Career Conversations: David Wang ’16
St. Olaf College alumnus David Wang ‘16 is currently working as a Strategic Growth Analyst at the Dropbox headquarters in San Francisco, California.
As part of the Career Conversations series, which highlights the paths Oles take after St. Olaf, he sat down for a conversation with Piper Center for Vocation and Career Associate Director of Alumni Career Services Jenele Grassle.
I know it has only been a couple of years since you graduated from St. Olaf, but what is your favorite memory from your time on the Hill?
Oof, that’s a hard question to answer. I have a lot of good memories from St. Olaf. One of my favorite ones was spending the evening, after a long shift in the caf, watching the supermoon lunar eclipse with friends on what was definitely not the roof of the library.
Since leaving St. Olaf, you have been building your career in the technology sector working with Dropbox. Tell us about your role and employer. What are you currently working on?
I am currently a Strategic Growth Analyst at Dropbox. Dropbox is a technology company based in San Francisco that provides workplace productivity software alongside cloud storage solutions aimed at making collaborative work easier. If you haven’t used Dropbox before, we’re fairly similar to Google Drive/Docs.
As an analyst, I work with Growth and Product Managers as a quantitative advisor of sorts. I provide advice on experimental design, interpret A/B test results, and offer possible next steps for various projects.
In short — my job is to be a subject matter expert on our data. I need to know where to find it, how to get it in a format that’s useful for us, and how to identify what’s relevant to communicate to others.
To further your career, what do you wish you knew more about (skills, knowledge)?
In order to be a good analyst you should be proficient in SQL, have a baseline understanding of statistics and how the business operates, and have strong communication skills.
The things I’m most curious about tend to be largely niche. What are the best practices within the industry to calculate metrics? How can we write more efficient queries? How can we know for sure that the experiment we’re running has been set up and designed in such a way that we aren’t introducing other variables of which we’re unaware?
As an analyst, even if you’re often not quite as technical as engineers and data scientists need to be, you often have a better understanding of the business and how it operates. With that in mind, I’m still trying to figure out the best path to follow to explore the topics in which I’m interested in more depth.
What do you see as a current need or challenge in your industry/career?
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges in the analytics industry is proper organization and quality of data. Even if you’re a great analyst, you can’t work with poorly-defined or poorly-collected data. Bad input begets bad output.
I’ve found that even the largest organizations tend to have data issues for a variety of reasons — everything from not making data a high enough priority to allowing the people who collect and record the data to be too far removed from the people who consume it.
When you think about trends in your field, what keeps you awake at night?
YouTube videos, mostly.
More seriously, one of my greatest concerns has become how much data tech companies collect from their users and how that data is used. We’ve seen in recent news how easily this data can be misappropriated. Even worse, many people aren’t aware of how much data is being collected and how it’s being used. We are beginning to talk about it, and I hope that will evolve into a larger conversation about how technology has influenced our lives. I just think that we ought to be a bit more critical of these practices.
We know that relationships are important for personal and professional growth. How do you build and maintain your network?
I’ve found that the best way to start building a network from scratch is through cold calling. Start with alumni and shotgun out emails asking if they would be willing to take some time to chat with you about their career path and answer some of your questions. Don’t use a template for these communications (or at least try to personalize it and speak with your own voice).
As for maintaining these networks, that’s up to you. At the end of the day, it’s all communication: share your career updates with them, ask them how they’ve been or what they’ve been up to, and reach out to them for advice. If they’re local, offer to meet and catch up. I think the biggest challenge is getting past the discomfort. Instead of wondering, “Am I bothering them?” simply take the time to reach out and keep in touch.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Try. If you fail, so what? Failing is pretty normal and not something we should stigmatize or fear. Go ahead and send that email, ask that question, or apply for that job. Do whatever it is you have been thinking about doing. The worst thing that can possibly happen is that you lose out on an opportunity, and even then that’s a learning experience.
David Wang ’16Try. If you fail, so what? Go ahead and send that email, ask that question, or apply for that job. Do whatever it is you have been thinking about doing. The worst thing that can possibly happen is that you lose out on an opportunity, and even then that’s a learning experience.
What do you wish you could tell your 22-year-old self?
Don’t worry about admitting that you made a mistake, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and that’s okay. Don’t make your work your life or tie your value/worth/self-esteem to your performance at work. This isn’t college anymore. Your grades aren’t — and have never been — a reflection of who you are as a person, and neither is your performance at work. There will always be more time to work, so don’t trade your own mental health for it. Live your best life.
If you’d like to read more stories from our Career Conversations series, check out our Alumni Career Services program.