By Jason Williamson

You want a job in big data, but you need some practical experience in the real world to get that coveted role. One way to do this is to create an internal project team within your existing company or organization. This isn’t intended to be an official team — you may have no direct reports or budget.

Many companies have self-organized interest groups, industry groups, or skunk works teams (small teams that work independently and often secretly without the normal controls that most project teams encounter). By creating an internal project team, you’ll not only gain valued experience, but also have the opportunity to learn more about the company you currently work for and the industry it’s in.

This isn’t something you can usually do during your day job. These types of teams are done on a voluntary basis and shouldn’t impact your current duties. It’s okay if your current company doesn’t have a culture in which this kind of thing has been done before. This is your chance to be an innovator!

Here are a few tips to consider in getting a big data team going:

  • Get good advice. Look around the organization. See if people have done self-organized projects “after hours” before to benefit the company and gain additional knowledge. If you can find someone who has done something like this before, spend some time with that person to gain some advice on what went well and want didn’t. Get her to reflect on her experience.

  • Select a compelling project. Choose a project that not only teaches you what you want to know, but somehow benefits the organization. Think big! If you can, select an idea that has large implications for the firm if successful. When you put your results on display, you want leadership to take notice. Why? So you can get that big data job! If you don’t, you know have a project that you can use in interviews.

  • Gain stakeholder buy-in. Who are your stakeholders here? In this case, it would likely be your management and perhaps any business group that would be interested in your results. Make sure that they know this project isn’t going to impact your daily duties. Make sure you think about how it can benefit your current duties, team, or organization.

  • Determine the team. Don’t do this in isolation. If you want to learn more about big data, there is a likelihood that someone else does as well. What’s more, you’ll want to network within the technology team to find people who are experienced in this to serve as a mentor to your team.

  • Get vendors to help. Many companies are looking to expand their big data offerings and get involved with potentially new opportunities. Approach companies like Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. They may even offer you free training!

  • Execute well. Make sure that you don’t let the momentum die. Many exciting projects like this get started but lose momentum because the demands of life and job take over. Set realistic timelines, deliverables, and estimates so that you can make reasonable progress.

  • Be retrospective. When you’ve completed, take the time to reflect on that experience with the team. Do a retrospective or a post-mortem of the experience to find out went well and what could’ve been better. This will help you report strong results outside your project team, but also will give you a chance to do this better the next time.