Lillian Pierson

Data Viz Wiz | Journalist | Growth Hacker
Founder of Data-Mania... I love big data, data science, and world travel.

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So, You Want to Be a Data Viz Wiz?? (Free Resources Here)

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Just like in data science and big data, the need for experts with skills in data visualization and data journalism is rapidly increasing. The great news is that there are plenty of free resources available to you online, if you would like to invest time developing your skills. Before we jump in though, it’s prudent to see where you currently fit within the Data Analyst – Data Journalist – Data Visualization Specialist spectrum.


A Comparison Between Analysts, Journalists, and Visualization Specialists

As you can see, all of these positions require us to have great communication skills, a fair bit of education, and at least some basic skills in data analysis. But, let me elaborate on how the skill sets differ. According to a recent survey of position descriptions, Data Analysts can get away with having an AS degree, but it appears that a BS is strongly preferred. More importantly though, they should have experience working with databases and SQL, they should have some domain expertise, and they should be well-versed in requirements gathering, reporting, development, testing, and ad hoc analysis.  

In contrast, Data Journalists need to have lots of journalism and data visualization experience. Data journalists should know how to use Office, SQL, Tableau, GIS and how to do basic web programming. They need to have at least a 4 years degree and they need to be social media savvy. What’s similar between these two roles, however, is that both Data Analysts and Data Journalists need a lot fewer skills in math and statistics than the Data Visualization Specialist. They also don’t need to know how to program in R and Python to do their job. Data Visualization Specialists need a four-year degree and they need solid experience in creating data visualizations from large datasets. They also need to have a solid understanding of inferential (Bayesian) and descriptive statistics. They should have experience in SQL, databases, data management, and visualization science.

Free Online Resources to Help you Bolster your Skillset

Let’s discuss how to transition from a Data Analyst to either a Data Journalist or a Data Visualization Specialist.

Transitioning From a Data Analyst to a Data Journalist

Data Journalists need to have a lot of experience writing for the public. If you haven’t got that, you can get started now by quickly setting up a free WordPress blog and getting started publishing blog posts every week or two. This will be a long, fun journey. You will also want to learn SQL. W3 Schools will teach you all you need to know for free here and then you can get deeper practice by downloading MySQL for free and practicing with your own data. You can also get training on web programming for free at W3 Schools. To get some GIS experience, start with free, open-source QGIS and this free QGIS users manual. The best way to get social media savvy is to open some accounts and start sharing and networking. Of course, learning resources like the ones referenced here will help you as you go. Lastly, Tableau -- you can download Tableau Public for free and view their free training videos here.

Transitioning From a Data Analyst to a Data Visualization Specialist

If you are short on SQL experience and want to get into a formal role as a Data Visualization Specialist, then start with the resource referenced above. You will also need to get good at using Python and R. To get started in R or to build up some R statistics experience, download R studio and start working through these free training materials. You can learn Python for free from Google. Get a deeper understanding of visualization science by reading the work of Nathan Yau and Ed Tufte. Oh, and, as for data visualization experience, play with Tableau Public (referenced above) and check out these cool web-based data visualization applications: CartoDB,, OpenHeatMap, and Data Wrangler.

So, what did I miss? What suggestions or free resources would you add to the list?

Blog posted from Chiang Mai, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand View larger map
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