My guest for this episode is Rob Winters, Senior Director of Data at TripActions, a travel, corporate card, and expense management company. Rob has been in the data space since 2006 and managing teams since 2008. He’s worked on the wide array of positions that make up a data team.
At TripActions, Rob is responsible for thirty people, spread all over the globe. He breaks his data team into three areas of focus. The first area is business intelligence and analytics. For him, that’s a broader purview than most organizations: “We talk about guiding the business through making better decisions through data. So our analysts work as insight generators and experts on how data relates to different business domains and problem areas.”
The second area is data science. In their data science practice, they “take machine learning algorithms and build them into the product to make it personal, to make it accurate, to make it effective, to solve problems….” The third area is data infrastructure. Data infrastructure answers the integral questions of, “How do we get data together? How do we store it, manage it safely and securely, and how do we integrate it and then put it back out into the world so that people can use it effectively?”
I found Rob’s approach to cross-training each and every individual in his team, very interesting. Rob explained that at TripActions, “everyone is cross-trained. [...] We've got a technical competency matrix that we use [...] Everyone in the team has good, solid knowledge of data modeling and deployments and basic data visualization.” This isn’t an easy thing to do and requires a “constant investment” during onboarding and ongoing skills training and personal development.
Rob feels strongly about the importance of diversity and inclusion in his teams. He remarked, “Diversity is, I think it's very much a buzzword these days, and everyone is paying lip service and has been for a few years [...] People who have a different set of backgrounds, different experiences, different life paths that brought them along but a common set of values, intentions, how they look at relationships with other people, how they look at their own personal development and growth [...] makes an incredibly strong team.” This diversity is important because the team doesn’t “just avoid an echo chamber. It essentially creates a virtuous chamber [...] of people bringing different ideas together and growing and developing the group as a whole and sharing in that experience.”
Check out the episode to hear even more of Rob’s thoughts on being an American living in Europe; a great story about using data to keep a failing company afloat; and, the role of emotional intelligence in building a team. Rob has a great perspective, and you won’t want to miss the rest of his insights, experience, and good humor.