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How to Become a Data Leader

Episode 19: How to Become a Data Leader: Advice from JP Morgan’s Head of Data Visualization & Storytelling, Paulina Davila

Paulina Davila started her journey as an analyst and recently became a VP and the Head of Data Visualization & Storytelling at JP Morgan. She shares her tips on how to build effective data visualizations and presentations, as well as how to take initiative to help you climb the ranks at work. 

You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

What You’ll Learn in this episode

  • Day to day responsibilities of the Head of Data Visualization and Storytelling
  • Challenges teams face with data visualizing and storytelling
  • How data professionals can lead change in their workplace to increase usage of data visualization and storytelling
  • 3 tips for data professionals who want to improve their data viz and storytelling skills

Book Recommendations from Paulina

  • Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward Tufte
  • How Charts Lie by Alberto Cairo
  • Storytelling with Data by Cole Knaflic
  • Data Story by Nancy Duarte
  • The Big Picture by Steve Wexler

You can connect with Paulina on:

Get in Touch with Hana

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If you enjoyed this episode, check out this episode where you learn 5 ways to improve your data visualization skills.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to the art of communicating data show. Joining us today is Paulina Davila. She's the vice president of JP Morgan Chase serving as their head of data, visualization and storytelling for the global workforce analytics team. And she comes with 10 years of experience in the marketing and advertising space.

Like some of my other guests I've had on this show, I met Paulina through clubhouse last year in rooms, where we had lots of discussions about data visualization and data storytelling. So I'm really excited to have Paulina here today. Could you tell us Paulina more about yourself and the journey you took to getting where you are today as VP at JP Morgan chase?

Absolutely. Thank you for having me on a long time listener. First time, caller . Yeah, so I am, I'm gonna take a line from what you had in your, intro about being a grapher, turned data professional, and say that I'm an artist turned data professional. I was born and raised in Texas. And I'm a first gen Ecuadorian-American.

 Like you said, 10 years of experience in the marketing and advertising space. So that's what I went to school for. I took a degree in creative advertising had some minors in business and art and took on various roles at ad agencies around the DFW new metroplex. And during that time I learned that I really enjoyed being around creative people and seeing their.

But I didn't wanna be put in an isolating role. You know, one that didn't involve a lot of communication with people. So you could say that I'm very much an extrovert  

so I became an analyst at Sachi and Sachi, which was my dream agency. When they opened up in Dallas, I was super excited, applied right away. And and from there I worked my way up through the agency, by being a hand raiser, I would say it was a really big. Pivotal moment in my career was when I was given the opportunity.

I recognized that there was a chance for me to take our data department further our analytics department further. And I became what is known as a citizen developer.  Gardner defines a citizen developer as an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others.

Using tools that were made available by their company. So it's not necessarily a title, like an official title that you get at your job, but it's more of a persona that you take on. And so I feel like once I learned about this term, I was like, yes, this is exactly what I'm doing. I'm taking on this thing that never existed.

So I partnered really closely with our client at this time and created a tool which was a centralized source of truth. For our digital marketing campaigns

and our ultimate goal was to provide automated reporting and self-service visualization capabilities in Tableau. By doing this, we were allowing our team of analysts to spend less time doing repetitive manual work pulling the same types of reports. And instead, having more time to conduct deep dives into the insights that we can capture from the data, as well as putting together a more cohesive and engaging story for our client present.

So we saw a lot of success from building this tool . And we also spent time educating both the engineers on the best practices around marketing data, how we evaluate success. For these campaigns, as well as spending time educating the agency in our different departments within the agency on how to properly manage their data.

So this proactive approach that I took on to trying to educate, you know increase everyone's data literacy, as well as just general industry knowledge. I feel like is what really helped me to get all of these promotions that I got within the agency. So this really happened around at 2020 pandemic.

That was when I feel like my career kind of just shot through the roof because. I was able to  work remotely. And through that, I had a lot of time to myself to really work and not get distracted by talking to, my colleagues. I feel like that really helped me to Engage into the work that I'm doing and, and just go as far as I can, you know, really put my head down and, and get through with it, which of course, you know, led to some level of burnout  but it was, it, it was worth it.

I feel like I knew that this was this work that I was putting up front was going to pay off eventually at some point. So I moved from a media analyst then became a data architect, helping to build the the databases that we used to, to, to power this tool. And then I moved on to a BI supervisor role.

And as we, as we changed our team into more of a data engineering team, I took on the role of a lead data. So I had moved certainly a lot of different ways within the past five years at Sachi and it's just been an amazing experience. So during that time, I felt like it was important for me to continue to hone my experience.

I exposed my myself by reading books, podcasts, anything on social media, you know, to get myself integrated into the data community. . And that is where I really discovered the thing that I enjoyed most, which was data visualization. That part I felt was a beautiful blend of both my artistic creative background with the statistical knowledge and creating a niche within this data world where you can have people who are engineers, scientists, but there's other ways that you can be involved in the data and analytic space.

So when I took that on, I posted online books that I was reading,  and try to hold myself accountable by posting every month. What my book review was. . And from that, I had somebody at JP Morgan reach out to me and say, Hey, we're looking for somebody with this exact interest, with this skill set of being a data visualization expert, we need help to improve our dashboards and things.

So that's what I'm doing now. I was able to focus on what I love doing every day. So I'm very excited about this new opportunity for me.

That's awesome. I'm so happy for you I follow you. LinkedIn and Instagram. And I remember seeing those posts last year. So it's really amazing to see that one of those posts actually reached someone at JP Morgan chase. And, you know, you were able to get this a job opportunity.

That's really inspiring for our listeners. I'm sure. And I remember when we first introduced ourselves last year, you did mention about the initiative at Sachi Sachi about data at the center. And it's really amazing to hear more details about everything you've been involved in. It was a crazy past couple of years for you.

You definitely were the connection for me to gaining what I believe is my best intern ever. Muja head who you interviewed

yes. I remember.

yeah. You had a podcast earlier with him and I was so excited to see that and yeah, I was just, he blew me away with how determined and driven he was  to help with the team.

And so I have so much to thank you on that.

I'm so glad to hear that. even though I'm not active on clubhouse, I know many are not active on clubhouse anymore, but as I'm doing these podcast interviews, I realized how many folks I connected with through clubhouse. And we were able to have these more intimate conversations on a social media platform that we weren't able to have before

Absolutely. Yeah. I feel like that has become like  my cornerstone of the data community or the people I met in clubhouse. And then from there it just kind of expands

Yeah, as the head of data visualization and storytelling. What kind of projects do you oversee and lead in your current  role and what does your day to day look like?

My role is split into two main responsibilities. The data visualization side is to oversee the UX design of our internal products that are supported by HR. And this helps to monitor and report on things like recruitment progress help tickets that employ submit or performance reviews. And the other side of my responsibility is the data storytelling.

That helps to build the story of our presentations and our reports that we provide to senior leadership. And my goal is to help provide clear data informed insights to those who don't work with the data every day and essentially give them the, so what behind the data and tell them why they should care and what they should do.

  Have you noticed while you've been working, if there has been this need for you to demonstrate to people the importance of database and storytelling?

Absolutely. I would say that one thing I've been tasked by the person who hired me was to help spread data literacy amongst the organization, especially with the HR team, because. JP Morgan obviously is a very big organization. There's a lot of different teams and, and they have people who specialize in different areas within each line of business.

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Some of my day to day would involve setting up learning sessions with different teams to go over the fundamentals on data visualization and storytelling and talking about  why it's important to look at the data and have a critical eye, you know understanding the proper way to read a chart and understanding what may be hidden underneath what is not being shown and asking the right questions so that you don't misinterpret the information being presented to you.

What challenges have you seen your current team when it comes to data visualization and storytelling?

Well, I would say that our dashboard developers are used to following what they're told to do by their bosses by saying, Hey, I need you to add a certain feature. You know, I wanna look at data a different way. Can you add it in? But they don't realize what's happening is that as they add on everyone's wish.

The dashboard can end up becoming a cluttered mess that no one can follow. And that ends up causing people to no longer use the tool and revert back to asking for record level details. And so my challenge is to figure out which features can help enhance the end user's individual understanding of the data.

Versus pushing back on requests that should be delivered separately in, you know, a different format. So it's easy to fall into these rabbit holes of requests for more information. But it's critical that we take a step back every once in a while, ask ourselves what is the intention of this report and test whether or not these requests fit that need.

Right.  It is very easy for data professionals, especially those who are starting out in their data, careers to feel like they have to put in everything that their end users want. I always recommend the people I train to figure out what is it that they want versus need and to get to the need.

You do have to meet with your users, kind of ask these questions and read between the lines to figure out what is it that they need. Because sometimes even they don't know, your users don't know exactly what they need. Right.

Yeah. As you mentioned, like if a dashboard just has everything under the sun, it won't get used.

If it's not as easy to. Interpret or help with reporting and alerts if things are getting buried. 

Yeah, I think that it also applies to the storytelling side as well. 

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When you're building presentations, the same concept of don't put all the information that you possibly can into your presentation.  With too much information comes a lack of clarity. And so we must determine what is necessary for the story to deliver its message and decide what needs to be in the appendix.

What should just be. In the back of our minds so that if people are asking questions for more details, then we can provide that to them.

Do you have any tips for someone who is trying to figure out what should be. Either presented or focused on in my dashboard versus kept as a appendix.

Yes. One tip that I would suggest is in your presentation, read the headlines of your slides. Only just read the headlines and see if that is giving you a cohesive story with that alone. In any content that you put inside the slide should only be supporting the headline that you've provided. Anything else outside of that ISS.

That's a great tip. What other tips do you have for data professionals who want to generally improve their database and storytelling skills?

Well, I would say cater to your audience. That is certainly one to the best of your ability. It's important to ask  who is going to be your audience before you're about to present. If you're speaking to a highly technical team, they're more likely to wanna deep dive into the details and methodology behind your analysis.

So you wanna be prepared for those more hard hitting questions. But if you're talking to a senior level audience or perhaps an external group of people who don't know, or let's be honest, may not even really care about the details to keep the language very simple and. You wanna remove as much unnecessary or distracting information as possible and keep them on a straight and narrow path. So while it may be easier to reuse the same content for both parties, it's gonna hurt one of them in the end. So it, it's, it's valuable to take the time to customize your visual content and what you're going to be saying along with it. You know, and you'll be ed.

Yeah. It's come up in previous podcasts as well we've kind of touched upon how you don't wanna. Deliver the same presentation or the same visuals necessarily to different audience members. And that's why it's so important. As Paul mentioned, the first thing to do is actually identify who is your target audience.

And sometimes we kind of group in everyone who may actually see our work. So that includes our boss or our peers, and include them as part of our target audience and end up making something that's not really. It's not really perfect for anyone. And as you mentioned, clarity has been lost because you're trying to target to everyone who may see the visual rather than focusing on just your target audience.

So these are great tips. Thank you so much for sharing that with us Paulina, you're clearly very passionate about data VI and data storytelling. Not all data teams emphasize these particular skills. What advice would you give to a data professional who wants to lead a change in their workplace to adopt proper use of data visualization and storytelling skills?

Well, I would say that in order to really have a data centered organization, you're gonna need. Leadership support you need that executive support in order to make that change happen and to keep it, you know, integrated into the organization as a whole. But if it's a little harder for you to reach your leadership I would suggest starting with your coworkers, your direct manager, and creating that culture within your.

So some ideas on what you can do with your team would include setting up a team challenge to make over a vis that already exists and open up a discussion on which one best supports a headline, or perhaps you give them their opportunity to create their own headline and see how the same data may change.

Based on the point you're trying to. Have them explain in their own words, why they chose to design it that way and what makes it easier to understand for people and just generally open the floor to feedback. So you wanna set a tone of receptiveness and you want to remember that there really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to data visualization.

It's a matter of what people feel may be easier, may be better. To ensure that people feel comfortable by just trying what they can they'll build those skills and get better over time. They can also like I mentioned, read the headline of every slide. I think that one is a really good one. If you're a leader and If you're helping to look through your team's presentations, I think that would be a good test is to make sure that the storyline is cohesive.

So keep it very high level and ensure that that remains easy to understand before getting into the details. I would also recommend using any chance that you can, where you have an opportunity to utilize best practices for data visualization and storytelling, and let them see the change in your work.

You know, it doesn't always have to be work related. For example, you could have a presentation on why you deserve a raise. And you can talk about some fun data set that you discovered, and you wanna just show people what you wanted to experiment with on that data and see, oh, you know, create the excitement behind looking at a beautiful and clearly understandable data VI.

And I'd also recommend sharing examples of great visualizations that you already see out in the internet, out in the. I'm subscribed to Tableau's visit the day. I love it. It's a daily dose of inspiration for me.  and I just generally like to immerse myself in data vis content on social media and so that I can always keep up with the latest trends on what's going on and see any new features that become available.

 I know you started off your answer by saying the change comes from executives and that can be daunting for someone, especially if they're entry level, but then. Tips that you share, it's really easy to implement at any level that you're at even leading by example with your own work I think that has actually helped in teams I've been part of is trying to demonstrate through my own presentations and data visuals, and then getting feedback from folks who say, Hey, that actually went really well, or I really liked it.

And that way you get to. People the impact a  well made data, visualization and story in your presentation can do in getting the change you want from your audience. So, thank you for these tips. I think they're very easy to implement.

You mentioned you're immersed in the data this world. So am I, and maybe many of our listeners, if they're listening to this podcast, you're already immersed in some way into data storytelling and communicating data. If you ever come across something interesting, it's really easy to share that even in a work chat or  like what you mentioned the visit the day from Tableau, something that inspired you.

So every once in a while trying to like tease your coworkers to getting immersed themselves too, by.

Absolutely. And I love.

of these things.

The visit of the day has so much different type of data that they show it. It's amazing to see because a lot of times I'll find something, a topic that I feel is super relevant to a particular colleague. I'm like, oh, this, this person's gonna love this. I need to share with them because they, this is something that they'd actually be interested in, you know?

One of my colleagues is obsessed with Christmas movies. So when I saw that there was something about how to choose your best Christmas movie, I was saying, okay, you gotta see this, check it out. And, and it just helps to and increase that camaraderie around having a data centered culture.

 I really recommend for those who are in data visualization world. Even if you don't use Tableau to look at these vis of the day, they're really inspiring. I know in addition to immersing yourself in social media, you mentioned about your resolution to read more books.

So what are your favorite book recommendations for data profess.

Okay. So I have a lot of books that I would love to recommend but I will stick to a list that is specifically for those who are interested in improving their visualization and storytelling skills. And this is gonna be in an order of which I think you should read first to last


Yeah, yeah. I had to of course sort everything.

So the first one is gonna be by Edward Tufty the visual display of quantitative information. This book? Well, this author, Edward Tufty is like the, the father of data visualization. I would say he teaches you a foundational understanding of data visualization, and he has many books available.

 I was gifted this book by my manager and it sparked everything that, all the books that I wanted to read from seeing this one. So I definitely recommend that one being a first book for anyone who is in. Secondly, I would recommend how charts lie by Alberto chiro. He in this book talks about the risks and dangers of the data that you see every day that everybody is exposed to on the media,  anywhere it could be in your newspaper.

So I think it's really crucial to read that next, because if you're gonna be working with data, there's a lot of power in working with data. And so it's really important to understand. What can happen if you don't know how to use it properly?

So second recommendation. The third one, I have a two-parter I feel like they both kind of do the same thing. They're both great, but if you wanna choose one, go ahead. Data story by Nancy Duarte or storytelling with data by Cole Naussbaumer Knaflic. These women are also the data of his mothers.

I would say they, they certainly have amazing, helpful guides and guidelines in their books for how to build an effective data story. I reference both of these books all the time, so those are great resources to just always have. And, and I know you're gonna be going back and forth in that. And then lastly, I would say the one to wrap it all up will be the big picture by Steve Wexler

he recently released this book and I felt I was actually shot at how in this book he mentions almost every single book that I have read in this book and wraps up all of the lessons that I've learned in one complete picture, one big picture. So I think that's a great one to finish off on as my list of recommendations.

Awesome. Thank you for sharing this list of recommendations. Your first recommendation for Edward TTYs book. It's actually interesting. You mentioned. Kick things off for you because the same thing happened with me my first. So I was working in the data field before I actually got into data visualization and storytelling.

I had no formal training in data, visitor storytelling, and I remember one time a colleague recommending that she went to an Edward Tufty workshop. This is before the pandemic, when you're still doing in person workshops. And I was like, you know what? I should go. This sounds really cool. I had never heard of him before, cuz again, I wasn't in the date of his world at that time.

So I actually asked my boss if I can go to the next workshop, cause I found out Edward, TTYs coming again, the following winter to our area. So I sign up to go to his workshop.

 And that's how I got into the date of his world. That was also my starting point.  And all these books that you mentioned, they are also some of my favorites. 

I do have a  spreadsheet where I put data resources. So I'm gonna add the books that are not already listed on there that Paulina mentioned in there. So you can find that, but I'll also add it specifically, just the ones that you mentioned today in the show notes for today's episode.

So definitely check them out.  So you mentioned you have other books that you would recommend. Can people find that on your social media?

Oh, yes. Yes, you can. See the books that I took on for my new year's resolution. I think it's a great, complete set in my opinion, but you know, there's always more, you're feel free to reach out to me and ask if you wanna chat, you know, I love that. So you can follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn. My handle is at Paulina 9 92.

I don't have a fun, you know, Instagram handle like you, but it's just my, my basic one and yeah join the conversation with me and connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd love to expand the community.

Awesome. I will be linking Paulina's handles on the show notes associated with this episode. Thank you so much again, Paulina for taking the time today, to tell us more about yourself and share your tips and advice for database and storytelling. I really appreciate that.

Absolutely. Thank you so much, Hana.