Mia Oppelstrup on Finding Her Inner Data Nerd
Head of Communications, Sigma
Data is all around us. We interact with it every day on our phones and computer screens. We crunch numbers when it comes time for quarterly reporting or comparing survey responses from customers. Yet, many people probably wouldn’t consider themselves to be good with numbers, analytically-inclined, or even capable of digging into a database of raw information to extract business insights.
There is often a perception that a database is something a person without a background in data science or engineering wouldn’t understand. It’s this mysterious black box reserved for the small portion of the population that are data people. But is that true? Are there some people who “get” data and others who don’t? I don’t think so, and neither does Mia Oppelstrup, the Business Intelligence Manager at Volta Charging.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Mia and talk about her analytics journey from marketer to Business Intelligence Manager at Volta, the world’s largest free electric vehicle charging network. We talked data, using analytics to jumpstart your career, and more. Read the complete interview to learn how she peered into the “black box” of data to unlock new professional opportunities—and how she’s using her newfound data chops to fight for a cleaner, greener future.
Volta Industries, Inc.
Founded in 2010 out of a passion for advancing electric transportation, Volta has mastered the art and science of developing cutting-edge electric vehicle charging networks. Volta is accelerating the electric vehicle movement by providing seamless, simple and free charging experiences.
FOUNDER: Scott Mercer
FOUNDED IN: 2013
What should everyone know about Volta Charging?
Volta is the country’s largest free electric vehicle (EV) charging network. We power any car with a plug sold in the US with free miles. Advertisers sponsor our charging stations by purchasing ads which are shown at each charging location. We turn their marketing dollars into good, clean amenities for communities across the US. And we’re closing in on 50 million free EV miles for our driver communities, which I think is really exciting.
The number of free EV miles Volta has delivered to driver communities
You manage Business Intelligence for Volta. What’s that like?
I’m responsible for our data from the warehouse to the end business user. I get to build insights from any of our data sources in the warehouse and turn those into easy ways for people to see how Volta’s doing at any given time. This helps everyone at Volta get a better understanding of what we might need to address urgently, what may have changed recently, and the kind of impact we’re making together as a company.
How did you end up working at Volta?
Our mission here at Volta—to inspire electric vehicle adoption—is core to my personal mission too. Each day I wake up and do whatever I can to fight the climate crisis that we face on Earth.
I originally started in the nonprofit world. There, we knew that we were making some difference, but the work felt hard to quantify. We struggled to prove our case. It was challenging. I actually fell into a pretty significant personal low during that time. I cared so much about making a difference on the climate side, and I couldn’t really show that what I was doing made a difference to anyone. I knew I had to make a personal change. That’s when I decided to join the world of electric vehicles, and eventually landed at Volta. I have been here ever since.
Each day I wake up and do whatever I can to fight the climate crisis that we face on Earth.
You weren’t always leading BI at Volta. In fact, you don’t come from a data science or analytics background. Can you share a little bit about the journey to becoming a BI Manager?
I joined Volta as our marketing person more than two years ago when we were just a 30-35 person company. We were tiny. Back then, we were so small that even the most basic data questions required me asking our head software engineer for answers. I’d get curious about something, and he would have to write me a SQL query in the database. Things like: checking customer usage by a geographic area over time for X partner, which would then need to be sliced and diced five different ways. Often, this would all be needed in the course of a single day. After a few months of this, we knew we needed a better solution—one that would allow me to access to our data warehouse and answer my questions. That’s when he came across Sigma.
Initially, he onboarded my team with Sigma. At that point, I was still the marketing person. But I started becoming more and more fascinated by what I could do by diving directly into our raw data. It gave me the ability to connect any combination of data sources to answer any question I could think of, all without writing SQL. It was empowering. That gradually evolved into me getting promoted to be our Business Intelligence Manager, and it really is thanks to Sigma. It’s just so easy to use. I think my experience proves that. I went from managing our social media accounts to being our data governance and data source guru. I was officially listed on our org chart for a while as the “data queen.”
I was officially listed on our org chart for a while as the “data queen.”
So it sounds like, in many ways, data and analytics found you, and not the other way around?
Data analysis was not something I thought I would be doing with my career. It’s not something I ever particularly aspired to do, but I don’t think I really understood it either. Before I started working with Sigma, databases were this black box that you had to be a coder to access—which, for me, you may as well have just said magician.
That all changed when I was introduced to Sigma. I saw that these topics could be broken down and explored in new ways that were easier to understand. Tables are just spreadsheets, schemas are just folders, and databases are a lot like Google Drive. Anybody can work with them if you just have the right tools. It can be a lot easier than many people believe.
You’re very passionate about data. Is it safe to say you’re having fun with data? I think some might shudder to think that is even possible.
I think, tragically, fun and data are not put together as often as they should be. But when the complicated technical side is solved for you, it becomes really fun and really interesting to look at what’s there. The feeling of coming up with any question that you can think of, across any of your data sources, and making them all talk to each other to get answers can become addictive. What starts as an occasional bout of curiosity can quickly snowball into a fun obsession.
It seems like peering inside the “black box” changed things for your career. Do you think others can use data as a catalyst for growth and professional success too?
Incorporating more data into the work you do every day will help you produce metrics that show the impact you’re making on the job. It can also help you show the impact your company is making too. It can change the discussion from arguing your case to telling data stories and actually proving your case to those that matter.
For anybody who wants to get more involved with data, I mean, get Sigma—especially if you don’t code. But also because you need to access raw data and build insights nobody’s ever thought of before to tell the best data story. You need to go where others haven’t, and that requires freedom to explore your data in new ways. And that’s what Sigma is all about.
Incorporating more data into the work you do every day will help you produce metrics that show the impact you’re making on the job. It can also help you show the impact your company is making too.
How has this newfound relationship with data affected your life?
It’s been extremely meaningful to me personally. Being able to come in to work every day and pull up my Sigma dashboard to see how many millions of free electric miles we’ve powered across the United States for absolutely zero-emission vehicles is inspiring. To know exactly how many millions of pounds of CO2 that we’ve prevented from going into the atmosphere—prevented from warming and impacting and changing our climate in ways that we really, really don’t want—It just makes me feel good about what I’m doing and the path I am on. I know I can prove it to the larger world that what we’re doing at Volta is truly making a lasting difference for everybody on our planet.
Let’s talk about the future. What’s next for Volta’s data strategy?
I want us to continue down this path of demystifying—even killing—the black box. I want to make it so that everybody in the company can clearly understand what data we have, what data they can access, why they can trust it, and how to use it. Hopefully, that deep understanding will allow them to do their jobs better. Data should just be easy for people to work with. It’s that simple.
DATA NERD PROFILE
Mia is the Business Intelligence Manager at Volta Charging, the world’s largest free EV charging network. She combines her love of data and passion for clean energy to fight the climate crisis.