Q&A with Christian Young, Senior Data Analyst / Team Lead at Xero

Christian Young
Interviewed on 23rd April 2019

New Zealand may be small in terms of population but their burgeoning tech scene is punching well above it’s weight when it comes to excellence in data and analytics.

This week’s Analysts Assemble guest is Christian Young , a Wellington based senior analyst and team lead at accounting software company Xero. Christian takes us through his own route from privacy law and records management to managing his own BI reporting team.

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into the data space and what does your data journey look like so far?

Hello, my name is Christian, UK born but have lived in New Zealand since I was 7.

My journey to data is quite atypical and often a story I tell to people who worry that they didn’t study the right thing etc. So I graduated university with a Bachelor or Arts in both Psychology and Linguistics (both were my major). In fact I had done every class needed to go on to apply for my PhD in Psychology. However I decided that wasn’t quite for me and graduated instead of applying for the Doctorate.

My first job out of Uni was a privacy focused role where I had to read child abuse and redact out the stuff that couldn’t be released to the client. This gave me a really good foundation in privacy law.

A few years later I ended up as a Records Manager, responsible for advising how New Zealand’s biggest and oldest government agency should store and dispose of it’s official records. It was in this job I self taught myself some SQL to get data out of the back end of the software we used.

I then got my first analyst job but in an Ops team. I used SQL to do all sorts of things, assess problems, assist marketing, automate admin tasks, find missing or bad data. It was a great job in terms of exposure. I learned multiple languages, different types of databases (Oracle, TSQL, Postgres) , and how to make and schedule procedures.

I also ended up as senior analyst in that team, I had to manage the team and their workload as well as juggle ~100 stakeholders. I became a SME for many of our systems and often consulted on projects and I invested a lot of time into automating and documenting what we did so we could free up time to do more. Which is how I ended up at Xero.

I was hired to take over a team, which I have now just done, after spending six months learning the ropes. The team is responsible for providing one-off reporting to our clients and I have an exciting, if not stressful, year or so ahead of me.

What’s a typical day look like for you in your current data role? Which tools and languages do you use? Big team/small team/lone wolf? Remote/office based/co-working space?

My typical day involves monitoring our ticketing system for new work, meeting with clients, and cutting code.

I have a team of four, though currently we are a team of three and none of us are in the same city. However our wider data team are numerous so I’m not quite a lone wolf, there are always members of my team around (like the famous Helen Anderson.) My other two colleagues are in 2 different offices, so there is a heavy use of Slack and video calls to bridge that gap.

We are also an international company with substantial offices in Asia, America, Australia, UK, and New Zealand so we can be talking to clients at all hours. Though I do want to stress that my team works NZ hours, and I’m militant about work life balance so the only time a member of my team should be working odd hours is to talk to client in a different timezone and then they go home early / come in late the next day.

In terms of tools and technology. We have a Redshift data warehouse and we surface the information for our clients into MicroStrategy, our reporting layer.

The tool I spend all day using and cannot live without is Visual Studio Code. I cut all of my code here and have spent considerable amounts of time setting up extensions that speed up my workflow.

You’ve recently joined the ranks of data bloggers on Dev.to. How important do you think it is for data professionals, at all stages of their career, to share publicly what they are doing and learning?

I think it’s extremely important for anyone in the data field to find a way of making information transfer second nature.

Whether it be blogging, vlogging, conference talks, commenting on articles, or solving people’s questions on stack overflow it’s vitally important.

Because if we are being brutally honest no-one in BI has got it figured out, like at all.

No one team in the world has nailed data quality AND data governance AND their data pipeline AND their data storage solution AND their reporting layer AND their customer satisfaction. That scenario doesn’t exist and, if by some miracle it did exist, all it would take to undo it all would be one new feature, one migration, a single change in company direction.

BI is always a game of catch up and while we are all a striving towards the same thing at the high level, the devil is in the details. Lots of problem solving is involved and while no two scenarios will be identical there is enough similarities that its very worthwhile sharing what you did so others can benefit.

Where do you see your own data career going next? Building on your technical skills or moving into a more management-based role?

I’m not overly interested in the technical. I love what I know currently but doing things like AWS certs and development doesn’t quite hold my interest so I believe my future is in the other direction.

It does seem clear to me that Data Governance is a potential field that’s about to boom. With the big names in IT constantly shitting the bed in terms of customer data I think that’s a space I could move towards.

If you had a list of “best-kept-secrets” (websites, books, coaches) that have helped you, which would you recommend?

Other than Google / Stack Overflow or ASK TOM (for Oracle only), I really don’t. I’m constantly on the look out for a reliable blog / Reddit / website / person but I’ve not really come across any that I have found endless value in.

Like most, I’m self taught which came from persistent googling and about 500 Stack Overflow tabs open.

So yeah, many many thanks to anyone who has contributed to a SQL problem on Stack Overflow!!!

What is the number one piece of advice you give to aspiring data professionals?

My advice for ANY aspiring professionals is to first understand the importance of risk management and documentation. Once you have those down pat and are practising them in your day to day job you will quickly start to understand how to get things done. It’s very easy to get lost in the business as usual aspect of your job, but if you can’t see the forest from the trees you aren’t going to push the needle very far, and understanding risk management is a great place to start.

Where can readers find you online?

Ronsoak on Medium.

Ronsoak on Twitter.

Ronsoak on Dev.to.

Ronsoak on Amazon at some point in the future (I’m writing sci-fi).

**Bonus points if you know the reference.**