A Decade of Data

Scott Albrecht talks about how his time in the MSiA program launched his successful career with industrial supply company Grainger. 

Scott Albrecht’s life was awash with data before he began Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Analytics (MSiA) program.  

It was only after his MSiA graduation that he fully knew what to do with the data.  

Scott AlbrechtToday, Albrecht (MSiA ‘13) is a senior manager for data science with Grainger, a Fortune 500 industrial supply company headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill. In that role, he is part of a team of about 70 people and leads a group of six to provide strategic direction for the company by turning a plethora of data into actionable insights.  

But back in 2012, Albrecht was working for an IT management consulting firm serving the consumer packaged goods and life science industries and recognized he lacked an important skill set to advance his career.   

“In my role, I was focused on the data engineering aspect of data science, building systems and dashboards that brought historical data forward to key stakeholders,” he said. “I wanted to move into a role that let me work with the data to develop insights and solve complex problems.” 

Enter the MSiA program.  

Albrecht conducted an exhaustive search to find the right program to boost his career. At the time, there were few institutions that offered robust data analytics programs. Northwestern’s MSiA program was a clear front runner based on its comprehensive curriculum and it being a pioneer in data science education.  

“I knew that was the right fit for me,” he said. “Combine that with the fact that I was already in Chicago and Northwestern is a world-class university, the decision to attend once I was accepted was very easy for me.” 

Albrecht dove deep into what MSiA had to offer. He said he found the classes useful, but it wasn’t just the data science lessons that have helped him in his career. He greatly benefited from learning the importance of telling a relatable story with data. 

“I learned just how critical it is to be able to communicate very technical work to a non-technical audience so they can understand what you’ve done, the insights you’ve gained, and how they should use those insights to take action and make decisions going forward,” he said.   

If you're unable to communicate that story the data is telling in a clear, non-technical manner, the likelihood it will be applied or implemented is slim to none, he said. Crafting that story is also much more of an art than the title “data science” might indicate.   

If it were just about the numbers, how much knowledge the data scientist had about their product or industry would be irrelevant. Instead, Albrecht found what he calls “domain knowledge” to be crucial in his life as a data scientist. 

“There are many choices that data scientists have to make throughout the course of their analysis,” he said. “Having strong domain knowledge helps ensure the art aspect of data science is well informed and good, reasonable choices are made along the way for the right reasons.”  

Albrecht started with Grainger a month after graduation. Since then, he has steadily worked his way up the company, from statistical analyst to manager and now senior manager of data science.  

He said he looks back at the MSiA program with deep appreciation for how it helped improve his career trajectory. 

“I use the technical skills as well as business skills I developed through the program every day,” he said. “I really can’t believe it’s going to be 10 years since finishing the program this December. Time flies.”  

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