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3 ways to boost your tech and data skills

Here’s how you can develop practical skills while advancing your career

Danielle Walsh and Matt Rowe work in Elsevier’s tech hub in Philadelphia. (Photo by Alison Bert)
Danielle Walsh and Matt Rowe work in Elsevier’s tech hub in Philadelphia. (Photo by Alison Bert)

Whether you’re just out of college or director of data science for a major corporation, you share a common challenge: there’s always more to learn. And in the ever-evolving world of technology and big data, the skills that served you well just a few years ago are probably not enough today.

So here are a few practical ways you can develop your skills – or build new ones.

1. Volunteer for a hackathon.

 At the DataKind DataDive in New York, Dr. William Gunn, Director of Scholarly Communications at Elsevier, works helps Cherisse Thomas with data cleanup and pivot tables. Cherisse had just completed an MBA in data analytics. (Photo by Alison Bert)

At a recent DataKind DataDive, people with a wide array of technical and analytical skills converged at Google headquarters in Manhattan to work on projects for human rights organizations. Some volunteers were seasoned professionals; others were students exploring new ways to apply their skills.

“There was a large variability in skill, which means there was something to learn no matter what your skill level,” said Dr. William Gunn, Director of Scholarly Communications for Elsevier, who used his skills in programming, data analysis and data visualization. “Participating in a hack day is a good way to practice new skills in a supportive environment.”

Regardless of their level, the experience gave participants an opportunity to build on their skills by working closely with people with different skills and abilities. That was the case for Jonathan Zimmerman, a longtime analyst who is currently Associate Director of Customer Insights at Elsevier. Jonathan said he volunteered in part to see if he could expand his horizons in data analysis:

With Elsevier becoming more and more focused on data analysis, we all need to step up our data analysis skills. Now, when I walk through the office, every single person is looking at data. That wasn't the case when I started working here.

Even people without technical experience were welcome; organizers pointed out that they needed a wide array of “non-technical” skills, including project management, manually classifying data sets, research, Q&A testing and documentation. If you bring any of those skills to a DataDive or hackathon, there’s a good chance you will be able to work alongside professionals in technology and data science, learning from them while seeing which technical skills you would like to develop going forward.

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2. Develop your skills on the job.

 A employee in Elsevier’s Philadelphia tech hub brushes up on his Java skills. (Photo by Alison Bert)

When you apply for a job in technology, you will obviously need to have certain skills before you are hired. However, that’s just the beginning; to excel at the job – and your career – you will most likely have to develop those skills and learn new ones. That’s why it’s important to look for an employer that encourages professional development – formal learning as well as the chance to learn from your peers at work.

The opportunity for professional development was a focus for Beth Dickerson of Philadelphia when she started her job search. After completing a 4-month full stack software development bootcamp, she encountered Elsevier at local tech meetups. “I was impressed by their involvement in the local tech scene, and I felt like this was a company I wanted to be a part of,” she said:

I wanted to work at a company that could offer a range of resources for learning and improving, and Elsevier convinced me because I had already seen part of their work to be rooted in this city. As I interviewed with them, I learned about internal training resources and opportunities, as well as the experience of working on a team, and felt that they offered the most out of the companies I was interviewing with.

Now she is developing her skills as a software engineer at Elsevier. She works as a front-end developer on the User Interface (UI) team of Elsevier’s ClinicalKey, a search engine for medical reference used by hospitals, universities and other institutions.

The chance to learn on the job was also a priority for her teammate Meghan Kelly, who helps design products for nursing education as a User Experience Specialist for Clinical Solutions.

Meghan came to technology from working in K-12 and higher education.

When I decided I wanted to become a UX Designer, I started attending local events and classes, creating a portfolio of projects, and learning from those who were already in the field.

As a new UX designer, the most important thing to me was to work in a supportive environment that allowed me to learn a lot. When I came in for my interview, I could tell that the people I’d be working with – especially my manager – would be understanding about me being new to UX … Once I arrived at Elsevier, I had more specific training from my manager about how our team uses Lean UX to tackle projects.

Once she arrived at Elsevier, she received more specific training on how to use Lean UX for team projects.

3. Use data analysis tools for your own work.

With the Plum Print data visualization, each colored circle represents a metrics category. The larger the circle, the more metrics in that category.

There’s nothing like the “hands-on” experience of using an online tool to figure out how to how to analyze and display data. Many of these tools are free and readily available. For example, if you have a website or monitor one for your company, you may already be using Google Analytics. Even the free version has broad capabilities that enable you to collect data about how many people visit your website, where they come from, and what they do on your site. You can also use the app to prepare detailed reports, experimenting with different ways to analyze and explain your data.

To get better at visualizing data, you can start with the chart function in Excel, using online videos and community forums to learn more. Beyond that, there are dedicated data visualization tools like Tableau. In addition, there are open-source programs available; William Gunn uses Gephi and Neo4j.

If you’re a researcher, Elsevier has specialized tools for data and analysis, some of which are free to use:

  • To share data, Mendeley Data lets you store your datasets from research experiments and search the datasets of other researchers. If you choose to make your data visible to others, the system also makes your data citable so other researchers can cite it.
  • CiteScore Metrics, accessible through ScienceDirect and Scopus, let you see the

impact of all journals and other documents indexed in Scopus, including those without an Impact Factor. With free access to the underlying data, anyone can calculate the values. You can also use CiteScore Tracker to monitor the impact of journal each month rather than waiting for the annual announcement. Here’s the CiteScore search page on Scopus.

  • SciVal has tools you can use to highlight and visualize the impact of your research for assessment and funding purposes or find collaborators. If you’re a research administrator, it lets you assess the performance of your research groups and benchmark your institution’s performance relative to peer institutions.
  • PlumX Metrics lets you see how people are interacting with your research articles – for example, if it’s mentioned in the news or if people tweet about it. They measure activity in five categories: usage, captures, mentions, social media, and citations. You can find the Plum Print on Scopus.

Prof. Bert Blocken, PhDProf. Bert Blocken of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and KU Leuven in Belgium said PlumX and Mendeley have been particularly important to his work as a researcher and professor.

One of the reasons I like what Elsevier is doing with PlumX and Mendeley is that they’re giving authors insights into more than just citations. Starting this year in one of my universities, the peer evaluation of our research as a department will explicitly take into account media mentions and appearances. Things are changing in that direction, where impact is no longer only measured by number of citations, so being able to see the different ways your research is used is very valuable.

Quick question for you

Which terms do you most associate with Elsevier? (check all that apply)

Data and analytics
Research platforms
Technology
Decision support tools
Publishing
Books and journals
Scientific articles
Healthcare content

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