From Egypt to the U.S.: What I Learned During My Data Internship Abroad
Hello! I’m Dina Teilab from Egypt, where I was born and raised. With a strong background in data, I’ve been a business analyst for six years. This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. as part of an exchange program, which also matched me with a U.S.-based company that’s complementary with my career goals. Because my mission is to bring more data literacy programs to Egypt, I was excited to be matched with Data Literacy for a 3-week internship!
First, I spent a week in Detroit, Michigan to meet other people in the exchange program. Then I flew to Seattle, Washington to meet the Data Literacy team and begin my internship. My goal was to learn how the team approaches data literacy training so I could bring a similar program to Egypt. Before I met the team, I had a stream of questions running through my mind: Am I following the right path in my data career? Are there data enthusiasts in the U.S. who face challenges similar to mine? What insights do they have that I should learn?
During my internship, I learned a lot from the Data Literacy team. There were three big lessons that really stood out. These lessons helped answer my questions and showed me how to teach data skills better. Here are the top three things I took away:
#1: Data communication can be so many different things.
The team at Data Literacy is small but mighty: CEO Ben Jones, COO Becky Jones, Senior Operations Manager Megan Hanno, and Senior Data Literacy Advocate Alli Torban. During my interactions with Alli, I heard about the term “data storytelling” for the first time.
In brief, data storytelling is the concept of building a compelling narrative based on data and insights collected and analyzed to help tell your story to a specific audience. I knew about data visualization and how to turn cool insights, that were analyzed rigorously, into a couple of graphs tailored to different stakeholders. But that was my first time hearing about data storytelling.
In the past, I would painstakingly craft detailed and visually appealing data presentations, only to find that many stakeholders didn’t fully grasp or even see my work. Admittedly, I often treated data visualization as an afterthought, not giving it the attention and effort it deserved. However, after discussions with Alli and diving deeper into data storytelling, I understood that it’s not just about making charts. It’s about narrating a data story, whether through graphs, a succinct paragraph, or even more creative methods like infographics and illustrations.
If you’re interested in learning more about data storytelling, I recommend you check out her podcast Data Viz Today. Alli also recommended the book Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.
#2: Everyone’s journey is different.
During my internship, I finally found the answer to the question: “Am I following the right path in my data career?”
The answer: Is there a right path?!
I met someone who dedicated many years to becoming a statistics professor before starting their career as a data scientist. I met someone else who decided to skip college because at that time, there was no degree in data science. He taught himself everything and became one of the best data scientists I know.
For me, I started my career as a marketer in a corporate job. But when I found out about data analysis, I fell in love, and that changed everything for me.
The bottom line is there’s no need to follow in anyone’s footsteps. There’s not one perfect journey through a data career. With determination, a passion for data, and a willingness to learn, you can achieve remarkable things.
#3: We all go through the same challenges.
Over the years, as I advanced in my data career and had the privilege of leading my own team, the challenges grew more complex. From creating team development plans to keeping up with emerging data tools and aligning with business teams, the struggles seemed endless.
Before I started my internship, I jotted down my biggest concerns, hoping to discuss them with fellow data professionals and gather their wisdom. I thought that all I needed was to have the right experience, the right mentor, or the right education, and I’d find all the answers to my struggles. But I was mistaken. There’s not one right answer.
While I didn’t find the precise solutions I hoped for, I gained something even more significant: the knowledge that others face similar challenges and how valuable it is to have a supportive community to brainstorm with.
The lesson from my journey? Set aside your ego. Seek advice from a knowledge-sharing network of data professionals, and remember that finding the right approach often involves trial and error.
Now I’m back in Egypt and ready to bring data storytelling to my team, inspire other people to pursue a career in data no matter where they come from, and build a supportive data literacy community! Thank you for taking the time to read my very first blog post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, any data-related insights, your personal experiences, or even any advice you might have for me.
Let’s connect on LinkedIn!