Learning with Guest Speakers

Hearing from a variety of guest speakers allowed students to gain a comprehensive picture of the potential career opportunities in the analytics field. More importantly, guest speakers shared how their organizations leverage data analytics and provided insight into the path to success.  

James Dailey, currently a Consultant at Ars Quanta, spoke about how he built a career in analytics through a number of high-profile positions at companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. His work included using analytics to improve ad effectiveness, developing multi-touch attribution modeling to determine the correct investment into marketing channels, and building regression models to determine key product attributes. From Dailey’s perspective, the three keys to building a career in analytics are communication skills, technical skills, and domain expertise; this advice resonated with students and reflected skills they were currently gaining.

As the Director of Business Development at Adidas, Dave McNabb shared how he championed the use of data for informed decision-making, and developed the process of leveraging analytics in his department.


        James Dailey, consultant for Ars Quanta.

Dave’s challenge is to use the large quantities of data generated daily to develop actionable insights and commercialize new products faster than the competition. As a business management graduate from the University of Montana, McNabb inspired students to see the potential career path achievable with their degree. 

Sara Smith, CFO for ALPS. 

Jeff Gartner, also a UM graduate with MIS and Accounting degrees, is putting his analytics skills to work as the Director of Buyer Insights at Etsy. Jeff provided insight into how school work compares to “real” work. Unlike class-assigned projects with well-defined expectations and clean data sets, projects at work are often ambiguous, the scope is always changing, and the data are messy. Having the right mindset to tackle difficult problems and the flexibility to adjust to new developments are key to succeeding in high-paced environments. Gartner’s tips for success were applicable to all careers, but especially for individuals looking to gain traction in the analytics field.


As an Implementation Consultant at Fast Enterprises, Josh Sanders manages the GenTax software for the Department of Revenue in Montana. Josh is involved in a number of unique projects to help the State make better use of their data to cut costs. For example, Josh used analytics to determine which residents were most likely to respond to a direct mail campaign reminding them to file their taxes. With a hands-on demonstration of his software tools, the presentation provided insight into ‘a day in the life’ of an analyst and the impact of strong technical skills. 

These speakers were notable guests from the year, and students also heard from professionals at companies such as Starbucks, Moderna, FiveThirtyEight, IBM, Atlassian, RedFin, Washington Corporation, ALPS, and Microsoft, and benefited from their expertise and the opportunity to network.