Apprenticeship Spotlight: June 2021
MEET LAURA WEIDERHAFT
Hometown: Rogers, Arkansas
MY BACK STORY
I grew up in Rogers and graduated from Rogers High School. I was mostly interested in playing basketball, and my thought was to go to the U of A in Fayetteville and study premed. My dad was an industrial engineer doing planning and analytics, like supply planning, and my mom was a mortgage loan officer. They’re both retired now, but back then my mom definitely wanted me to go into the mortgage loan business, and I didn’t want to do the same thing she did.
But I worked as a nurse assistant in a nursing home during my junior and senior
years of high school. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to do premed.
So I kind of struggled in college trying to figure out what I actually wanted to do. I didn’t struggle grade-wise—I was a very achievement-oriented student, getting my B.A. in Economics, International Relations, and European Studies. In 2012, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.8 GPA.
But I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was interested in economics and international relations, so I thought I would work for a government organization or an NGO. I was also very interested in graphic design. Growing up, I was an early adopter with software, and a power user. Part of that was learning Photoshop and getting into graphic design. I did a lot of freelance graphic design work in college for student organizations. I think my interest in tech was mostly driven by my interest in searching for new tools and techniques to work with from that design perspective.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 1)
After graduation, I had a hard time finding a job. I was interested in too many things, and I didn’t narrow my focus enough to really develop my skills in any one thing. I think I came across as a dilettante.
Soon after I graduated, I went to a start-up weekend and met a couple of folks, a developer and a designer, and we worked on a mobile application called “Talentt.” Part of this came out of my frustration at having trouble finding work and so starting to get into freelance work. The application was intended to find local freelancers based on your connections on social media. It would sort freelancers by how many connections you had in common.
We beta tested it with 200 users, but we just never had the capital to market or attract more users. So we shut down after not being able to attract capital, but it was definitely a great experience. I helped write a business plan that was selected as a finalist in the Donald W. Reynolds’ Business Plan Competition, and I helped think about market strategy and craft the strategic goals of the business, and we were pitching to investors to try and attract capital. I think of the experience as like getting an alternative MBA.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2)
At The Wine Cellar in Fayetteville, I got a great entry experience into the restaurant and hospitality industry. I started there in February 2014 and was responsible for opening, maintaining, and closing the bar. I was technically a bartender, but they also expected me to handle more aspects of the business than just the customer-facing part.
I was at The Wine Cellar for 16 months, then left to become the manager of Hugo’s restaurant in downtown Fayetteville. There I supervised employee performance, monitored customer service standards on each shift to ensure consistent and high-quality service for every guest, and prepared the bar and restaurant to support a full day of food and drink service. Hugo’s has been around for 40 years. They’re a well-oiled machine.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2-A)
In 2014, I also started doing standup comedy. At first, I was just posting jokes on
social media, and then one of my friends convinced me to go to an open mic night
on Dickson Street. At the time, the scene was mostly dominated by men, so I was
one of the few women performing. Since then, the scene has undergone a massive
shift and there’s a lot more diversity in the performers.
I eventually got up to having 45 minutes of jokes, but would typically perform for only 10 or 15 minutes. It’s good to have some fallback options up there. I actually never got good at the performance aspect of it. I always liked writing the jokes, but performing them was and still is difficult.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 3)
In February of 2020, I went to work as Office Manager for VinTech Nano Materials in Springdale. That’s a company that produces premium, nano-engineered industrial lubricants and paints for equipment manufacturers. I just felt like it was time to get my sea legs back in an office, because I wanted to go back to what I had gone to school for. Coming out of restaurants is not straightforward getting back into office work. I mean, they’re two totally different mindsets. Customer service is almost like being an air traffic controller, where there’s a bunch of different flights coming in and you have to say, “This is the priority. This lands right now.”
That mindset doesn’t lend itself to long-term projects, dedicated work, things that require dedicated attention. And I had the intention of trying to find something that was more accounting or analytics related, because I had that quantitative background from studying economics. So that’s something I knew would lend itself well to working with some kind of data, whether it was financial or other kinds of business analytics. At the same time, I took a lot of online classes to help me develop the skillset for working with data.
A little over a year and a half after joining VinTech, I moved over to the position of Business Analyst. Among other tasks, I conducted interviews with key stakeholders to define company roles and document workflows, built and managed the company knowledge base and shared drives, drafted monthly reports of sales activity and key performance metrics, and managed the company website and social media accounts. I also wrote and designed the digital marketing and website content.
MY TURNAROUND MOMENT
This past spring, I saw an ad from ACDS saying that WhyteSpyder was hiring data
analytics apprentices. They emphasized in their job description that it was good for
people looking for career changes. As someone coming from restaurant work who
wanted to “reinvigorate” [laughter] my career plans, that stood out to me.
Ashley French at ACDS helped place me at WhyteSpyder, where I started in April. We’ll soon finish our four months of course work, and then the apprenticeship will continue for a total of a year. I’m really enjoying the data analyst course. Don Walker, our instructor, is engaging and very, very helpful. I’m really fortunate to get to learn from him.
At WhyteSpyder, we work with suppliers who are trying to sell on Walmart.com. My role is to track the performance of our clients’ product offerings on Walmart.com and develop strategies to accelerate the growth of their online sales. As a Senior Data Analyst, I’m monitoring high-volume search terms on Walmart.com and identifying opportunities for our clients to boost their search ranking and drive traffic, clicks, and conversions to their product pages. So there’s just a tremendous amount of data to work with.