Episode 7 features John O’Hara, a marketing Analytics & Insights Manager at The Walt Disney Company. John talks about how his background in applied mathematics (including a Master’s degree from the Professional Applied and Computational Mathematics program at Buffalo State College) launched his career as an analyst and lead to his current job at Disney. Tune in to hear about his advice for building your network, what it is like working for the Walt Disney Company and how he handles projects involving large data sets.
(upbeat music) - This is Buffalo State Data Talk the podcast where we introduce you to how data is used and explore
careers that involve data. In today's episode, we
talk to John O'Hara.
A Marketing Analytics and Insight Manager at the Walt Disney Company. John received a master's degree from the professional Applied
and Computational Mathematics program at Buffalo State
which launched his
analytics career, leading to his current position. John will share advice
in building your network and getting into the
field of data analytics. Keep listening to hear from
John what it's like working
for the Walt Disney Company. - Hello, and welcome
back to another episode of "Buffalo State Data Talk." I'm your host, Heather Campbell. And we appreciate you
joining us for episode seven.
Today, we'll be talking to John O'Hara, a Marketing Analytics and Insight Manager at the Walt Disney Company. Thanks for joining us today, John. - Thank you very much
for having me, Heather.
- So I'm sure everyone has heard of the Walt Disney company, of course. But there's lots of different
divisions that Disney has. Parks, animation, broadcasting. So what area of the
company do you work for
and what kind of work does
this segment of the company do? - So currently I'm down here
in Orlando, Florida, and I work for Disney Parks Experiences
and Consumer Products. And specifically my department is called the consumer insights and
measurement analytics department.
And within that organization I work on a marketing analytics team. It's a very large company, but that's where I'm currently sitting. - So as the marketing
analytics and insight manager,
what are your main job responsibilities? - Sure, so our team does a lot of media measurement,, reporting looking at marketing effectiveness, testing but specifically my team is most focused
on media mix modeling and scenario planning for our businesses. So what media mix modeling is,
is we're looking at how each of our business segments
should be purchasing media. Whether it be TV or
Facebook or Instagram ads
or radio or podcast ads
and making a recommendation of how much money they
should put into each of those channels in order to
drive whatever their KPIs are that's their performance indicators. Whether it be park attendance
or cruise line bookings,
things of that nature. So that's like the main
function of my team, is media mixed modeling. - So do you have a background in marketing at all or are you
more on the analytics side?
- So, no, I'm more on the analytics side. I was, started my career
working as an actuary and then had an opportunity
to jump to Disney and do some digital forecasting
work for ESPN and ABC. From there, I got involved
with advertising sales
optimization with ESPN and ABC, and then had an opportunity
to jump into the parks world. And my team kind of sits
between the business side of things and the science side of things. And we're really the data crunchers
and the storytellers between
those two departments. - So could you tell me what a typical day or a typical week looks like for you? - Sure, so it's a lot different now with the pandemic ongoing.
- Of course. - But in terms of my typical work day, it's really a mix of
meetings, individual time to focus on my projects
and then collaborating with other teams on group projects.
And it's really kind of a mix of those different things. But each day each day just brings on a new challenges and adventures. - So you mentioned you work with a team.
Do you spend most of the time
working with those people or do you spend a lot of
time working independently? - So it depends on the
project, but for the most part I work a lot with my
marketing analytics team but also we bridge across
So we're working with our
advanced analytics team that does a lot of our
data integration work and our really the highly
sophisticated modeling. And then our team is building stories and sharing those with our
marketing strategy partners,
our customer engagement partners that are actually going to
take our recommendations and apply them out into
the advertising landscape for Disney. - So the other members of your team,
do they have a analytics background, marketing background mix of both? - It just depends. It's quite a wide and wide array of people
in a diverse group.
You have industrial engineers in there. You have people with math
and statistics backgrounds. That's my degree is in mathematics. In addition to the applied math degree that I received at Buff State.
There's also people that
are marketing or MBAs and it's just a very wide mix of people. - So I'm gonna switch it
up a little bit and ask, are you still able to set aside time for personal development?
And if so, what kinds
of activities do you do? - Sure, so I'm a strong
believer in continuing to always keep learning
and developing your skills. And I'll do a lot of on-site
trainings like using Coursera. So I've been taking a lot
of like Python trainings
and actually this week,
Wednesday, I'll be sitting in a Tableau conference that's specific for Disney employees. And also I've had the
opportunity to go to a lot of different analytics
conferences around the country.
Disney has also provided the opportunity for leadership trainings that
I've found very valuable. And then more on personal side, Disney has been a great organization to do things with my teammates to just kind of build
those interpersonal relationships like sports leagues or something
that's called canoe racing around the world where we
actually go to magic kingdom at 6:00 AM and race around
the rivers of America. So it's, there's a really
unique organization to work for.
- Yeah, that sounds like a
really fun team to work with. So you mentioned that you
go to conferences sometime and I know that a lot
of time at conferences there's happy hours or
times for networking. Do you have any tips
for how students can build their network and get connections in their industry? - Definitely, so I would say to them, don't be afraid to reach out
to anyone no matter how high up in an organization they might be.
Everyone started from somewhere. So everyone has gone through
their own career journey and you can take learnings from anyone no matter what their level is. But at the same time, I
will say, have a purpose.
Don't waste their time. If you want to start a conversation make sure that there's a
question that you wanna ask or a goal that you want to achieve. And I'd also recommend to something
that I've been participating
in over the last few years at Disney is a mentorship program. So I have a mentor and that's a few steps out in front of me in their career. And I'm also speaking
to more junior analysts
and helping them get to the
place that I am in my career. - That's awesome that
they have that program. I think that it's really
helpful to have somebody who can kind of guide you through and give you advice the entire
time through your career.
So obviously we're in a pandemic right now and in-person networking
events don't really exist. So most of the networking
right now is being done online. So do you use LinkedIn or
any other online networking and how do you use them effectively?
And do you have any suggestions for building digital relationships? - Sure, so I do use LinkedIn for myself. I'm typically just
looking to see what types of projects other
organizations might be working
on that I might find interesting
and how I might be able to take a learning from
that and involve it into my current department in my work. In terms of networking. It's also been good to
keep in touch with people
that I've met along the
way through my career, meeting people at different
conferences and where they've gone and branched out
to really around the country. And also LinkedIn has been a
great place to just keep an ear and an eye open for
opportunities for advancement
because you never know when
you might find a opportunity that you might be passionate
about and just wanna throw your name in the ring for. - That sounds like excellent advice. So it sounds like you work
on lots of different topics,
lots of different areas. What would you say is your
favorite part of your job? - So my favorite part of my current role is
definitely being able to directly impact our
business and being part
of a team that has a
well-respected opinion around different parts of
the Walt Disney Company. And really seeing the
results of our hard work and our analysis go and have
a concrete example out there in the marketplace for it.
Working for a company
that their primary focus is making magic for their guests. And yes, different
projects might be looking at trying to increase
revenues or cut costs but the primary objective is always gonna
be guest satisfaction and making sure that that experience lives on
for future generations. - So I asked you what your
favorite part of your job was. So I'm gonna now ask the opposite. Can you tell us about something
that was really challenging
part of your work and how you have overcome it? - Sure, so when I first came to Disney I just was kind of caught off guard with how much data there is
here that's been collected
and how to clean it,
how to make sense of it. It's really, really, you have to be able to learn how to build
time into your projects and create a runway because inevitably the data's never clean.
You're gonna, you're gonna
hit these roadblocks. You're gonna have a partner
that doesn't provide their part of the project on time. And you're gonna need to
learn how to build a timeline that accounts for all of these things.
So that was really an adjustment coming from a few smaller companies into a company as big as Disney. - So it sounds like time
management, project management or some skills that you think
is really important to be successful? - Definitely you need
to be able to prioritize and be able to really make sure that you're able to deliver
what you promise to your clients or your partners and be that
source of reliability for them.
- So I know you already
mentioned a little bit of your background and how
you ended up where you are, but could you tell us a little bit more about your education? You received a degree from Buffalo State
in the Applied and
Computational Mathematics. So why did you choose to get that degree and how has it affected your career path? - Sure, so I finished my undergrad from University of Buffalo
also in Applied Mathematics
and wanted to pursue a higher education and saw that Buff State had this program of applied and computational mathematics. And it was really a program
that not just focused on the education, but
how you would apply this
in the workplace and how you
would apply mathematical skills in industry, no matter
what industry it was. I thought that would be
something very valuable for me. So I decided to pursue that opportunity. I'm very glad I did because
right from the time that I was
in that program, doors
started to open for me. I moved from a healthcare data analyst to an actuarial analyst with a different company
while I was in that program. And then after graduating,
I just started applying
to what I thought were dream jobs. I was really interested
in sports analytics. So I was applying for jobs with different baseball
teams and football teams and ended up getting this
digital forecasting role
for ESPN working for
Disney down in Florida. And that's kind of been a launchpad for my career to this point. - What made you interested
in working in data analytics? - So from the time I was a little kid
I was always, the way I think
has always been about numbers. Everything had a certain
order, a way of being solved. And math always came easily to me. And for many people that's not the case, it's they can figure out math
but it's not necessarily
a natural thing for them. So I decided that I was going to take one of my stronger skill sets and just see where I could
take that in terms of a career. And the program of Buff
State really helped me kind
of focus in and learn what
careers are out there. And what was the possibility for that. - I know that a lot of people
don't actually really know what you can do with a degree in Math. So could you mention maybe a couple
of the different jobs that you had? I know that you said you
were an actuary for a while, but maybe some of the different positions that you learned about and
that you've applied for and that you thought about doing.
Because I know that sometimes
people think of math and they're like, okay, well,
what do you do with math? You teach math and they
don't think of anything else. So what other careers are out there? - So I'll just speak to within Disney
and different departments
that I know of people that have a strong math background and where they're working at. There's people that are, they're the science data scientists.
They're doing very advanced modeling looking at machine learning
and augmented reality. And then there's the other side. That's more of like product development. So there is data integration analysts,
there's analysts that are
building user interfaces for tools, there's people
that are crunching data and trying to develop a
analytical recommendation through these tools. Then there's people that are
looking at consumer insights.
So people that are focused on evaluating what characters resonate with people, what rides are most
popular among our guests, what food people might wanna be eating. Then there's a whole myriad
of people that work in finance
and accounting, and really
there every organization every company has mathematical
needs, analytical needs. And it just depends on the
niche that interests you and how you want to apply yourself. - It sounds like there's lots
of different jobs that can use people with a math background. - Definitely. - So students often wonder what skills or education they need to
join a certain career path.
So you mentioned a
couple of skills before. Could you tell me what you think are the most important hard and soft skills when working as a data analyst? - So, some of the soft skills that I think
that would be valuable for
someone that's interested in working as a data analyst would be to be able to
strategically think. Be able to break down
a problem and come out with a creative solution.
Also in terms of when you're actually in the field and working, you really want to be able to know your audience and tell a clear and concise story that is geared towards their objectives
or to their background
and their experience and definitely have an opinion and be able to justify or
guide others towards it. And from hard skills aspect, you always wanna keep learning.
So technology continues to evolve. So from the time that
I entered the workplace I was just starting to code in a SQL and different Microsoft products. And that developed into coding and SAS
because that was really the
leader in statistical analysis. And now things are moving at Disney to open source
languages like Python and R. And those are things that
I'm continuing to try to learn as I go along in my career.
- So I know that you
can't predict the future, but what would you guess would be the most important technologies or skills that would be good to know for a future in data
science or data analytics?
- I think that you definitely
need to be able to code. It's something that although
it's not always interesting, it's the way that we're
able to crunch big data and provide a recommendation. Whether it just be through an analysis
or developing a model
or developing a product, and you have to be able to
be agile in coding as well. So languages change, software changes that a company might wanna use. So that's definitely a
foundational skill that started
in my time at UB in Buff
State that I brought with me and continue to need to learn. And you don't need to be
a subject matter expert because there's always opportunities for learning and development.
But you need, I like to say
that you need to know enough to be dangerous. - I like the way you put that.
- So many of our listeners are younger. So as somebody who has been
in your career for a few years who you mentioned before
has mentored new employees, what advice would you give for somebody who's interested
in working as a data analyst
or who has just entered the field? - Okay so as I mentioned
before, every industry no matter what it is has a varying degree analytical needs. And so I'd say to just be open-minded.
Don't necessarily shut off an opportunity that doesn't sound interesting
to you, explore it, see why they might see you
as a fit for that role. Also always keep learning. Don't be complacent and
continue to, don't think just
because you've graduated
that you're at the end. You wanna just continue to build yourself and learn as you go and
share those experiences with others and learn from
other people's experiences. - So what is something that
you wish somebody had told you
before you started your
first professional position, or maybe before you started
the position you have now? - So I would say to not be afraid to lean on the expertise or the
experience of others. And that you don't need to know how
to do everything on your own. And that most people are happy to help you develop in any way they can whether that be your career
itself or a specific skill. So, no one is out to get you.
They all just want the
team as a whole to succeed. So rely on people and
don't be afraid of that. - So don't necessarily feel like you have to prove yourself by going it alone. - Definitely not.
And if you're really interested in a job and you just see that one
bullet point that might not fit with your experience,
don't exclude yourself. Don't be afraid of that opportunity. If you feel like it's right.
Let them be the ones
to make that judgment. - I like the way you said that. I definitely think that if
you think you're a good fit let them decide that you're not the one. Don't exclude yourself before
you've even given it a chance.
- If you don't take that
chance you're already at a no. So it's at least worth
having that conversation and pursuing the opportunity. - Yeah, that's a great
way of thinking about it. So my last question,
before we let you go is
is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know that we didn't get a
chance to cover today? - Keep dreaming, keep
learning and find somewhere that you're passionate about to work or
and I just continue striving
for bigger and better things. - Excellent. John, thank you so much
for joining us today. And to all of our listeners, if you haven't already, check
out our previous podcasts
they're available wherever
you listen to podcasts. For more information
about starting your career as a data scientist, go to www.dataanalytics.buffalostate.edu. And don't forget to subscribe
so that you get a notification each time we release a new episode,
Buffalo State Data Talk.
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