Rachel Thompson, Data Analyst
Data Governance

My Path to a Career in Data Governance

By Rachel Thompson

I landed in data governance by means of a happy accident. Yes, I was in search of a new career — and, yes, I was essentially starting over at the age of 32. But the world of data governance took me down a trail I previously didn’t even know existed.  

If I rewind a bit to March 2020, which is now forever marked as a pivotal time for the entire globe, I was put in a situation that was similar to many. I wondered what would come next and what professional space I could occupy that would not be as affected by the ups and downs of the pandemic. I worked over half my life in the restaurants and hospitality industry, which took one of the hardest hits because of COVID-19.  

Learning to Code

Armed with determination and an unused bachelor’s in psychology, I landed on computer coding as my way out. It was an avenue I had always been interested in but never put any real effort into executing. Coding was something I thought “smart people” knew how to do, but now I was determined to become one of those smart people.

I enrolled in a six-month, virtual, full-stack web development boot camp. While the boot camp progressed, my restaurant reopened, then closed and reopened again. This roller-coaster experience only fueled my fire to finish strong. But it wasn’t easy. My instructor referred to the pace of the course as akin to trying to drink water from a fire hose. He wasn’t wrong.

Applying for That First Techy Job

Following the end of the course came the true test — landing a job. I read about job openings on site after site, with many of the posts listing skills I had acquired, yet they asked for a half-decade of experience. And this included the posts labeled junior and entry-level.

Daily, I would send out resumes tailored to each post and company. What I received back were emails telling me I didn’t have enough experience or the position had been filled. This method took the wind out of my sails as I knew the numbers were not in my favor. I felt like I was just a name in an inbox lost amongst all the other names. My life experience and newfound programming skills were reduced to an unseen PDF file.

I found myself submitting fewer and fewer resumes as this process dragged on. What I needed was a new approach. I have always prided myself on my hospitality and people skills. My whole life, I had been performing in front of eager diners. I knew if I could get in front of a real person and they could see me in person (instead of on paper), I could secure a position. It would be six long months before I got this chance.  

Hello, Sarah and FSFP

A mutual contact suggested I connect with Sarah Rasmussen, a senior consultant at First San Francisco Partners (a.k.a. FSFP). In our first Zoom meeting, I learned about Sarah’s career and background. (As a woman breaking into the tech space, I wanted to glean any advice I could!)

Sarah had a web development background similar to my path. We instantly related to one another. As Sarah talked more about FSFP, the way she spoke about the company and her peers was nothing short of inspiring.

Collibra consulting and implementing

First San Francisco Partners has a long-time partnership with data intelligence company Collibra. You can learn more about FSFP’s Collibra strategy and implementation consulting work here.

After chatting about our backgrounds, Sarah asked what it was that I wanted to do and the type of career I wanted. I told her it sounded like what she was doing at FSFP but that I had never worked in data governance. I didn’t know what Collibra was at that time — I do now. It’s a data intelligence platform many of our clients use. — and I barely even knew what metadata was. Sarah was patient and explained the concepts of her field to me, giving me points to consider and “homework” for our next meeting. 

We were having a next meeting!

This was the moment I felt like I had found a mentor. Sarah and I met a few more times. I had no idea how truly busy her schedule was and how amazing it was that Sarah took time out of her days to help shape a career that hadn’t quite even materialized yet. In one of our meetings, Sarah asked if I would be interested in an internship at her company. Most 32-year-olds wouldn’t jump at the chance for an entry-level position, let alone an internship, but I was thrilled to get my foot in the door. After a resounding yes and many thank yous, Sarah set the wheels in motion.

The Start of My Data Governance Career

Working at FSFP as an intern felt very similar to the boot camp experience of being introduced to new concepts, words and software tools. Acronyms I had never heard were flying around faster than I could write them down to later google (hello, MDM, DQ and DG).  It would have been easy to be completely overwhelmed if not for my coworkers, who were as patient and kind as Sarah. Help always seemed to be just a Slack message away.  

Things were going well, and I was learning a lot. The concepts of data governance, data stewardship and data quality and the Collibra tool’s capabilities were complex. But, surprisingly, things seemed to come naturally to me. One day about a month after the internship started, Sarah told me there was an opportunity to come on as a full-time employee. I literally danced around my apartment at the opportunity. Not only was it a full-time role at FSFP, but it was on a very ambitious project with a well-known healthcare organization. This was huge! 

With this new engagement, I plunged even deeper into the unknown — more new terms, acronyms and policies to learn at an even faster speed. Persistence and collaboration have been getting me through everything. I’m connected to a fascinating project that will make a huge impact on how one of the leading global healthcare systems will operate … and to think I was slinging expensive sushi and sake to Chicago residents just one year ago!

Had I let my lack of industry knowledge deter me from an opportunity that truly interested me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There is always room to learn and grow in any industry, including data management. Many people undervalue their past experiences, but those may just be the fuel they need to bust through a perceived barrier in a foreign space.

If you’re like me and are interested in breaking into the data management space, even though you don’t know anything about data governance or its other practice areas, I challenge you to explore the many opportunities this industry has to offer.