​‘RGS gave me the drive to always want to do my best’

Tong Yi Chan, data insights director at a digital marketing agency, left school in 2015 to study chemistry at University College, London after seven years as a boarding student at RGS where he took A-levels in chemistry, maths and biology

Q: What did you go on to do immediately after university?

A: While I enjoyed my time at university, I believe that the connections and soft skills that I picked up are just as valuable, if not even more so, than the degree itself. I realised that working in a lab was not the path for me. After graduation, I needed some time to think about what I wanted to do as a career and came back home to Yorkshire for a year. Here I worked in a fast-paced restaurant and hotel in a variety of positions from waiter, maintenance, bartender and night porter. Whilst this experience at a glance feels irrelevant to what I do today, I believe it shaped a lot of core skills such as communication and attention to detail. I also got my first taste of working closely in a team and training other people.

After a while, I felt myself feeling complacent and too comfortable so, having saved a bit of money, I moved to London to pursue a new career. Finding a job was not as easy as I thought and after countless job applications and multiple interviews, I got a part-time role in a cafe to keep up with my bills. Covid lockdown then hit in March 2020 and life was again paused. During lockdown, I received a call saying one of my applications was successful and I started my career in data analytics at Jellyfish, a digital marketing agency, in June 2020.

Not coming from a data background and starting during the pandemic came with its own set of challenges, but the support from my colleagues allowed me to quickly upskill and work on lots of high-level analysis. I started working on dashboards, compiling optimisation reports and presenting client-facing business reviews. Working in a global agency meant there were a vast variety of projects to get involved with and over the years, I experienced a variety of areas within the business and increased my technical ability in different analytical areas.

Three years on, I manage a superb team of talented individuals as data insights director to provide our clients with data-driven insights, ensure that internal projects are being delivered efficiently and work on pitches to bring in new business.

Q: What is a typical day like?

A: At any given point in time, there will be several projects going on, each with different timelines. I usually catch up with the team in the morning to get an idea of what priorities are for myself and the team and assess whether anyone needs support. After this, we break out and work on our individual projects. These days, I work on a lot of measurement projects (assessing the incremental value of campaigns), new business pitches and also internal process improvement. I usually have several meetings throughout the day, presenting to clients, internal check-ins and management calls. Outside meeting hours, I will be working on my own deliverables and projects.

Q: What have been the highlights of your career to date?

A: This year I had the opportunity to host a GeoLift Incrementality workshop for Meta and also host a talk at Google's Measurement Labs Summit. These in-person talks in front of industry experts still scare me, but I aim to keep learning and improving for the future!

Q: What’s the best bit about your job?

A: Data is currently even more relevant than ever, with new technology being developed every day. Being able to leverage and explore these new technologies to make our work more efficient and robust is both daunting and exciting. I also love that there are so many different projects to work on and I am empowered with the tools and flexibility to choose (within reason) which projects most interest me.

Q: And the worst?

A: Timesheets always suck. Also, occasionally having to have difficult conversations with colleagues is never nice.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

A: Adapting to a new environment, whether it be a new role or moving city, is scary.

Q: What was the most important thing you learnt at RGS?

A: The drive to always want to do your best. Also, of course, mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.

Q: What do you wish you’d known back then?

A: It's okay to not know what you want to do, life can be random so don't get down when you encounter setbacks.

Q: What did you want to go on to do when you were at school?

A: I thought I'd be an entrepreneur of some sort.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you’d give students interested in following a similar career path?

A: Get interested in AI and what coding can do, then learning how to code won't feel like a chore. Also, it is super important to remember to build meaningful connections with those whom you work with and thank those who have helped you on the way.

A: Who was your favourite teacher and why?

B: Mr Miller's biology lessons were great! And a special shoutout to all my teachers who looked after me in the boarding house!