Don’t take for granted how far you’ve come

I’m inspired to write this by my 16 year old daughter, who is also our summer intern. I’ve written about her before so I won’t spend too much time on background info. Cayla will start her junior year of high school in about two weeks, and this is Cayla’s first job. She agreed to do it because she had nothing else to do. My husband and I definitely had high hopes for her. Not only did we want her to start developing skills she would need after high school, we also hoped that she would start developing an interest in technology, aside from just personal use. She’s spent the last two months helping consolidate and organize our marketing list; started on Node School; and started learning R so she could work on her data science project to predict who will win the next Stanley Cup. Cayla also started pulling the data she needs for her project and working through her project plan.

Throughout all this, I’ve been amazed by the basic skills in business (and business applications), data management, and project management that I take for granted. There have been ample opportunities this summer for me to realize how far I’ve come since I started my first professional job.

Basic Skills in Business Applications – My experience is all very business and analytics intensive. As part of that, I’m very familiar with vlookups (using one data element in one spreadsheet to dynamically find the data element in another spreadsheet), pivot tables, advance sorting and grouping. While it made sense to make sure to teach Cayla how to do vlookups and pivot tables (as needed), it never crossed my mind that we would need to show her how to sort by multiple columns. Or, that she could use Excel functions to find duplicates, or convert names to the same format using the split text function plus a formula to reformat them. After the first time Cayla spent 5 hours adding the same value to multiple records by copying the cell and paste over and over again, it was very clear that I needed to be more explicit in the instructions and guidance I gave. These are basic lessons that I didn’t even realize everyone didn’t know.

Data Management – Cayla has been working with downloading, cleansing and analyzing NHL statistics for the last couple of weeks. We have had several discussions around computers being stupid and doing exactly you tell them to do. When the computer displays duplicate records, instead of grouping by a single identifier, I am quick to recognize that something is different about the records. Cayla was always more inclined to say that nothing was different as she was looking at the superficial value of the player name. Once she started diving into the data, she found spaces, tick marks and commas that wreaked havoc on her data analysis.

Project Management – I know that everyone works differently, but I’m a huge believer in documentation. I’m an avid notetaker, in my handy dandy hardcopy, spiral bound notebook. I red ink (and blue and green…) spec documents, log detailed questions and explanations and am quick to make sure everyone involved gets the information. I don’t believe in hoarding information. I assumed this was a way of life. It’s really not. No matter how many times I have coached Cayla about clearly documenting her project work, or outlining her blog post, this is not intuitive or comfortable to her. I’m a firm believer that developing these skills will help her feel more organized, help her remember or reference information better and would make communication in whatever form, easier for her.

Each of these are just a small subset of the examples I encountered this summer mentoring and leading Cayla. As we continue to mentor and sponsor people, we need to remember how far we have come. Let’s take a step back and make sure we convey the information required for people to learn the critical skills we have. They may not retain them all, but the good ones will definitely adapt some of those skills as their own.

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