Shared Language: How These SF Tech Leaders Are Shaping the Future of Tech Literacy

These San Franciscan tech leaders are combatting the data literacy crisis with intentional alignment strategies.
October 27, 2022Updated: March 2, 2023

In the myth of Babylon, a spiteful god strikes down the Tower of Babel, scattering the common language of the people and dooming them to a future of miscommunication and strife.

Today’s data literacy crisis is like sifting through those Babylonian ruins — the cracks brought on by technological advancements have outstripped the means to universally describe them. 

But today’s global citizens are equipped to climb from the wreckage and construct meaningful new works from the relics of old. Tech companies and their data sensibilities — as well as scrappy and agile thinking from leaders — help companies not only survive in the post-pandemic era, but thrive.

At its core, data literacy means equipping companies with the tools to speak the same language. Empowered by this common understanding, the data-capable can develop better tracking, more insightful analysis and more compelling data storytelling. 

Companies like Paper, Chime, Mixbook and Leyton seek to usher in a new era of tech, one in which decision-makers are hungrier than ever to harness the data that powers their vision. Savvy leaders are building their companies upon the steadfast foundation of literacy by aligning metrics, creating meticulous documentation practices and implementing training programs built to last. 

Built In San Francisco sat down with four leaders of the data literacy vanguard to learn more about how they’re banishing communication breakdowns and forging a data-driven future. 

 

Justin Pritchard
Senior Director Data Analytics & Insights

 

Paper is driven by its mission to change how students receive support. Paper partners with schools and communities to provide unlimited tutoring for K-12 students at no cost to families. 

Justin Pritchard, senior director of data analytics and insights, is a staunch advocate of data literacy. “Broad data literacy also helps individual teams quantify their contributions to the overall mission of an organization in a way that encourages collaboration with other teams instead of creating silos,” Pritchard told Built In SF. 

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for Paper? 

From an efficiency standpoint, having alignment across the organization on what metrics matter and how they are defined reduces the time to arrive at conclusions that drive the business forward. 

Without this alignment, time better spent discussing the impact of a particular release or the rollout of a new process can get bogged down trying to define success criteria in the moment. 

 

What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

It was not uncommon to attend a cross-department meeting and have the conversation devolve into which team calculated the metric of interest correctly. A centralized metric dictionary that includes both business definitions and data definitions — why we track the metric and how it is calculated — was critical to alignment. 

This reference saves time in both live discussions and asset creation. Also, having a consistent, established review process is critical to ensure it remains a useful tool.

By speaking the same data language, we can focus on delighting our customers through innovation”

 

What new capabilities have data literacy unlocked for your team?

Time-to-market is critical for every company, but it is especially in a startup environment when product-market fit is still something you are figuring out. By speaking the same data language, we can focus on delighting our customers through innovation and iteration.

 

 

The Chime logo on the side of their office building.
Chime

 

David Purdy
Chief Data Officer • Chime

 

Chime is a fintech company with a mission to make financial peace of mind a reality for millions of Americans. Chime strives to offer banking services that are helpful, easy and free. 

Chief Data Officer David Purdy spoke to Built In SF about the importance of data literacy. “For a data-adept organization, broad-based data literacy is important for collaboration, visibility and smooth operation,” Purdy said. 

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for Chime? 

It allows teams to ask and answer questions like: What are our measurable goals, how are we performing and how can we quantify opportunities and progress on our initiatives and operations? 

Achieving data literacy depends on relevance, access and reliability. Relevance is when metrics relate to business objectives and people are aligned across the organization. Access is the discoverability — of data, reports, dashboards — and the ability to self-serve. Reliability is when people can trust the data: Is it timely? Are metrics defined consistently? Are there checks on the data pipelines and ownership of quality issues?

Achieving data literacy depends on relevance, access and reliability.”

 

At Chime, we rely on being a data-literate organization because our understanding of our members relies upon it. By providing and consuming relevant, accessible and reliable data, we can trust that we're delivering features and services that our members need. 

For example, we recently announced additional support for members affected by Hurricane Ian, which required the collaboration and input of many teams. This called for timely and reliable access to data.

 

What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

To promote data literacy across the organization, we've invested in the areas that we believe are critical to achieving it: relevance, access, and reliability.

Our analytics teams work with business stakeholders to define relevant metrics, then use them to scope new initiatives. Metrics are also the basis of experiments we conduct in the launches of new products, services and campaigns. They ensure that metrics are consistent across the organization and identify areas to improve our definitions and alignment.

Our business intelligence and data engineering teams support discoverability, tooling and reliability. We aim for self-service, reliable data and reporting products that can be used for all of our operational and product efforts.

Finally, supporting our internal users is a critical part of our efforts. Training and onboarding programs are tailored to a person’s role, and we answer questions related to the data and tools via office hours and on-call support. Finally, we continue to extend our documentation, such as metrics definitions, FAQs and guides, so that teams are able to move quickly, independently and consistently in their engagement with data and reporting tools.

 

What new capabilities have data literacy unlocked for your team?

Many companies go through a period of developing metrics. Still, efforts often happen in siloes — leading them to a need for canonical definitions so that teams can truly work together on the same objectives. 

By focusing on data literacy and investing in relevance, especially in canonical definitions and single source-of-truth data tables, we've allowed more teams to work together more effectively — because they know they're referring to the same metrics.

In addition, this has made it easier to establish common dashboards and enabled the wide adoption of self-service tools across our company. This, in turn, has helped empower individuals instead of relying on the data organization to support them.

But we’re not done. For instance, we're investing in common practices and tools for experimentation and look forward to enabling even more fundamental changes in broad-based data literacy at Chime.

 

 

Matt Stromberg
Head of Analytics • Mixbook

 

Mixbook is a photo-book creation platform that aims to redefine how people experience their memories. Head of Analytics Matt Stromberg believes that data fuels more efficient, accurate work. “With more accurate data, and more importantly, understanding of that data and its strengths and limitations, all employees can make informed decisions that benefit both customers and the company itself,” Stromberg told Built In SF. 

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for Mixbook? 

Empowering all employees to have access to accurate, reliable and timely information ensures that better quality decisions can be made. We are using better quality inputs to derive an output: product, marketing campaign, etc. Data literacy is important for all levels of an organization, from customer care to the CEO — as we can only make as good of decisions as limited by our skills, experience and data.

We can only make as good of decisions as limited by our skills, experience and data.”

 

What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

We conduct monthly analytics talks that cover a breadth of topics to help increase the skill and knowledge of employees when it comes to data analysis, statistics and understanding.  

Examples of topics include cognitive biases, metacognition, statistics 101, charting and visualizations and more. We are trying to create a minimum quantitative understanding so we can all speak the same language. Additionally, we collectively want to understand our limitations of data as well as our strengths. Some examples might be: We don't have enough visitors to test this new feature in an A/B setting, or this test came back with a highly significant outperformance compared to a control group.

 

What new capabilities have data literacy unlocked for your team?

By teasing apart ideas like correlation and causation, we collectively make better decisions by acknowledging the confidence levels of our actions. This understanding leads to better discussions and acknowledgments of uncertainty. It is great to see people admit they don’t know the answer — rather than having egos lead over data and insights.  

Furthermore, we continue to leverage our internal and external data to better understand the demographics, behavior and intent of our customers to better align our product offering.

 

 

Leyton team members gather around a table.
Leyton

 

Fatima Zamurrad
Marketing Analyst/Business Intelligence • Leyton

 

Leyton is a consultancy firm driven by its goal to quickly improve the financial performance of its clients without impacting their core business. On the topic of literacy, Fatima Zamurrad, marketing analyst/business intelligence, told Built In SF: “Data is only as useful as the ability to understand and analyze it.”

 

Why is broad-based data literacy important for Leyton? 

Leyton works with businesses of all sizes to recognize and maximize their financial benefits from various tax incentives in the US. For the work that we do, communicating with data is essential to empower employees at all levels to build knowledge, make data-driven decisions and communicate meaning within our organization and to our clients.

Improving data literacy within all levels in our organization will sharpen our business and optimize the work and effort. 

Improving data literacy within all levels in our organization will sharpen our business and optimize the work”

 

What programs, initiatives or training did you use to promote data literacy across the organization?

To achieve the goal of producing data literate teams that make data-driven solutions, it is most important to employ common tools and rules that make data work for them. Aside from set training for applications, providing resources as a common practice during onboarding can reap big benefits to the organization as a whole.

To achieve our goal of helping team members in becoming data-capable, we encourage them to ask questions to dig deeper. Communication among teams is also very important to better our data interpretation across teams.

 

What new capabilities have data literacy unlocked for your team?

For the marketing team, data literacy has proven to be pivotal for cross-functional collaboration. Marketing has been able to harness the power of data to provide solutions. We are constantly looking for new ways to manipulate data and answer ever-evolving business questions.

One of the biggest marketing goals is to use our proprietary data to continuously better our customer service and user experience. We also want to extend our services with a targeted approach to find and inform companies that are involved in activities that qualify for tax incentives.

 

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