have much of an outlet for the skills I had gained in my degree, like analytical thinking and bits of coding. However, I always found a way to add some data into my day-to-day role. This often meant improving reporting processes to have more calculations or neat visuals to share with stakeholders.
I started an apprenticeship when I was working as a Product Manager. I had been getting myself involved in the development side of the data products that I was managing and my managers knew I was interested in data analysis so they gave me the opportunity.
The apprenticeship was essentially to help me develop my knowledge, and learn more about the full cycle of working with data. I also felt like I needed a bit more direction and accountability so an apprenticeship suited me. Kaplan seemed like a good training provider to pick as it was so broad in scope.
Have you always been interested in data?
I think I’ve always been interested in data. When I stopped teaching, I took some online courses in things like SQL and designing relational databases. I was trying to figure out what to aim for next while I was searching for a job. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep this up when I got a paid job due to my long commute and the time commitment.
Since then, I always found ways to bring more data into whatever job I was doing. Now that I work with data full time, I still manage to bring data into my hobbies.
What challenges did you face during the apprenticeship?
I think that one of the main challenges was that I started as a Product Manager, and then half way through the apprenticeship I secured a Data Analyst role within the same organisation. Initially, because I was in a team that wasn’t overseen by a data analyst, getting access to real data and projects was quite difficult.
With the apprenticeship, you can work on projects that are actual requests from the business. I wasn’t being assigned any of these projects because I was still on a different team. I needed someone with more power to say, “have this project, this will meet the criteria you need,” so in the beginning I was a bit stressed about my portfolio meeting all the criteria. It was much better once I transferred teams.
Another challenge was balancing some of the longer projects for the apprenticeship with my regular work, which comes in two-week cycles. It would have been helpful to have more reminders or guidance on deadlines, or what I should be working on, as I didn’t always find that clear.
However, the taught modules were really good and enjoyable, and I liked the exercises in the virtual classrooms. I loved having access to DataCamp too. My tutor was also really approachable, though a lot of the time I needed to actively pursue the support that I wanted. This was easy enough for me to do, but might not suit everyone.
Can you talk a bit about the skills that you developed?
The course covered quite a range of skills and languages, which meant that I got to try things out and see how they fit. I also got to work with data that I don’t normally have access to.
I work primarily with Children’s Services data, which needs a lot of cleaning and transforming but not much in the way of analysis. It was good to get more of a formal introduction to statistical methods like sampling and testing for significance, for example.
I predominantly work in Power BI, making visuals and handling data in different ways. It’s fun, but if I want to move on from this job, or get a different analyst role that works with far more transactional data, or anything where we want to do any statistical testing, at least I can now fall back on my apprenticeship portfolio and show that I’ve got this experience and passed my qualification. Otherwise, in my day-to-day work, I’m slightly more restricted with the types of analysis tasks that I do.
Were there any soft skills that you gained?
I suppose that the main soft skill that I developed directly on the apprenticeship would have been initiative and problem-solving. If there was something that I had to do, or wanted to be able to do, it was my project and no one was going to do it for me.
I also became more rigorous in how I solved problems. For example, I looked up how to make temporary tables in SQL, then used them in my solution and figured out how to test my solution to check that I was getting the result I expected.
What advice would you give to someone going into the Data and Technology industry?
If you’re interested in technology and data, even if you’re not in a relevant job yet, you can most likely find things you can do in your current job to help you gain some form of experience and practice. Find out what the easy-to-use, open source version of a programme you’re interested in is, and try to move tasks that you already do into it. Maybe you can cut out some processing steps in Excel using Power Query, or perhaps you can save yourself some time by automating a couple of tasks with a Python script you found on the internet and modified.
Also, have a look for people making good tutorials and other content that you can learn from and put into practice in your own work. I am a fan of Evergreen Data (I learnt how to make so many attractive visuals in Excel from this site) and Curbal YouTube channel (for Power BI tips).
So, I’d say to stay curious, and try to apply anything you learn to something you are already doing.
What about people who are changing careers to this industry?
I think one of the benefits I’ve had, and where I carved a niche for myself in my team, is that I have all of the skills, knowledge, and behaviours of an analyst, as well as a lot of existing knowledge relating to this organisation. That’s given me a huge head start in understanding business requirements or interpreting data for our users.
Skills in data and technology can be learnt, while knowledge of a particular industry, business area or workplace is less easily acquired. If you want to change to a career in data, you might be able to give yourself an advantage by staying in the same business area and putting all your past experience to good use.
Ready to change your career?
If you’re feeling inspired by Julian’s experience, browse through our Data Analyst Level 4 apprenticeship and kickstart your career in data and technology. You can also read more about how to talk to your current employer about starting an apprenticeship.
You can also read more about Julian’s experience at Barnardo's and the importance of being an inclusive and welcoming organisation.