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How Author Lauren Maffeo Is Spearheading a Culture Shift in How Businesses Use Data

Lauren Maffeo, the author of Designing Data Governance from the Ground Up, boasts a diverse and extensive career in the global technology sector.

Lauren started her career as a freelance journalist before becoming an early employee at a SaaS startup, which eventually led to her role as a research analyst. These experiences navigating the intersection of journalism and tech honed her ability to ask meaningful questions and tell compelling stories. Lauren was ultimately able to apply these pivotal skills to writing a book focused on the correlation between the quality of institutional data and societal impact. This book serves as a blueprint for data professionals to ensure alignment between the people, processes, and tools essential for utilizing data effectively. By emphasizing the significance of high-quality data, Lauren is able to empower senior data leaders to navigate the complexities of implementing ethical and accessible AI. 

We asked Lauren how her career background led her to where she is today, the problem her book solves, and the advice she would give someone starting on a similar journey.

Tell us about your career background. How has it led you to where you are today?

I’ve spent my career reporting on and working within the global technology sector. I started as a freelance journalist covering the European startup space after finishing grad school. I had wanted to pursue a role in news since high school and completed all my internships in that sector. It hurt to acknowledge that job insecurity made it too unstable to do this work full time. 

After a year reporting on startups, I ended up joining one. I was Employee No. 9 at a Silicon Valley-based SaaS startup. I worked on the marketing team. From there, I spent several years as a research analyst at Gartner. That’s where I started covering trends in AI and honing my interest in the connection between bad data and its impact on society. After becoming a data practitioner and seeing how poor quality data is the root of biased AI, I wrote a book to help readers solve the problem. 

My book gives readers a blueprint to start uniting the right people, processes, and tools needed to do the fun stuff with data.

What, in the earlier parts of your career, best prepared you for this particular role?

My career as a journalist taught me how to tell a story, even when it might not seem thrilling or obvious. It also taught me how to ask open-ended questions that yield insightful answers. For example, there’s a big difference between these two questions: “Tell me about your experience in X,” and “Did you enjoy your experience in X”? The former starts a conversation, while the latter can yield a quick “Yes” or “No” answer. These are crucial skills for writing a book!

What piece of advice has played the biggest role in your career so far?

A few years back in a previous role, I was deciding whether to stay on my current team or rejoin my former team. I got emotional discussing what to do with my manager at the time. In response, she said, “I’ll support whatever your decision is, but you have to make a decision.” That was really impactful to me: Knowing that my boss had my back gave me the confidence to choose the best opportunity for me. It also reinforced that I need to make my own decisions. Others can give advice, but I need to own up to the choices I make.

What problem does your book solve? 

My book gives readers a blueprint to start uniting the right people, processes, and tools needed to do the fun stuff with data. If you work in data, you know there’s always a new fad with a lot of hype. You also know that most organizations sit on mountains of poor quality data, which no one knows how to use or find. 

I wrote my book for senior data leaders who know they need help improving their data but aren’t sure where to start. I read so many articles about AI but almost none about the data that’s needed to make it succeed. I’d love for my book to be the first step leaders take toward using AI in an accessible way and making it accessible for their colleagues as well.

In what ways does your book approach the industry differently than others?

My years of working with data as an author, analyst, and systems designer have taught me that data quality isn’t a technical problem. It’s a cultural change that you embed throughout your organization. This is a very different approach than the industry norm, which is to deploy and then “do data governance later.” When I hear from readers that my book helped change their minds, I feel like I’m doing my part to help design more ethical AI.

What’s one thing you wish you had known before writing your book?

I wish I had known how much marketing and PR I’d have to do on my own. As a first-time author, I thought my publisher would have an in-house PR team to promote my book to corporate sponsors, industry conferences, and relevant podcasts. The truth is that publishers are all strapped for cash, and they rely on you—the author—to do your own book PR. 

I went with a small tech book publisher, but my friend who published a book with a huge publisher said they did basically nothing to promote his book. He spent his whole advance on PR representation. I’ve invested substantial money and time promoting my own book to get it in front of the right audiences. I should break even and start earning more than I’ve spent by the end of the year, but investing in your own book PR is something I think authors should know about.

Which podcasts have been most helpful to you?

I love the podcast Hello Monday hosted by Jessi Hempel for LinkedIn. It’s a podcast about how work is always changing and how we can adapt to these changes. The topics are diverse, the guests are always insightful, and I love Jessi as a host. 

I also really like listening to a podcast called The Anxious Achiever, which discusses how to balance work with mental health. Whether you have a diagnosed mental health disorder or not, I think we can all benefit from its advice. We need to make these conversations more mainstream.

What’s something you do outside of work that makes you a better leader?

I’ve fostered more than 10 dogs in the last two and a half years, and I’ve adopted two. Fostering dogs feels synonymous with work since I’m mostly remote. Having them here reminds me to take much-needed breaks, which I’m not great about doing on my own.

It also gives me something to prioritize beyond my laptop. I think there’s huge value in being a caregiver—whether it’s for kids, parents, pets, or even plants. Focusing on someone else’s needs takes you beyond yourself and your daily grind.

What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?

I would encourage aspiring authors to set consistent, attainable goals to help juggle their jobs with writing. Years before writing my own book, I read the advice to write 200 lousy words per day, courtesy of Mark Manson. I found that to be a good goal post for me while still being adaptable. 

For instance, there were days when I needed to do more research than writing or when 200 words was unattainable. During weeks when I couldn’t meet my daily word counts, I’d make up for it by writing 1,400 to 1,600 words on a weekend morning or afternoon. This flexibility allowed me to shift my approach and still turn in my chapters on time.

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