This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Elijah Butler, a 24-year-old data analyst from Kentucky. He transitioned into tech during the pandemic seeking higher pay and a better work-life balance, like many young adults over the past few years. He provided Insider with documentation showing his income. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Growing up, I cycled through a lot of potential career ambitions.
First, I wanted to be a meteorologist. Eventually, I changed my mind and decided to become a mechanical engineer. I actually started college majoring in engineering, but quickly found that it wasn’t for me.
After freshman year, I changed my major to business economics and entered the business college, where I was introduced to the world of data. That led me to my path out of school, doing fraud analysis for a bank. It’s a good job, generally speaking — I’m thankful for my time there, but it wasn’t for me.
For one thing, I found it to be repetitive and uninspiring work. It’s the problem a lot of people have with “stable” jobs, and I couldn’t quite strike the balance I wanted between stability and stimulation. I worked less than a year at that firm.
Two years ago — when I was 22 — I finally learned what someone with the title of “data analyst” did, while still working that first job. I wanted to break into tech, and that seemed like the best way for me to do it.
As I describe in a recent TikTok video, where I share tips on how to break into the field, a data analyst analyzes raw data in order to “make conclusions, and this can be used to answer questions, influence business strategy, or whatever else your organization asks of you.”
Switching to a career in data analytics changed my life
It wasn’t costly for me to become a data analyst — and it changed my life. A career in data analytics has allowed my wife and me to start traveling a lot more, which is our true passion in life: This year, we’re going to Florida, Wyoming, and hopefully somewhere out west, which we wouldn’t have managed on my bank fraud analysis salary. We’ve also managed to pay down the small amount of debt that we have.
When I got hired for my current data analyst position, I received a salary increase of nearly 40% compared from my job as a fraud analyst, as well as incredible 401k match and paid-time-off policies. I’m currently working as a data and reporting professional at Humana, a health insurance company.
The great thing about a job in data analysis is that it’s a skill that’s transferable between all kinds of companies.
I love my job. Mostly, I like that I get to solve problems and be creative.
For instance, when writing code to extract data from a database — one of my typical assignments — I get to act as an engineer, often employing a trial-and-error approach until I complete a given task.
When creating reports, I get to exercise the creative part of my brain, using data to tell a story in the form of charts, graphs, and text. I take extra pride in this part of the job, choosing company-specific color schemes to make the reports look visually appealing, for instance.
Like any profession, it has its good days and its bad days, but I’m happy to be paid well for this kind of work.
How I became a data analyst — and how you can do the same
I promote data analytics as a field to my TikTok viewers because it’s a great way of becoming financially mobile while doing easier work than they might find elsewhere.
Upon entering the field, I was surprised to find out how many people were able to break into tech through data analytics, without needing a college degree. While I loved college and think it’s a good thing, it is far too expensive. Someone willing to do the work to teach themselves the technical skills should be able to land a tech job if they can perform the job requirements with or without a degree, and data analytics is perfect for that.
I recommend the field because you can work from home while making an above-average salary, and I find it to generally be rewarding work. However, while I say anyone can break into the field, it is by no means easy.
It takes a good amount of persistence to learn the skills required of the job, and it takes patience and determination when trying to land interviews and your first job offer. Landing your first job in most fields is challenging.
But, for those willing to put in the work to improve their life, the roadmap exists and works; it did for me.
You can pay tens of thousands of dollars for a college degree, or a comparable sum for a data analytics bootcamp, but if you have the willpower, you can break into the field for free, or nearly free.
I used Khan Academy’s free SQL course, for instance, one of the major tools for data analytics. I also used YouTube videos from Alex the Analyst, who produces tutorials on the major tools analysts use: namely, Tableau, Excel, and Power BI.
I’m not opposed to paid boot camps and courses in general, especially for those who thrive under structured learning. But it’s by no means necessary, making it a great field for people looking for better work lives and stronger finances.
It’s a field where I get to work from home, make more money, and talk to zero customers. In other words, I’m living my best life.