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“Meeting People Where They Are”

WIT WNY Interview with Kimberly Herrington, Creator of Buffalo Business Intelligence

Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Sure, I’m Kim Herrington. I am a Data Journalist at a large healthcare insurance company, but I’m most known for the networking group I started: Buffalo Business Intelligence. I started my healthcare journey in college as a volunteer EMT. I always had a passion for health care and technology, I loved playing with new tech whenever I could. When I finished my undergrad, it was the 2008 recession and there were no available jobs in my desired field. So, I landed a job as a talent scout for a modeling agency that eventually went under, but the manager at that organization realized I could write really well. This was just at the beginning of YouTube and all those other channels when search engine optimization (SEO) was still in its infancy. I was taught how to do search engine optimization and web content creation. I was able to take these skills of web design, event planning, and management back into healthcare (2010) at an orthopedic practice and show that the use of technology could actually drive new patients to our practice. Through those experiences, I was able to gain new insights and bring our practice up to speed and get my Master’s in Health Service Administration at D’Youville College.

After that, I worked at a healthcare nonprofit that focused on the treatment of LGBTQIA & other marginalized populations. I was able to act as a Senior Data Analyst before being promoted to Business Intelligence Coordinator there. Then a behavioral health organization asked me to share my knowledge of building data literacy culture, discussing data governance, talking about value-based payments, building awareness for key performance indicators (KPI), etc and launching a Business Intelligence (BI) platform at their location. Then in November 2019 one of my connections had reached out to me and asked if I knew anyone seeking an analytics/developer job and I said “No” and they said, “Well if YOU were looking what would you be looking for?” and I said, “Well I really like this Data Journalist/Data storyteller position that I saw in California, but I’m not sure if Buffalo is ready for that yet”. Lo and behold, they had a position that they were putting together and that’s where I am now.

In addition to your full-time job, you’ve created tech communities in WNY. Care to talk about them?
In 2017, when I was working at that nonprofit, I had gotten a Tableau license and I was trying to learn how to use Tableau all on my own. At that time, if you wanted to go to a webinar or seminar on learning something like SQL, it cost you about $300. Some of them were more sales pitches than they were actually training you for things. Like many others, my husband and I had a decent chunk of student loan debt, but I was still willing to try to get a tutor to teach me Tableau. As I was looking for someone, I reached out to a tech consultancy place here in Buffalo and I asked if they could find me someone and they could not. So, I’ve learned that if you can’t find the room you’re looking for, then you might have to make it yourself. I ended up calling Tableau to see if they had a Tableau user group here in Buffalo and pretty much my request fell on deaf ears when I talked to them in February 2017. Instead of stopping there, I decided to bring everybody from every BI platform into one group.

In December 2017, we had our first Buffalo Business Intelligence workgroup at D’Youville. We sold out our first event, and we had a blast talking about the common barriers we all faced, no matter which DataViz tool we used. It was a great opportunity to interact with my peers and it wasn’t sponsored necessarily by a corporate entity. It was/is a safe space to connect without having to worry about politics- where we could be honest with one another. I used it as a platform to find other data and analytics professionals that have a connection to Buffalo to promote those people and have them be the speakers at the next event. I’ve been doing it twice a year since then at D’Youville and through Buffalo State College. They’re designed to be a way to network with people, to form our analytics community. Buffalo Business Intelligence meetings provide a chance to find other people that you can work with or reach out to if you are encountering problems. When you’re looking for help, sometimes Buffalo culture is still different than other places. We are still in a different place when it comes to progress, data governance, and data literacy. Sometimes when you talk to people from other national groups, they’ll tell you to buy this/that tool. For a lot of the people that are running data analytics here, we don’t have limitless funds. We’re in a different economic place and that’s why I do as much as I can for free. I want to be able to help as many people learn things as possible.

In summary, #BuffaloBusinessIntelligence is a free group open to all skill levels where we turn activists into analysts, event planners into product managers, CPAS/QA professionals into data scientists, and business intelligence professionals into data storytellers.

With your current role as a Data Journalist, what is it that you do? What does your job entail?
So, what is a Data Journalist? A Data Journalist has a couple of roles, goals, and values. One of my roles is to serve as an internal consultant working with people across the organization to help them with their data stories. I’m a storyteller and a navigator. The way that I explain to people to use me is to think of me as “Google Maps”… I ask them what their end destination for a data visualization or project is, and together we talk through a few different ways they might get there. Ultimately, the requestor will remain in the driver’s seat. I run these things called Story or Strategy (SOS) sessions where people can come to me for help from everything from getting data stories, how to convey information, how to work through a strategy as well as just sometimes sitting there and listening to people talk AT me- because sometimes you have to work something out by talking to another human. I also help inspire ideas. Have you ever heard the quote “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”? I like to take this “Wayne Gretzky Approach” when it comes to idea generation, and as appropriate, I’ll say literally everything that comes to mind, and I may say something absolutely silly. But that silly idea might inspire another solution that is entirely rational and actionable in your mind, and you wouldn’t have unlocked it without our conversation. So that’s part of my role within the organization.

As far as goals, I work on data user adoption. We have different data platforms that I’m responsible for helping make sure that people use them and that ties into two other goals of mine: enhance communication across the department where I work and also improving data literacy across the organization. Data literacy, or data competency, is how we speak, argue and work with data in context. Anyone can tell a great data story, knowing if it’s true or not is data literacy.

When it comes to values, I value enthusiasm, curiosity, and creativity. You can’t be afraid to fail in this position, even though you may feel silly asking a “simple” question over and over. You have to work with people and build trust, and you have to have a great deal of flexibility and creativity.
The worst thing I think somebody could do in this role would be to come in like full force and say “Here’s the template that we’re using” because that kills the fun of exploring. And if you put those limits like on that on a developer- everything is going to come out the same. It’s all about creative problem solving. In fact, if you attend any creative problem solving seminars in Western New York and beyond, you’ll notice they make their rooms for in-person workshops look like colorful kindergarten classrooms with colored paper/toys on tables. They do this because it’s all about creating space for freedom & exploration. How can you expect people to be creative/innovative if all you have to work with is a white legal pad & a black pen in an white walled conference room? I love working with passionate, curious, and creative people.

Overall, I’m just really proud to be the first official “Data Journalist” here in Buffalo. I’m already mentoring future DJ’s. It’s an honor to be able to diversify the career path for those looking to advance past a typical Business Intelligence Manager role.

When I hear data, I hear numbers and I’m not good at numbers. How do we beat the stereotype that analytics and Data Analytics is only for people who understand numbers?

Let me ask you a question. What has been something that has really teed you off recently? Election coverage. OK, fair enough. So, say somebody posted a political meme that you feel is incorrect. What’s your first instinct? Go research it. Exactly! You don’t have to be a data scientist to be data literate. You do need to understand what’s a good source though. The only way that you can get people to be passionate about data is for them to be passionate about something before data. What is it that is driving them to understand? People tend to think when entering this field you need to know everything, every new tool, or a new (data) language. I thought in 2008 that I had to learn Spanish to succeed. To this day, I still don’t know Spanish and it hasn’t impacted me. I have so many other skills that are in high demand other than Spanish that I’ve learned to really put my focus on. I apply that logic whenever a hot new data science language/skill/tool comes out to better manage my own expectations.

What do you wish you would have known getting into the tech industry? Why do I wish that I would have known?

To be honest, understanding that there is such a thing called impostor syndrome. We tend to think that because you have access to tons of training, you should know everything about your field. Just because I don’t know the traditional things doesn’t make me any less valuable than I am right now. It doesn’t matter at all because I have people on my team that can help me, or I could call somebody from my BI / LinkedIn network and ask how to do something, and they would be able to assist. Don’t think you have to be all things to all people. To wrap it up: You only have to be what you are for yourself, and know that things such as impostor syndrome exists. Just be proud of what you do.

And lastly, what advice would you give to women who are looking to pursue a career in technology?
I would say, don’t be afraid to fail. It’s starting to sound a bit like a cliche at this point, so I’ll give you some even more specific information for that. How do you learn not to be afraid to fail? As soon as everything opens, I know this may sound ridiculous, I want you to find an improv class. If you want to truly learn, right now at a young age, how not to fail you start by being creative in a different way. Improv is all about teaching people to learn to avoid the word “no” in different settings and to work with a team. When you’re talking to somebody and they’re giving you this great idea and even if you think that idea isn’t the best, you can usually “yes, and…” it into an amazing solution. Doing improv is a practice of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and making yourself okay with being uncomfortable.

The other thing that I would recommend doing is if through school or whatnot, you have access to LinkedIn Learning, get your profile, and get it up to date. Put your information on there because this is the new resume. LinkedIn is not just for when you need a job now, it’s a tool to network, to create your safety “net”. If you want those interesting jobs- the ones that don’t exist, you have to expand your network to as big of an audience as you can. If you see somebody that’s in a real niche area and you can’t find another person that does what they do, here’s a tip, try following the followers of that person. By doing that you can expand your network of people that are interested in that topic. Don’t just use LinkedIn when you’re looking for a job, use it when you have a job! Build your safety “net” and remember to stay professional. That is your image. That’s your brand now.

Thanks Kimberly! If you are interested in being a part of Buffalo Business Intelligence visit Eventbrite to sign up for the next free networking event on December 2nd, join the Facebook group, or the BuffaloBusinessIntelligence LinkedIn Group.

Follow/Connect Kimberly via her LinkedIn!