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7 Ways Data Leaders Can Boost Their Career Through “Portability”

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

I wouldn’t usually recommend taking advice from an evil clown, but this statement is hard to argue against.

But I’d take it a step further.

If you’re good at something, never do it for less than the market can sustain. The reason why the people who are leaders in their field tend to be consultants, freelancers, or business owners is because it allows them to judge their own worth and charge accordingly.

So, if you want to earn your true value, you might need to position your career in data and AI in a way that is more flexible and more portable. 

There’s always a compromise in this decision. Being an independent expert might pay more and provide an unlimited top-end when compared to a salaried position, but you have to be prepared to sacrifice the reliability of income that comes with being an employee.

But if you’re confident in your abilities in this industry – or at the very least your ability to learn and grow – and you have the courage to pursue the highest levels of accomplishment, portability is going to be the key to your success.

“Portability” in terms of career advancement is not an especially new concept, but with the rapid evolution in technology, the globalization of business, and the recent unplanned mass remote working, it’s taking on a whole new relevance for data professionals. 


1. Role Portability 

If being an employee gives you consistency of income, and freelance / consultant work gives you a higher income, why not combine them both?

Fractional roles can be contracted either as a part-time employee role, or on a freelance basis. But crucially, they give you the flexibility to work for more than one business. This can be attractive, especially at the c-level (CDOs for example), because many people prefer the variety that comes with working on multiple projects, even in completely different industries. It also protects you financially because, if you’re working for multiple companies, even if you lose one of those roles, you only lose a portion of your income rather than your entire means of living.

Additionally, some businesses prefer hiring fractional c-level staff, because it gives them the expertise of a senior professional, without the cost of hiring someone full-time.

2. Geographic Portability 

This is the most obvious area in which portability has become important to the data industry (as with most industries), but it’s also the trickiest to navigate.

On the one hand, remote working has become more normalized and those who have embraced it are very reluctant to give up the unexpected benefits of being able to better balance work and home life. Not to mention being able to completely remove the frustrations of commuting. On the other hand, many employers are trying to reverse this trend and coax their staff back into the office through a hybrid model.

Time will tell whether the home working trend reverses itself, but I doubt the genie can be put back into the bottle. Because it isn’t just the conveniences of working from home that people are enjoying, or even the ability to improve their focus by working without distractions. It’s the realization that remote working opens far more attractive career opportunities.

It stands to reason that if you have the resources to work from home you have access to far more opportunities globally, than those who can only work with companies that are close enough to commute to.

To maximize your professional options, it pays to be portable when it comes to where you’re able to work and who you’re able to work with, regardless of geographic location. Aim to be able to demonstrate that you have the following:

    • A well-functioning home office setup
    • The discipline to complete work efficiently outside of an office environment
    • A willingness to travel when your employer or client requires onsite attention
    • Flexibility in terms of when you work to fit in with different time zones 
    • Familiarity with online messaging and project management tools

3. Skill Portability 

Certain skills are specific to one industry (algorithms for high-frequency trading, for example, are obviously only really suited to working with hedge funds and investment banks), but there are many more skills that are very portable and can be used in multiple sectors.

Developing your skills in machine learning and data analysis programming, for instance, are in demand in tech, finance, healthcare, and retail, to name just a few.

4. Experience Portability 

Developing experience across multiple fields and industries isn’t something you can accomplish in short order, but if you’ve put your time in and have familiarity in multiple sectors, be sure to make this portability known to those whom you seek to work with.

For example, if you’re a data scientist who’s worked on customer behavior prediction models for ecommerce, this experience will be of keen interest in the manufacturing industry who need assistance with predictive maintenance.

5. Knowledge Portability 

This is just another way of saying that you need to commit to continuous learning, not just in emerging technologies but also the latest trends and methodologies. Keeping abreast of new developments will give you that flexibility to adapt your expertise in a way that ensures you stay relevant. It’s imperative to build up a strong pipeline of sources that keep you up to date.

6. Network Portability 

Professional networks have always been key, but ironically the move to online groups has made it more difficult for data professionals to find a reliable solution. Online networks have a tendency to either be too broad (try having a reasoned discussion on a social network without attracting trolls and contrarians), or too narrow.

The ideal network for those working in data and AI is private and selective, but still spans multiple niches to allow for the creation of opportunities and collaborations. If you’ll forgive the shameless self-promotion, I encourage you to consider the Data Leaders Network. Head here and apply to join our inner circle.

7. Cultural Portability 

I hesitated whether or not to include this final element of “portability” because diversity is, unfortunately, a somewhat contentious issue. So all I’ll say on this issue is that it’s good to make yourself aware of how much cultural environments can vary between different companies and especially between different industries. This effect is magnified when a business is multinational. 

To be portable in this area you don’t need to become an advocate of any particular political perspective. Simply being respectful of other people’s needs, and being flexible in how you work with others, will go a very long way.


“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The rest of us, recognize that our success in life, especially when it comes to our career, is a result of the effort we put into it. Getting into the driver’s seat of our career and putting our foot to the floor is OUR responsibility.

So, if we want portability in our working life, we must learn portability in how we approach our work. That’s how you ensure you get paid what you’re worth. And that’s how you build a career in data and AI with real meaning that can make a substantial difference in the field.

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