If a career in data interests you, you don’t have to make a complete career switch and start afresh, says KJ Kim, the Asia Pacific academic program head at Tableau, a data visualization software company that helps simplify raw data into an easily understandable format.
“Data is for everyone, regardless of your experience, and what matters is that to effectively analyze data, you must first build up your understanding of the business and industry. This allows you to understand what your data represents, so you can make more meaningful analyses,” Kim said.
Kim began her career in sales at SAP in January 2014, but joined Tableau in October 2015 as a product consultant. Her current role as academic program manager in the analytics space involves providing students and instructors with free Tableau Desktop licenses and learning materials.
Asia Pacific nations are still fragmented in terms of digital adoption and skills proficiency, and Tableau, according to Kim, wants to bridge this divide by equipping students with the skills they need to succeed.
KrASIA recently interviewed Kim to understand how she plans to scale Tableau’s academic programs and foster data literacy.
KrASIA (Kr): Can you tell us about yourself and what you do at Tableau?
KJ Kim (KJ): My experience has always been in technology, but I was fortunate to be able to explore various functions within a technology company, which gave me a comprehensive understanding of this business. I began my career in sales at SAP, but wanted to understand technology at a deeper level, so I eventually landed in Tableau, with a career change [as a product consultant]. In this role, I guided customers from various industries in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia, to help them understand how they could easily pick up Tableau to address their analytics challenges.
During my time as a consultant, I had the opportunity to host enablement workshops for customers, members of the data community, as well as students that we met at various events. Personally, this was one of my favorite experiences at work because [it is very] rewarding to see first-timers try Tableau and experience how easy it really is to visualize data.
When the opportunity for an academic program manager opened up in late 2017, I knew I had to take it. It was the very first time we were going to have someone managing and strategizing Tableau’s growth in academics in Asia Pacific, and I was motivated to apply my experience and knowledge to help groom the next generation of data workers in this region.
Kr: You have a business administration degree. How relevant is your undergraduate degree to what you are doing right now?
KJ: My degree is relevant to what I am doing now as an academic program manager as a whole. When I was at university, theory and learning concepts were major components of my business classes. I did take a module on consumer analytics, which focused on how marketing strategies could be developed by analyzing consumers’ buying behavior and survey results using R and SPSS. I had no technical background at the time, so it was not easy. However, this was the first time that I truly saw the end-to-end process of data-based decision-making processes. This sparked my belief in the power and value of analytics, and this appreciation definitely led me to where I am today.
Aside from my personal passion for analytics, my experience at business school also helped me understand the motivations of schools today, as they transition to a pedagogy that encourages students to acquire technical skills that make them more attractive to employers. When my peers and I graduated, many of us did not possess many hard skills aside from the basics in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. This wouldn’t have set us apart from anyone else.
Today, universities are equipping students with technical skills to meet the demand from the tech industry. This shift was particularly fast in business schools, perhaps because of how much businesses have changed to adopt digital solutions and data-driven decision processes. I saw the gap in what education institutions offered, and later on, this motivated me to further the reach of Tableau Academic.
Kr: How has the Tableau Academic program helped students and instructors?
KJ: Our program helps fuel the next generation of data workers by providing students and instructors with free Tableau Desktop licenses and learning materials. This not only empowers students with resources that will improve their employability, it also helps equip instructors with the necessary resources as they are now challenged to build and change curricula quickly due to the pace at which technology is evolving.
We have rolled out our academic program in leading tertiary institutions across the region, including Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, and the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Kr: What plans do you have for the Tableau Academic program in the Asia Pacific region?
KJ: Analytics has become an indispensable skill in the workforce, so our goal is to continue to scale our Academic program and support educational institutions across the Asia Pacific with our software, sample curriculum, and learning materials. The Asia Pacific as a region is still fragmented in terms of digital adoption and skills proficiency, and we want to bridge this divide by equipping students with the skills they need to succeed.
Our aim is to make Tableau the analytics standard across all faculties, through implementation in classrooms and labs. In order to scale our program further, we will be working with academic partners who will become an extension of our program.
Kr: What has been the most memorable achievement for you since helming the Tableau Academic program?
KJ: A notable achievement was when universities decided to incorporate Tableau into their core modules, as opposed to merely classifying it as an elective. For example, last year, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) decided to include Tableau in its core module for first-year business students, along with various other courses throughout their degree. This was a significant win because it meant that all NTU business students would have experienced self-service analytics via Tableau at some point during their studies.
Kr: What do you think are the challenges for women in the tech industry, especially in data analytics? How can we address them?
KJ: While gender walls are gradually being torn down, years of negative reinforcement have contributed to women being less confident about taking up roles in the tech industry. As of March 2019, only 27–47% of major tech companies’ global workforce was female, with a far lower percentage of women in technical positions. Women may be deterred by the lack of prominent role models, and hold the mistaken view that analytics is only for technical experts, but the truth is there are so many outstanding, inspirational female leaders from diverse professional backgrounds that excel in data analytics—which we must celebrate and champion. One’s gender isn’t and shouldn’t be relevant to one’s career, and we must be conscious to always offer equal opportunities to the women around us.
Kr: What advice would you give students, especially young women who want to study data analytics?
KJ: Girls wanting to study data analytics? I would welcome them to our data family with open arms! Analytics is such an integral part of everything today and everything to come. Many innovations being discussed are based on data. Understanding data analytics will give anyone, regardless of gender, a great foundation to learn about what’s next in terms of innovation.
I also want to believe that today’s world has fewer gender stereotypes, especially when it comes to what individuals can achieve in life. However, I don’t know everyone’s story, and if you happen to be someone that feels discouraged because you’ve been told this is not possible for you because you are a girl, if analytics is something you are passionate about, ignore that voice and look at the women making a splash in the analytics world such as Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, author of Storytelling with Data, and Giorgia Lupi, author of Dear Data.
This article is part of “Profiles in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of people who are the driving force behind South and Southeast Asia’s tech startups.