Making sense of analytics as an intern with Wood for Trees

Jarrod Salmons spent a year with Wood for Trees on a placement as part of his university degree. Just before he returned to his studies we asked him – how was it for you, Jarrod?

JarrodS-rgb-grey-300When I started at Wood for Trees a year ago, I was a fresh-faced Maths student unsure of what to expect from my first proper office job. Previous employment had focused on kitchens and gardening, and I struggled to see how this experience might help whilst navigating my way through the jungle of SQL or the dark alleyways of Tableauville.

I soon found that it wasn’t quite as daunting a task as I had feared. The help from my team-mates during my training was invaluable and confidence-building. Illuminated by the torch of Alex in the systems team through the SQL jungle, guided by the hand of fellow analyst Matt through Tableauville – or borrowing on other more experienced colleagues’ extensive knowledge of the plains of Excel, I’ve learnt an awful lot about different software tools and methods of analysis this year. It’s a long way from having only a vague idea what a database actually is or thinking that BI had something to do with investigative bureaus…

This knowledge has obviously built on my degree, particularly the statistics and computing elements. Studying model-building as part of my degree has helped me to understand the terminology we use at WfT and some particulars of the subject – it made life easier working as an analyst. Similarly, my work has informed my choices in modules next year and enabled me to see more clearly the way my studies might lead to a particular kind of job in data. Over all this, the experience has also added to my understanding of the way a workplace functions.

I’ve particularly appreciated the variety of projects that come under the analytics team’s remit. Early in my placement, I remember working on a segmentation project in Excel which required a lot of ifs, counts and sumproducts and thinking “Excel wasn’t this hard in high school”. I’ve been involved in some quite novel projects alongside more typical projects, including a thorough database audit with a senior colleague – this project was important in the way it pulled back the veil for me to see how charities operate holistically, the systems they use and how the teams collaborate.

Or there was the project for a client using Python to do some web-scraping. I’d heard about Python in the course of my degree but had never had to use it. Receiving some training from Ruaridh our data scientist on its operation and on the relevant Python modules, I was soon underway with the project and picking up the quirks of HTML. Python felt a lot more familiar to me than SQL, more like R and MATLAB which I’d previously used. Now I hope to use Python again in the future and will look for such an opportunity in my degree.

A major theme that has run through my time at Wood for Trees has been GDPR. As someone to whom the GDPR was new in September, I can honestly say I’ve grown to understand its importance in an age where data is like a currency – data transparency and control for the citizen are the hallmarks of a company which has consumer interest at its heart, and I for one will always look for these whenever I’m choosing my broadband supplier or signing up to a mailing list in the future. Likewise, I’ll look on with more scrutiny at those unsolicited emails arriving in my inbox, no matter how rich or suave that Nigerian prince may be.

That’s a very brief overview of my year with Wood for Trees as an intern – but I can’t over-emphasise the importance of those I’ve worked with: Sarge, Laura, Matt and the rest of the team. As I move forward with my degree, it will be with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as well as anything else this year and I will look back with fondness on this year and gratitude to the whole WfT team for making it as enjoyable as it has been educational.