Continuing my series of interviews with Web Analysts, here is an interview with June Dershewitz.
VP Analytics at Semphonic, a leading web analytics consultancy based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
How long have you been working in this field?
Tell me about your work, education prior to entering Web Analytics.
I have a BA in Mathematics from Reed College in Portland, OR. After college I spent 4 years as a research assistant for a mathematician at Swarthmore College in Philadelphia, PA. In 1999 I moved to San Francisco and got my first job as a web analyst at a startup. I’ve worked in web analytics ever since. Most recently I spent 3 1/2 yearsas an independent consultant, taking project-based assignments at companies throughout the Bay Area. I started a new chapter 5 months ago when I joined Semphonic as a salaried employee.
Why did you decided to move to Web Analytics?
It was a brand-new field when I fell into it in 1999. Back then I aspired to be a web developer, but my future employer saw my affinity for data analysis and offered me a position as a web analyst. I took the leap, and I’m so glad I did.
How did you like being an Independent Consultant?
I loved being independent. I worked 8 months a year and made enough money to afford to live in San Francisco which wasn’t bad. I did a lot of traveling, volunteer work and homemaking, on the other hand there was no stability, I was constantly job-hunting, and I was completely alone. At Semphonic I have a whole team to work with, and I love that aspect of the work I do now
How did you find your job at Semphonic?
I met Gary Angel in May 2007 at eMetrics in San Francisco and I joined his team at Semphonic 3 months later, in August. I think we both knew from the start that I’d be a great fit at Semphonic; it was just a matter of getting the ball rolling. My path to Semphonic was not your typical, “see job posting, write cover letter, get interview” progression. I’ve found that, as I continue to build experience and connections in this field, my approach to career growth is evolving. I’m not going to say it’s all about who you know, but I’m definitely in favor of leveraging connections to make progress.
What are you responsibilities in your current position? Describe your typical work day.
I live for variety, and I certainly get that variety at Semphonic. I am fortunate enough to work with a great set of clients; every day I talk to one or more clients about the work at hand. Depending on the size of the project I’ll work with a team or on my own to keep everything moving in the right direction. My current projects span the gamut of data analysis, measurement strategy definition, report development/automation, etc. I also talk to prospective customers now and then, write project proposals, write for my blog, and confer with my Semphonic colleagues. One of main reasons I joined Semphonic was so I’d have the chance to work collaboratively with other top-notch analysts, and I have found that opportunity very fulfilling.
What are the skills that you think are important for a web analyst?
Curiosity and enthusiasm. I know these aren’t skills so much as innate qualities, but I believe if you can go a long way as a web analyst with curiosity and enthusiasm. If you are genuinely interested in what you’re doing, it shows.
What, if any, education or work experience helped you in Web Analytics?
As much as I love the study of mathematics, I don’t often put my academic background to use in any direct sense. On the other hand I know that math has given me a good analytical foundation: a general level of comfort with numbers, solid problem-solving skills, a fine sense of logic. On paper I believe it’s helped me get ahead a few times during the job-hunting process; a number of interviewers have mentioned that I’d been given preference because of my math degree. I feel lucky but I also find this frustrating because I know that great web analysts come from a diverse array of educational backgrounds.
What education you feel is lacking, education or experience that would have helped in Web Analytics?
When I entered the field of web analytics it was squarely planted in the technical realm, and over time it’s become part of marketing. I’ve picked up quite a bit through real-world experience, but if I was starting over from scratch I’d definitely take formal coursework in marketing.
What web analytics/online-marketing books have you read and/or own?
Actually, these days I prefer to do my reading online rather than in print. I am drawn to blogs because they’re so fresh, candid and diverse in opinion. I have about 80 blogs in my feed reader right now; some are specific to web analytics, others are in related specializations, and some cover the web industry in general. I try to keep up with my reading every day, but if I get behind I’ll skim the content from frequent posters and focus on the bloggers who post just a few high-quality articles a month. Also, I’ve just started using the Google Reader Shared Items feature and I’ve found that it’s a great way to discover new blogs that my friends are reading.
How do you make sure you are learning and growing in this field?
I face the challenge of wanting to be a specialist and a generalist at the same time. I think, as a consultant, it’s desirable to have a broad range of skills, but I also know that it can be valuable to pick a specialty and stick with it. I believe you’ve done a great job of it, Anil, with your specialization on behavioral targeting. Naturally I focus my learning on topics I find personally intriguing, but I’m also on the lookout for areas of study that will open up new career opportunities in the future. Ultimately I intend to have my skills evolve in the direction I want my career to go.
Tell me about your blog. What kind of article do you write? How much time do you spend? How do you measure success of your blog?
I started my blog a few months ago; you can find it at http://june.typepad.com/. My cardinal rule is that I’ll write about whatever I find interesting as long as it can be directly related to web analytics. Last month I posted a picture of my family’s pet chicken – but really, it was still on-topic. As a new blogger I had no idea how much fun it would be to get comments on my blog posts.
The comments, the personal feedback, the new connections – that’s how I gauge success and that’s what keeps me going.
What do you look for in a candidate when you hire?
As I mentioned earlier, curiosity and enthusiasm. Show me that you really want to be here, that you’re truly interested, that you’re motivated by more than just a paycheck.
What is your advice to aspiring web analysts?
If you’re not yet certain you’d enjoy the work, conduct informational interviews with people who are in positions you’d like to attain. Ask them about their career, what they like about it, what they don’t, what they think is challenging, etc. By all means read the interviews Anil has compiled here – but also be sure to talk to people on your own. You’ll wind up with valuable insight and new friends, too.
Thank you June.