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April 30 - May 1, 2025
North Javits Center | New York City

An Unlikely Career Transformation: How Annie Nelson Went from Healthcare to Data with No Experience

The difficulty women have had gaining a toehold in data jobs has been well documented. A recent report pegged the share of women holding data and analytics roles in the U.S. at 26 percent. The same report, however, indicates that there might be reason for women to be optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the field—when looking at professionals who are in their first role in data, women’s representation has increased significantly to 37 percent. But who gets those roles and how do they win them in such a competitive field?

Most are doing it the old-fashioned way. They develop an early interest in math, science or analytical thinking and direct their secondary education in a way that trains them to enter the field. But some don’t come to understand what they want until they already have an undergrad degree and are working toward a career they don’t want. “What then?”, they might ask. Do I have the skills to try something else? Do I have to go back to school? Am I going to lose out to people with experience in the field? How do I get that first job to acquire that experience? Will it be more difficult because I’m a woman interested in a field that skews male?

The questions can discourage even the most adventurous souls. But anyone who wants something better out of their career—more money, more freedom, more passion, etc.—and has interest in the data field can take inspiration from the story of Annie Nelson.

The Seeds of Change

Annie Nelson was a nanny who was enrolled in graduate school to become an occupational therapist. As someone who liked taking care of people, she began that journey excited about a career in the field and committed enough to it that she had invested in post-secondary education. Her experience in graduate school acquiring the credentials to set out on that course, however, caused concerns about her choice.

She was getting close to graduation and, as part of her training, was working in clinics, talking to therapists and getting a dose of the real world.

“Many of the therapists were very stressed,” she remembers. “Something that stood out to me what that they were required to take PTO if they had a doctor’s appointment. And, even when they were out of the office, their caseloads still needed to be met and it was an incredibly stressful environment.”

Despite all of the realities she was being presented with, though, she still planned to finish her degree and embark on the career she had already chosen. But, a side hustle she had begun to earn a little extra cash planted a seed in her mind that led her to question everything.

Breaking Out of the ‘Gray Space’

Though her educational background was in the healthcare field, Nelson though she might be able to find work analyzing spreadsheets. It beat delivering for Instacart, she thought.

She liked data analytics but quickly found out she couldn’t make $20 an hour analyzing spreadsheets. What she did find out, however, was that tech jobs seemed to provide some balance, enabled her to work remotely and offered better benefits and pay than being an occupational therapist. But the fact remained, the education she had virtually completed and invested a significant amount of money in did not point in that direction. She found herself in a curious state that might resonate with people questioning their careers.

“There’s this gray space between realizing you don’t like what you have and wanting to become someone new, but not being there yet,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone in data, I didn’t know anyone who worked remotely. I knew I wasn’t who I was before, but I also knew I wasn’t yet who I wanted to become. I felt hopeful and interested, but I had a level of self-doubt. Like, can I actually do this without getting a degree in it?”

A huge question. One that often leads people to exist in that gray space for a long time—perhaps their entire career. Nelson, on the other hand, wanted to at least try to find out.

How to Attack a Data Career Without a Formal Education

Nelson did not have any childhood dreams of being a data analyst. But she did yearn to improve her situation. She had a desire to make her own schedule and work remotely—enabling her to travel more—that tech jobs seemed to satisfy. And her research into tech jobs you can do without knowing how to code led her to data analytics. Data analytics “seemed cool” to her so she did something many people don’t have the courage to do. She just gave it a shot.

She started by taking a Google certificates course in data analytics. At this point in the process, two pieces of good luck really benefitted her transition.

First, she thought the Google course was one module and it turned out to be eight. Before she understood that the time commitment would be more significant than she thought, she was hooked on the course content.

Second, she began documenting her experience on Tik Tok. It resonated so much with people that her following grew in a month to more than 10,000. She says it kept her motivated to reach her goal and it kept her in touch with people who could help her along the way.

Between January and April of 2022, Nelson took the Google certificates course, 100 Days of Python on Udemy and some courses from Maven Analytics. All told, she spent less than $100 on her data analytics education. She loved learning the material and found it all very low-risk since she really did still intend to finish her degree in occupational therapy. By April of that year, however, it had morphed into a very real possibility. She came out of that process with some clear advice for people who lack a background in analytics but are still eager to get into it.

“If you want to break into data analytics, you must know how to work with spreadsheets at a high level, learn SQL, and know how to create visualizations,” she notes. “You should also probably learn Python, but you should start with spreadsheets and SQL and build up from there.”

Getting the Job

Nelson quickly learned that learning data analytics and actually getting a job in data analytics are completely dissimilar.

“Learning SQL is not hard. Learning Tableau is not hard,” she says. “Learning how to be a job seeker is the hard part.”

She characterizes the first months of her job search in data analytics as “screaming into the void.” Sending out hundreds of applications and not hearing anything or getting flat out rejected. She warns people unfamiliar with tech that not only do you have to steel yourself for lots of rejection on the way to finding something, but you also have to prepare for a long interview process.

“I had no idea what was coming my way,” she explains. “Tech interviews can take months. Sometimes there are up to half a dozen stages in a process and it can take weeks in between them. And developing a portfolio is vital.”

Also, while Nelson understands there is a gender gap in data jobs, she says she didn’t feel it in the interview process. Only after she had begun working as a consultant did she feel her opinions were disrespected by a few clients because she was a woman, she says.

She also feels, however, that her social media presence fostered communication and support from many women already in the space. As she documented her career change for her following, she heard from them.

“The majority of my followers are women, and women tend to be more supportive of women,” she notes. “I had a lot of women in tech who were supportive of me. They actively reached out to ask how they could help me make this transition. Their comments always had good advice and I was able to meet many in person.”

Be Brave

Nelson’s journey has been remarkable enough that she has garnered a significant following on Tik Tok and has also written a book on how to become a data analyst with no training. Her website also has free resources available to people who feel stuck in their career, see the opportunity in data analytics, but are nervous about making a move.

Her simple advice? Don’t be.

“I have been over this with hundreds of people in the industry at this point. The general consensus is that if you do a good job building your portfolio, have a good resume, and network, you can get a job without a degree,” she says. “I felt stuck in my program, because the credits don't transfer, so if you leave you just lose all that money. That’s definitely an impediment to leaving and trying something new. But I found this thing that I really enjoyed. I really liked learning it and I saw a very high potential to be flexible in the way that works for me.”

She says to be aware of the doubts you’re having and don’t ignore signs.

“When I was in the clinics I saw a ton of occupational therapists who were not happy about very stuck in their roles. It was like this neon sign flashing: Here is your opportunity. Be brave enough to go after it.”