Apprenticeship Spotlight: August 2021
MEET AARON LANCASTER
Hometown: Bentonville, Arkansas
Apprenticeship: WEHCO Media
MY BACK STORY
I grew up in Bentonville and started getting into computers as a kid. I was actually into 3D modeling and animation for a while as a teenager. As for making my living with computers, I honestly didn't know. I just knew that I loved computers and felt like I was good with them, because I had started so early in life.
I went to college at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and got my degree in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 1)
My first job out of college was at D3 Technologies in Springfield, Missouri. They’re a reseller of 3D modeling software for manufacturing companies, and I used my 3D modeling experience to get in the door there.
I was at D3 for about five years. At first, my title was Marketing Coordinator. I helped automate many aspects of the company’s digital asset creation processes, reducing what had taken hours of design time down to minutes. I also implemented a lead-scoring system that revolutionized the way our sales team used marketing data.
After a few years, I got promoted to Marketing Specialist. In that position, I took on more of a data analysis type of role, reporting on campaign performance and things. That’s when I realized that my passion wasn’t so much marketing in terms of content creation, but more in terms of performance reporting.
I had always wanted to move back to Northwest Arkansas, where my family was. So when my wife got a job here, I talked with the people at D3 and they agreed to let me work remote permanently. We moved back to Arkansas in 2017, and I continued working for D3 for about nine more months. But at that point I was ready to shift my focus more into just data, because that was really what I was interested in.
MY WORK LIFE (Part 2)
I started applying for jobs and saw that WEHCO Media in Fayetteville had an opening for a data analyst position, so I applied for it. WEHCO has maybe 15 newspapers across Arkansas, and there’s also a cable TV portion of the business, but I’m not really involved in that.
In 2018, WEHCO hired me as a Data Analyst, even though I had limited experience in that field. My work was in marketing, but with a focus more on tracking performance, website traffic, campaign performance, really just using Excel for the most part. I didn't know anything about relational databases or Python or coding or anything like that.
I've worked here at WEHCO for three years now, so I'm not new to it anymore. But before my apprenticeship, there were some things that I still really hadn't touched, things like Python. I've done a lot of HTML and CFS, but that really isn’t related to data at all. And there were times in my role when knowing Python would’ve been really important. And having more of an education on even SQL, because I really had to teach myself SQL when I got to this role.
MY TURNAROUND MOMENT
My supervisor brought up the idea of a Data Analyst apprenticeship to me. He told me it was facilitated by ACDS and asked if I was interested in doing it. And of course I said yes.
It’s been great. We finished up our classwork last month, and it really touched on pretty much everything that I do, from using Excel to best practices in building dashboards and visualizations. Dr. Donald Walker was our instructor, and he definitely taught us a lot in Python, which I desperately needed for my work goals.
At WEHCO, we track our subscriber data, so we have all kinds of different products. We've got print. We've got digital, what we call the iPad products. We have different durations—like Sunday only, Wednesday, Sunday, five days, six days. So all kinds of different products. I build dashboards to track how many subscribers we have over time, and how many subscriptions and stops we get per month, so that we understand whether we’re improving or getting worse.
We'll also run on-site messaging campaigns, where we'll segment portions of our audience and present them with a special offer or something like that. And then I'll go and report the performance of that, the conversion rates. I look at how many people saw it, how many people clicked, and then how many converted from it.
We also track behavioral data, so we understand somebody's average time they spend on our site. We know how many articles they read before they become a subscriber. We know categories of interest based on what they're reading. Every single one of our pages is tagged with a specific category, and we can see all the categories that a reader has viewed, and also the ones that they viewed more often than others.
As for my future, I honestly don't know. I like to believe I'll work my way into more of a data science role, but I can't say that I'm a hundred percent sure what that even means—to become a “data scientist.” There’s always something new to learn.