My journey towards a Looker Certification

Overview

Join Roxana Sandu in highlighting the highs and lows of bagging us a Looker Certification. Warning: we're in full bragging mode about this one. 

What’s your role within CTS? And how does that link to Looker? 

My job title and the industry I’ve worked in have varied over the years, but one thing has remained constant throughout: my passion for data. It’s no surprise then that most of my roles revolved around data and analysis, or that I am currently a Lead Data Analyst at CTS. The role plays well to my strengths and interests of wanting to understand what clients want to learn from their data, and finding ways to facilitate this discovery process and deliver solutions that help them make better business decisions as a result.

When I first started at CTS, my go-to platforms for data analysis and reporting were a combination of BigQuery and Data Studio. I was new to both, but with a strong background in SQL, I found the transition to BigQuery straightforward, and Data Studio easy to pick up through a cycle of try > break > fix > repeat. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but it played well into my fondness for troubleshooting and finding solutions that don’t come ‘out-of-the-box’. And Data Studio sure is great for that, because it does have it’s limitations!

Over a year ago (December 2019 to be exact, a simpler time all-together) I was introduced to the Looker universe, and the beginning was not the most promising. Looker can be used in such varied ways, at the beginning I found it hard to understand exactly HOW to use it and WHAT for?

What was the process like in terms of learning it? What's the tool like?

After the initial somewhat rocky introduction to Looker, along came even rockier times with lockdown 1.0. But it brought with it new opportunities; since everything shut down and we weren’t allowed to travel, the Looker Partner Enablement team started to receive a lot of requests to move their partner training workshops to a virtual format. And so they did, in the process offering us free spaces on the workshops and my journey to getting certified. 

The training was great and very in-depth, but it was still a bit conceptual and difficult for me to get my head around how it would best be put into practice in a client use case. Thankfully one came along pretty quickly after I had attended the workshops, and I had the opportunity to shadow one of the Looker consultants on delivering our first Looker project. With the learnings from the training still fresh in my mind, having the chance to see the concepts applied was invaluable, and I also had the advantage of already being familiar with the customer’s data.

What was your experience on getting the looker certification? What did the criteria look like?

Once I got a bit more familiar with Looker, following another project with the same customer and some more hands-on experience, thoughts started to turn to get my certification. Looker offer two certifications currently, LookML Developer and Looker Business Analyst, with a Looker Administrator certification rumored to be on the cards soon. Given my experience with the tool up to that point, our internal needs as a business and my skill set, I opted to aim for the LookML Developer one. 

The thing that became apparent early on my journey with Looker, and remained true throughout, was how structured they were in their approach, both in customer delivery as well as partner training and certification. For those looking to get certified, they offer a clear path with recommended training and materials to go through, milestones to hit, and a dedicated Looker consultant to help along the journey. Their online documentation is also spot on and proved useful numerous times, and I’m sure it’s something I’ll go back to all the time.

As someone who likes to know what to expect, one aspect I struggled with throughout was a lack of clarity on what the actual exam would be like. Looker themselves are very strict about sharing questions from previous exams (you can get your certification revoked if you are found to do that!!), and from speaking to a few people I got feedback as varied as ‘it’s pretty straightforward, I wouldn’t worry about it’ to ‘mmm… maybe don’t get your hopes too high and don’t be disappointed if you don’t pass first time’. So it all came down to biting the bullet and booking that exam, thinking if nothing else, at least I would finally know what to expect of the questions. That’s exactly what I did at the beginning of this year, and, after a few days of ferociously scrolling through online documentation pages (nothing like a bit of last-minute learning), I PASSED!!! First time!

After the initial euphoria, mixed with disbelief, reflecting on what helped me to get here and get the certification badge, I would say it was all of the various touch points that contributed to giving me the skills and confidence to take and pass the exam. The online workshops were a great introduction to Looker and its concepts; the hands-on customer projects helped to cement those concepts in my mind by seeing them applied in practice; and there is something to be said for independent learning and reading documentation as well (I did say before their documentation is good) because there were questions in the exam I wouldn’t have been able to answer had I not done that. All in all, I enjoyed my journey so far to getting certified, and if there’s one thing I’d say to my last-year self if I could, it would be to take the plunge and book the exam sooner. Hindsight really is a wonderful thing...

What does this certification mean for you, your team and the wider CTS?

Aside from the obvious bragging rights (which are not to be snubbed!) getting certified has immediately opened up opportunities for me to work on varied client projects and take a more leading role in those. It also means the Looker Partner team can now have more confidence when referring CTS to potential clients, and sending more of them our way, hopefully becoming one of their partners of choice. 

Personally, it has opened up my horizon and presented me with a new challenge in the form of starting up my own team of Looker certified analysts (or Looker Squad as they will be known). I am looking forward to being able to support them on their one journey as I have been supported (and even cheered on, it felt like by the entire of CTS at times!) over the past year.

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