How I Became a Data Geek

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I love data and have for a long time. I believe it is one of the last true things we have in this world, let me explain. I got in a lot of trouble when I was a kid. I grew up poor with just me and my Mom on the west side of Phoenix AZ.

I was a skater and not the cool kind like we have now, the kind that got into trouble a lot for skating up curbs or benches. That was until I found my love for technology. I was 15 and went to a charter school where you could learn at your own pace. I loved this. I could bust my butt and graduate early so I could have more time to skate, of course.

The thing I didn’t know, however, was that during this process I would fall in love with technology. And honestly, it happened by accident. All of the coursework was computer based, and we just had teachers roaming around to help us if we got stuck. In one of the programs, I found a way to hack it so I could skip the lesson and go straight to the test. This was for a class I had already taken, typing, so I was thrilled when I could finish it quicker.

At that moment, at that exact moment, I realized that computers were things you could force to do whatever you want and that if you could master them, you could conquer the world. Or at least make enough money not to have to work. With a fire lit under me, I was able to finish high school before I turned 17 and shortly after started college. I found myself drawn to computer programming and accounting, both fields with concrete solutions. Unlike other areas, in accounting and programming, it either worked, or it didn’t. Your program ran, or it broke, your balance sheet zeroed out, or it was off.

Not long after I finished high school, I landed an internship at the phone company MCI on their Helpdesk. Back then we weren’t so specialized like we are now in the tech world, we considered ourselves “technologists” that could handle any tech problem you could throw at us. So working in tech during this era, remember the internet was still brand new, I had the chance to learn a little of everything.

This is when I fell in love with data.

I switched to the “reporting” after only a few months on the help desk and was in love. Back then I would come into the call center around 6 am to run the morning reports, collate and staple them all, highlight the important parts, then put them on the 42 supervisors desks. Everyday…

I was at MCI until they closed about four years later. During that time I had several opportunities to change my career path and make more money, but I didn’t, I was in love with data and wasn’t going to stray from that path.

I spent the next 13 years in various roles always focused on helping companies make the most of their data. My career took off when I decided to start consulting. My first client was Facebook, of course. I started at Facebook in 2012 when they hired me to implement a data analytics platform named Tableau. I spent about three months on-site architecting the system, then implementing it, migrating their old content over, and then training hundreds of their analysts on how to use it. 

Towards the end of my time there I got to witness them go public. This was a special moment for everyone there, myself included. I felt like the data geeks won. Facebook was a special place for me, not only did I make some great friends but everyone there was a data geek…these were my people!

As much as I would have loved to stay working at Facebook forever, the travel from San Diego became too difficult. I recently got married and bought a house. Both of which deserved my attention and being gone four days a week on work wasn’t going to fly. So I landed at Mozilla. They let me work remote 100% of the time. Here is where I had the title “Data Geek”. I even had business cards with that on it 😃   

At Mozilla, I helped them monitor the worldwide launch of their phone operating system, FirefoxOS. This was a blast, and I loved my time there. Soon though, we had a big shakeup with our CEO, and I found myself in position I wasn’t thrilled with. Around that time I became an author for the online training site, Pluralsight. I found a passion for sharing my knowledge and experience in the world of Data with others and fell in love with data all over again.

Eventually, I hooked up with the founder, and he asked me to come on board to build their data organization. So I did, I joined Pluralsight and built out an entire group focused on making the company smarter through data. I had teams of data analysts, scientists, and engineers all working together to help propel the company forward. In the two years I was there, we went from around 50 people to over 500 so tremendous growth over a short period, and in 2016, after having my first child, I decided I wanted to get back to making content. So I quit

After quitting my full-time gig there, I dove straight into making online courses again and put out almost 25 the year following on Pluralsight and Now before quitting I had bought my Tesla Model S, and my passion for tech was reignited. With all these courses out there I wanted a way to promote them, so I started publishing data tips on my YouTube channel, at the time just called Ben Sullins Data Geek.

Then one day, around November 2016 my wife asked me how much money we were saving by having a Tesla compared to a regular gas car. So, naturally, I made a spreadsheet and broke it down in a Youtube video. In the video, I compared what we would have paid in gas versus what we did pay for electricity. The lighting is horrible, and I shot it in 720p with practically no editing. This has to be the worst video I’ve ever made, haha.

Within the first week, I had nearly 200K views on the video. I think before that my biggest video had something like 3K views. I was blown away. This was when I realized that Tesla fans loved data… So I started to experiment with some other Tesla related videos, and some not. I quickly realized no one cared at all about hearing me talk about non-testa topics

So in January, I decided to switch my channel over and focus exclusively on Tesla. This is where Teslanomics was born Since January over 40,000 of you have joined me on this journey to look at the data behind this company and the related industries to understand what’s going on by subscribing. Over 6M times you and others have watched one of our videos, and I’m more passionate now than ever about making great content for you. I’m building a team, and we’re looking to one day take over YouTube.

Okay, maybe that won’t happen, but think big right?

So if you know, others that love data and are passionate about technologies that are changing our world in profound ways let them know about us. Ask them to join, and together we’ll all get smarter as we try to understand the world through the lens of data.

And don’t forget, when you free the data, your mind will follow, see you soon.