Learning path in Digital Field

Hello world,
In this article I will write down my reasons for my learning prioritization. I will explain why do I emphase a particular topic, why I drop another one and which one you would need, in my opinion, to work in digital field.
This article will most likely appeal to new comers in this world but it may also give you tip on how to expand your knowledge in this field.

Tools first

This may look obvious but it is not for many developers. The developers learn the code before knowing what the tool do. In my case, I am not a developer and therefore I need and prioritize to learn what the tools I will use is doing.

In my specific experience, it would mean to learn Adobe Analytics, Launch or Adobe Audience Manager. This is the step 1 and you can already be really good by just learning these tools. The list is obviously not exhaustive, Google Analytics (360) or GTM is pretty good as well but it could be any tool used in the digital field. JIRA, Confluence, etc…
Even Excel could be a powerful tool for doing digital activites. Look at Urs twitter profile to see the cool things he is doing with it.

This step is usually pretty easy because the tools are directly used in your daily or weekly work. There is little overhead in order to understand and use the tool. Your organization will most probably support you because it has direct interaction with your work and the help resources are usually easy to find, either internally (in your organization) or externally. At the same time, there are a lot (of business logic) that is hidden from you on the tool, so it may be misleading on your evaluation for how much time is required to master this tool.

The end goal of what you are trying to achieve here is to understand what the tool will do for a particular action. It seems easy but each tool has so many options, and you need to understand or more specifically predict what each of these actions will generate as output.

This takes at minimum 1 year but more usually it takes 2 years as you need to develop year over year strategy or need to tool usage to grow until a specific threshold in order to learn to scale with the tool.

Learn the underlying structure

Each tool is built on a specific structure. In our digital world, excluding IoT, this is mostly based on applications, aka website for meta application.

Therefore, you next challenge is to learn the Web structure and App structure. This is a monumental task, as there are so many things to know. And things get more and more complicated over time. We only had a server and client in the 90, now we are dealing with multi-applications and micro-services to generate a single page application (SPA).

You don’t have to go into details for these different elements. You don’t have to learn Java or JavaScript but learning their concepts, what they are used for. Some very basics of HTML structure are usually very useful in your digital career, some basics of JavaScript as well.

The idea is to be able to communicate with the more technical persons of your department or organization, not to do their work.
The challenge is also to know which elements to learn. There are possibly so many.

My advice here is to research a level deeper of whatever you are using. Be aware of what the tool itself is using.
For my Adobe Analytics or Google Analytics example, they are working with data. How do you store data ? How can they request the data so fast ?
That can lead you to learn data storage such as Database concept.

How do you pass data from your website to Google Analytics? That should lead you to understand the HTTP requests and the HTML structure of your website.
There is usually JavaScript library involved, again, you may be wise to learn some basic of this language.

This part takes years to learn, it really depends on the type of solution you are learning and the ecosystem attached to it. In the digital world, if you are like me and are coming from a pure non-dev background, it will take some times.

Learn beyond the abstraction

Once you have mastered the tools and the eco-system of them, you would need to learn the underlying working of the tool. Predicting the output is nice and many people are actually struggling to realize that. Not that they are dumb but tools can be (overly) complicated.

I put the 2 others elements first because they will help you to understand the third one: how the tool is actually working. Knowing how requests, javascript, front-end and backend works (roughly) will give you a nice tip on what is possible (or not) with a tool.

Starting this steps, this is not a mandatory element if you are working on the digital world. It would be mandatory if you want to be an expert on a specific tool. Because this requires a lot of effort, you cannot know everything about everything.

Here you need to spend time reading technical documentation and doing tests if the documentation doesn’t provide sufficent answers.
In the analytics world, it would mean to understand how to implement the tracking on your website, understanding how the data are interpretated in your report(s).
How you can work to influence the reporting, tricking the system.

At the end of this phase, the tool should not have any (big) unknown. You can still need to dig some elements here and there but they are just appended knowledge more than additional core understanding. This is very hard to evaluate and I would always recommend learning the extra thing on that part. Sometimes, by just adding a small elements, you discover a complete new area that you miss on your tool.

This part is actually quite fast compare to the others because you can apply so many things that you have previously learned. It is pure application of the concepts that you learned previously.
You still need to do some research to fully understand the elements but it doesn’t take as much time as the full discovery. I would say that it takes 1 to 2 year maximum.

Expanding the use cases

Now, you have learned the tool, its context and dependencies, and you can actually tweak it to change its output on your format. This is already good. And what I am focusing on from there is to learn how you can generalize this knowledge.

At the end of the day, most of the tool are using some kind of pattern and you can try to see if there are any knowledge that you have gained that can be used for any other tool. That is hard but bit by bit, you will find more and more application for your knowledge.

In my personal use-case, I knew Adobe Analytics, and I used that knowledge to learn Audience Manager. To be fair, I worked at a company named Criteo before that also taught me on the Adspace. So I had to combine both to work and learn. Also I was able to jump into Launch because I knew a bit of JavaScript when learning Adobe Analytics (and its s_code, now more usually call AppMeasurement).

This is where you can try to become more of a swiss army knife than a specific expert. Be careful on that road, being without a specialization can be risky in the context of your career.

This comes over time and there are matter of luck (how often do you encounter a situation where you can apply your learning) and career choice (if you are in a startup, the amount of tool are quite limited – but large variety of situation).

When to stop to learn ?

This is legitimate question. Often in my (short) career, I felt that there was no end to this learning and as I explained in my article with mental health in Analytics, it can be quite taxing.

I am still young (and wild) but I think that there should be no end to (y)our learning during (y)our career.
Once you have learned everything about a solution, should you learn everything on the eco-system of that solution ?

This is up to you to be honest. Some people really like to go down the rabbit hole. There could be no limit on how much you can / want to learn.

Regarding my personal experience, I am the type to dig the rabbit hole and once I reached the end, dig a bit deeper or in other directions to see if I can find anything interesting. I love to learn and understand, it is my main driver.

At the same time, there are elements that are so enormous to learn and will probably bring me low to no value so I am not following these paths (nodeJS, Adobe Target, …)

Some people are more encline to work through soft skills and prefer focusing on more global overview of the solution(s). Those profiles, usually architects, have usually not a very detail understanding of the solution but can easily managed elements of the eco system. They are really good on level 1 and 2 of learning for one (or multiple) solution(s).

I would recommed to follow your passion and desire.
On personal note, even as I am technical and use JavaScript I am not (really) interested to learn NodeJs or React.

Is there a focus on soft skills ?

As you have read, there is a lot of technicality to learn in the digital world, I am not focusing on the soft skills here because I do feel (remember that this is my opinion) that you will develop these skills along the way. During your career development, by interacting with colleagues, chefs, mentors, you will learn how these soft skills can be used.

I do think that these skills are (very) important. I actually feel that they may be even more important than the technical skills in lot of situations. I just never found a way to learn them “officially”.

You can follow a “Leadership program” and that is really good to review what is possible but applying the tips / advices require practice and you will develop practice along the way.
It is very important to get them as you will need to make friends along your way, we go further together than alone.

Remember that you can always learn something from someone. If someone is less technical than you, you probably try to find the soft skills that (s)he owns that you don’t have. Be open, evereyone has a unique skillset, you just need to recognize it and benefit from it.
Good managers don’t make people better, they amplify the qualities already own by the individuals. You don’t change people, you enhance them.

Graphical representation

I tried to realize a schema of what the different role you can pretend to depending the learning you have realized over time. Below the role, the number of years before you master the position(s) from my point of view.
Obviously it depends on many factores:

  • Are you a fast learner ?
  • Are you passionate by your work ?
  • Do you have a background that can shortcut some learnings ? (me with Adspace learning it in another company)
  • Capability to dedicate time outside working hours. (with children is not that easy to find time to learn anymore)

I hope that article can help the new comers in the digital fields.
There are lots of examples for the analytics world but this is where I am the most comfortable.

Don’t hesitate to comment if you have strong feeling about this.

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