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Erica Louie, Head of Data at dbt Labs
This post is part of our “Orchestrating my day” series where data folks walk us through their daily experiences.
Hey there 👋
Erica (ric/riccy) Louie here! And I’m the Head of Data at dbt Labs. I have the privilege of leading a talented, empathetic, and hilarious team of analytics engineers and data analysts at a company at the forefront of analytics.
I’m excited to provide a glimpse of my daily life to fellow data folks. But first, a few things you should know about me:
- I have been at dbt Labs, formerly Fishtown Analytics, since 2017 and was their second full-time data hire.
- I studied political science and Italian in college, but stumbled upon data when I realized I wanted to develop more technical skills (s/o to Codeacademy’s SQL course). I like to believe that much of the empathy I hold for stakeholders and differing viewpoints in my data work stems from my background and experiences studying public policy and living abroad.
- Baking is a passion! If I wasn’t accepted into my alma mater, I would’ve attended pastry school. My ultimate dream is to open a community-centered bakery where I can connect my love of baking and community.
- Ask anyone who knows me–I geek out over every type of music (my current obsession is DJs that only mix on vinyls and finding the originals that are sampled in songs we know today). One of my favorite ways to decompress is mixing songs that I’ve been listening to over a period of time; it’s my version of journaling.
- As a leader of a team, my highest priority is to ensure that my team feels supported to do their best work and they’re genuinely happy and excited to come into work. In action, this means I prioritize their mental health, remove my ego from the work, and focus on their career development. All I want to do is create great data work while still treating people as people.
Orchestrating my day #
7:05 a.m. My Sleep Cycle alarm has officially gone off meaning it’s time to start my very healthy morning ritual: checking Slack. While still lying in bed, I first check #internal-analytics-status to see if any production jobs failed and then #internal-analytics, a place where business users ask data questions. This is the ultimate determiner if it’s going to be a “jump onto my laptop” morning or a “take my sweet time” morning. If there are any pressing questions or requests in #internal-analytics, I’ll ensure my team is aware of it; and if there are no immediate fires to put out (which most of the time there aren’t), it’s time to really start my morning.
8:00 a.m. I love my mornings because they set the tone for the day and I can focus on just me. I’ll throw a playlist on my speakers, brew a fresh cup of coffee, and get my day going. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I’ll often take a bike ride along the beach with my bluetooth speaker softly blasting (I don’t want to be obnoxious, but speakers are much safer and The Guy does it too).
10:00 a.m. My team and I set a precedent that we’re very meeting-light and we often use written documents or asynchronous daily stand-ups to avoid repetitive meetings. If I do have meetings, they’re often focused on company-level initiatives with leadership, data office hours, or data team Lunch ‘n’ Learns. When I have the time, I’m also a fan of casual coffee chats where I can catch up or meet my coworkers (especially in this remote-first world). I’ve found that it helps my mental health to chat with folks and I like to get a pulse check on how people are generally feeling.
12:00 p.m. It’s Wednesday, mah dudes! Which means it’s time for Data Office Hours. The data team holds open-forum office hours every week for anyone who wants to attend and pick our brains on anything data-related. They’re a great opportunity to see what people are working on and struggling with in self-service initiatives. Since we embed data team members in different business departments, we’re likely going to shift towards more team-specific data office hours as the data team, the overall company, and the business complexity grows.
As I work through meetings, I often like to use the built-in Sticky notes on my computer to take note of anything that pops up during the day and self-control apps to block Twitter and other social media sites. It’s also key to use calendar blocks or the classic “DEEP WORK” Slack status to let people know when I’m heads-down or available.
3:11 p.m. Some might think that 5 p.m. is the best time of day. Those people are wrong. One of the best times of the day is 3 p.m., when a good portion of folks in the Eastern time zone have logged off and all is quiet on Slack. This is my time to be heads-down and undistracted as an individual contributor (IC).
One of the special things about running a data team like a product team is that we have an actual roadmap that helps data team members identify their daily and weekly tasks. The same applies to me; knowing exactly what’s on my roadmap for the next few weeks helps me allocate my time for IC work. Some things I’ll focus on include:
- Company-level strategic work, such as modeling OKRs or ARR (annual recurring revenue)
- Ad-hoc requests that don’t have a dedicated data team member assigned to them
- We currently embed data team members in our marketing, product, and CS teams; any roadmap item that doesn’t fall into those team members’ hands will usually come to me
When I’m deep in IC work and run into mental blocks or challenging data problems that I can’t solve on my own, I turn to my team of clever and talented data practitioners. We have a set of Team Values, one of which is “embracing vulnerability” when we don’t know how to solve a problem. Because of this team culture, we never hesitate to reach out for help if we need it. If I find myself working on a problem for more than 30 minutes, I’ll ping our #team-data Slack channel to ask if anyone is available for a huddle and provide some context into the problem I’m trying to solve. For more strategic or bigger-picture problems, I’ll rely on Tristan, Anna, or other mentors in the data space.
7:28 p.m. Somehow four hours have flown by. That means it’s time to transition to high-level thinking, also known as my couch-sitting time. During this time, I’m usually pondering about:
- Growing the team: What do the operations of our team look like two quarters from now? And what changes can we make now to be prepared for this? This is incredibly top of mind for me as we grow our team in the next few quarters.
- Managing the team: Before career ladder check-ins or reviews for the data team members, I’ll review where they currently are and identify some areas for them to work on to get to the next level. If it’s been a hard week, I’ll also think about who should receive a gentle nudge to take some PTO and reflect on what I could have done differently to support them better.
- Roadmapping and addressing company-wide issues: I try to build our roadmap a few quarters out to get a better idea on where the team is heading and what work is most pressing. I’ll also try to tie this in with company-wide problems: What problems are we going to face that we’re not aware of yet or it isn’t pressing enough (but will be one day)? How does that fit in our roadmap? These are the heavy, but important questions to think about.
- Improving our data product: How do we continually improve our data products and overall data reliability and quality? Our dbt project isn’t perfect and there will always be ongoing data modeling work to make it better. However, if I pick up on any themes or questions from the week regarding our dbt project, I’ll note it to incorporate in future roadmaps. There’s also pressure in this role, especially at a company that’s at the forefront of our field. How can we push the boundaries and think outside the box? How can we keep up with best practices that seem to always be changing? The answers to these questions are nebulous and navigating these unknowns is one of the greatest challenges for any modern data team.
- Questioning the data industry…also known as my hot takes: I’ve been spending my weekday evenings and weekend mornings reflecting on the data industry, what themes are coming up there, and how they could apply to dbt Labs. I also recently started a Substack to provide some candid reflection on my experiences in this industry and honestly question why we do what we do and who we serve.
After thinking about those brain-crunching questions, it’s time for me to start winding down. I used to have a less formal wind-down, but have recently started dedicating explicit time on my calendar to remind me to close out my day. I’ll remove sticky notes items I finished, provide updates to data tickets, and identify the items I didn’t accomplish today, so I can prioritize them for tomorrow.
Looking toward the future #
And that’s my day, from my morning coffee to data office hours to couch-sitting some of the toughest questions in the data industry. As I write this and reflect on my day, I can’t help but think about my team and why I love this job so much.
You know when parents first have kids they only want to give them the best memories from their own childhood? The same applies to me as a manager: I’m constantly reflecting on the things that I did and didn’t love as an IC and trying to apply those learnings to my team. One of the most important things I’ve looked back on and appreciated was being treated as human. At the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to find fulfillment and meaning in this world; treating each other with respect and humanity is the only way to interact with the people I work with and care about it.
I’m also so incredibly excited for the next year for the data team at dbt Labs, primarily because of the growth our team will experience over the next few months. Soon, we’ll have more analytics engineers, data analysts, and hands-on keyboards to help us crack open Pandora’s box of business questions, knowledge, and problems. These new folks will bring new ways of thinking and new experiences. There are so many things we want to accomplish as a team and understand as a business that we can only accomplish together.
A larger team also means real changes to my day-to-day. While I do a considerable amount of IC work right now, I’ll likely shift more towards focusing on greater strategic thinking in the upcoming months. I’ll be spending more time digging into deeper questions about the business, such as unpacking our key growth levers and taking on more high-value work, like revamping our OKR framework, for the company.
It’s an exciting time to be a data person right now. It’s even more exciting when you work with genuinely fantastic people who are all striving towards leading with empathy and respecting each other while creating a scalable, usable, and forward-thinking analytics stack.
Last modified on: Jul 27, 2022