Updated: Oct 17
MindSpeaking Podcast Episode 5 - George Firican, Founder of LightsOnData
▶️ Watch the podcast with video on YouTube:
0:24 Introduction of the Guest
2:27 Who was George as a child?
4:02 George's personal development
8:36 Youtube Career
14:13 Combining Two Fields
16:00 Passionate about Data Management
18:36 Data as an Asset
21:40 Steps to take about Data Governance
25:55 Understanding Business Goals
29:29 Preparation before speaking in public
33:53 Where does George get his stories?
39:59 What makes George Motivated?
45:10 Content Creation
47:27 Rapid Fire Round
54:44 Where to follow George Firican
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Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Today on the podcast I speak with George Firican is an award-winning data governance leader. He is the founder of lights on data, and also the podcast host of the lights on data shows this as a YouTube channel, and he has a lot of expertise in data governance, data management, and bi. We're not going to only kind of talk about the business stuff today. The professional stuff, but turned out to be a very personal conversation between George and I. We talked about introversion, how to become more outgoing, dealing with stakeholders, and also tips for public speaking.
A lot of depths a lot of experiences of George who was an introvert himself. Also, we spoke about travel will travel can do for you on a personal and professional level and a lot of practical tips on data governance and data management. So tips, how you can improve, and what type of templates he uses for improving and taking the next steps. So as I said, it turned out to be a very personal interaction, a very personal conversation flowing left and right. And I really enjoyed it. So I hope you also enjoy the conversation with George fear again. Hi, George. Great to see you again.
I'm really excited for the conversation. We had a bunch of LinkedIn chat conversations already and we spoke one time in person at least live Yes,
George Firican: yes. And of course I have a book your book as well which is you know, agree we that I recommend to everybody. So thank you again for this.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Thank you, thank you for bringing it to the attention. And I'm so so much looking forward to diving into your expertise and data and all the things you've done as a profession. But the mind speaking fulfills is also about the personal stuff.
Who was George as a child?
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: So understanding where you came from electronic data of a type of personal development you've, you've experienced. So tell us about George How was George in the history when he was a little kid and where was George?
George Firican: George is a little kid was born in Romania. So this is in Eastern Europe. And I was born in the 80s and the 80s in Romania was maybe like the 70s in the United States or North America. So I grew up with things like you know, da team and mash and like all these old timer, sitcom episodes, which was really fun, because then I felt coming to North America. When I was a teenager. I could relate more to adults because we had so much more in common than I did with the people my age. And yeah, that was you know, quite a, you know, a shock who, you know, felt uprooted from what I knew how I grew up in Romania, but at the same time, I always wanted to go to North America. And it wasn't my choice. It was my parents didn't you know, drag me there and it was 1415 when came to Canada, and that was definitely an interesting experience. And I felt it really changed me in a way for the better to he gave me more confidence because I was you know, thrown in a whole new world, new people, new friends to make, but that made me maybe up my game and my social skills and communications and try and be a little bit more outgoing because I'm an introvert, so that doesn't come easy to me. So that helped. A change
George's personal development
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: That's an interesting how that how that move also changed you as a person right and, and talk to us about that. That development you say? You tried to be a bit more outgoing and social and work on your communication skills. How how did that go? Talk to us about that? You went well.
George Firican: I mean, I think you have to wear we're social beings. So we need to, you know, have our own group of friends to survive. That's how I always felt and a Romania was easy because you're put in a classroom, you're sitting with the same 30 kids for, you know, five years, eight years depending on the class structure and eventually, you get to know what, um, it's easy. It comes easy, but then when you're older and you're put into a new situation, you have to make that first step. You know, you can't just expect people to come in as like, oh, there's a new kid in the classroom. Let's you know, he's going to be our best friend. So I think you need to put your best foot forward and trying to be a little bit more outgoing. If you're not if you're just sitting in your corner quiet and you're just expecting people to come in and talk to you. You're not going to be you know, succeeding all the time. So, at times, you need to make the first step and go in and say hello and ask how they are, who they are in school, their hobbies and be the one that initiates some of these conversations. So with that, I think it went well, though, I feel in a way. I've discovered one thing first. The first reaction was to try and be close to people that I thought were like me, so Romanians, okay, were the Romanians in the classrooms or in the school. And then I figured out after a while, I was like, Okay, well, that's not a good you know, method of that's not a good criteria. Okay, that's going to be a good friend, because then you realize, you know, the people even though they're Romanian, if I would have been in Romania, I would have never been friends with them. So, after a while, you realize that well, no, that's not what I'm looking for in a friend. There are all these other characteristics. And you know, you find you're in a multi multicultural group. Which is amazing because you're learning so much more about other views and other cultures and other upbringings that are not related to your own. But with those conversations with the stories that you're sharing, you're feeling like you're growing yourself because you're living through them and through their stories. So I feel you as a person, you're going a little bit because of that, too. You're learning from their experiences. And then you also find out you know what, no matter where people come from, in this world, no matter what religion or beliefs they have, you find the same people everywhere. You know, same you know, you there's a there's a good guy here, there's a, you know, an amazing girl there in terms of their personality traits, right?
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, I think so. So interesting to hear about your perspective on that because I totally agree with you that if you go abroad and you put yourself in a different perspective, you learn so much about, you know, other people and how their views or their experiences are different. And at the same time, they might be very similar as well but you need to look a bit beyond what do you see at first at first? And was was was language a barrier for you?
George Firican: I knew English it wasn't you know, that perfect level. But I thought I was fairly okay. So keep the accent even now. Maybe because it came here at a later age or maybe I'm just not that proficient at languages and he couldn't adopt the local accent. I'm not sure why. But there were definitely you know, different intricacies that that I wouldn't get and it took me a while and you know, different scenes and like fingers crossed. You know, it seems like such a little thing but for example in Romania we we tend to keep our fists close as as a sign of good luck. And keeping your fingers crossed is like okay, well this is sort of the opposite.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Interest, interesting. Yeah. So So sign language or gestures are so different, right? Because I know it also in many Western countries, thumbs up as a good thing, or making a circle with your index finger and your thumb but I know in the Middle East that means very different things that exist routinely offensive. Great. Yeah. So it's, it's really fascinating to to hear about that. Right. And, and you also mentioned that you need to get out of your comfort zone, right. You need to move for some work on your communication when you move to?
George Firican: North America.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: How do you think that impacted your YouTube career so to say because you have a successful YouTube channel and you love creating videos and putting that creative creativity in there, that and it requires a lot of confidence and getting out of your comfort zone to to create those and put them out, put them online. So do you see any link there?
George Firican: Yeah, great question. I never thought about that relationship, and maybe it's definitely a more outgoing than when I was a kid. So I think it all plays a role and it probably did influence in your writing to put yourself in front of a camera. I mean, even now. I think 10 years ago, it would have been a lot harder for me to do this than it is now and I was just you know, very comfortable. It's like conversation between friends. And I'm sure it's because of you Belper as well because you're such an easy person to talk to. But at the same time, you one has to get used to talking in front of a camera. For some reason. There's like a mental blockage. When you see that red light blinking and you see that camera in front of you. It's just different sometimes. It felt even harder than talking to a group of people that you've never known before. So being up on a stage and delivering a speech seemed easier than turning on the camera and talking in front of a camera. So that got a little bit of getting used to.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, I can relate to that. In the beginning. It's very strange because you can talk to this camera, you're supposed to look straight into the camera, right? But at the same time, you're used to looking at faces or at least if you're even if you have a big audience, you see people in front of you. And if you're recording or giving a big presentation you're just speaking, pretending or hoping that other people on the other side are listening. I can relate to.
George Firican: You know what I did initially in the first few tries I had to put a post it with a happy face smiling face behind the camera so I could see something that will make me smile a little bit. Just because I still I still have that. Oh, you do still have that? Yeah,
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: It reminds me to not be too serious, you know, because it's, it's kind of if I get very much into the content, I tend to be a bit serious. It's hard for people to relate to, to be energetic when you're looking at a very serious person.
George Firican: Right? And that'sRight? That's another thing about the energy I feel when you're recording you feel like you have a high energy level but then on the camera out when the recording while you're watching the playback. It seems like you're lower energy. So I feel like you have to be even higher and you know, go even bigger in terms of your vocal variety and everything else that goes in it, like you've got to have that high energy, and that gets mellowed down, somehow. Yeah.
Tips for Introverts to socialize
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: I totally see what you're saying. And I'm wondering do you have any any tips for for people like me or other introverts? Who, who need to speak to a camera a lot. If you don't, if you don't have a YouTube channel, you need to you're in meetings right? At work. So do you have any any tips how we can improve that?
George Firican: Well, this might be a cliche, but it does help to practice. So even if you open your own zoom and you click Record, you'll you'll see that initially it's not easy even though you know, you know it's nobody else on the other side. It's not easy to just talk into the void. But if you do this a few times, it gets easier. It does get easier. Maybe it also helps in a meeting if you don't have your camera on. From the beginning, though I don't recommend it. I mean, it's always we're losing so much already by having these virtual conversations and not in person conversations. It's great to see the other person and their reaction but maybe if you feel it's easier for you to just get things started with the camera off, if that makes you more comfortable. Maybe try and do that and then you know when you're ready turned out on just just you know, ease into it. A little bit.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right. Do you remember creating your first YouTube videos?
George Firican: I do. And Gilbert I think for the first one I had this like, you know over professional setting at somebody's house that all the lights in two cameras angles and everything was like over producing it. But it's because I like to do good things, quote unquote, perfect looking professionally. And I think for a five minute video, it took me two hours to record it. I kept on repeating it and you know practicing it and things wouldn't work. out and it was it was painful.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, but I bet I bet you've learned a lot. I did the first few. I did. I think it's something that that many people do that start out. The first videos need to be perfect and eventually you also learn that you know, it's about practicing and putting in the hours and of course it's it's good to have good lighting good good cameras, but in the end it's about the delivery and trying it out. Correct? Correct.
George Firican: And the sound quality of the sound is quite important more important than the view quality I found.
14:12 Combining Two Fields
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: I'm also wondering, because YouTube and creating content creation on LinkedIn or any other platforms is is quite a creative side I would say and data management, the part that your professional life resides in mostly is more analytical, I would say how do you how do you see those fields combining or do Do you see that you're combining those two fields? Right now and what are your thoughts on that?
George Firican: Yeah, you're completely right. I think within data governance, data management, I'm missing a little bit of my creative side, which I like to exert to me. That's why I like to create content and put content out there on social media and create courses and videos and things like that. So I have that outlet, but maybe the one area that I can think of especially in data governance, when it comes to creativity is the whole communication change management piece. Because you need to find a time some creative ways of communicating what you have done, what you're doing, what you're going to do, and how that's going to impact people. And you can't just put everything in one email or one newsletter and just put it out there. Sometimes it helps to create some sort of a graphic. Just think of a interesting contest or a way for people to engage with what you've created. Just to try and you know, create that adoption. So maybe that's sometimes that's that's hard to do, because there's all these different types of audience and one thing doesn't work for everybody. So that's why you need to try different methods of putting your content out there and your message out there for people to read, to understand to start to adopt.
Passionate about Data Management
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right, right. And as a good bridge to to your professional life to data management. I once heard you say on the podcast that you mentioned, data management is kind of a dry topic that no one wants to talk about. But you want to talk about and I'm and I think you can talk about it. In a very clear and at the GST way that makes me as the GST because Whoa, the topic even though I'm not very knowledgeable on it. So what why why do you want to talk about a while what makes you passionate about the subject or listened to.
George Firican: I think we can talk about this for hours but I think it's such an important thing and often so overlooked. You know, a lot of companies, a lot of individuals, they're, they're blinded by it, not in a bad way. But you know, they're drawn to data science, AI machine learning, all these fun things that he can do with the data visualization. It's all the outputs, all that value that you're drawing out of that data, which is great. But then you can't really have good outcomes if you don't have good data, and you can have good data. And by good data I mean good data quality, and standardized data and describe data defined data, governed data. So you can't have all of that if you don't have data governance if you don't have data management in place. So I think Scott Taylor, you know, had this keynote and he talked about emerging new Baker that makes this wonderful bread, which people love and he loves the process as well and people love the bread that he's making. But if he wouldn't have great ingredients, and you know somebody else before him like the farmers and everybody wouldn't make those quality ingredients and he wouldn't have that good quality bread and products that he's he's making. So I think the same with data as well. You need that data management and data governance to make sure that it is standardized. It is of the quality that's meeting those business requirements. That somebody looks over it and making sure that if there's any changes, then those changes will be you know, accounted for in the data. So and of course you know, you're respecting all the policies, regulations, you're not going to get any fines because of it.
Data as an Asset
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right right. And then because everyone wants to make the best brands right and and everyone is pretty focused including myself on the on the last part, you know, putting it in the oven or presenting it to the customer. You also mentioned about using data as an asset, right, selling as an acid. What does it mean to and I'm sure it's related to what you just said. Can you expand on that, please?
George Firican: Yeah, so more and more I think companies are starting to realize that you can actually put a value next to your data. Your data can be on that financial ledger. It has it is an asset that it has a return on investment, when we're using it in sometimes even when we're storing it. So similar to how us as people we are assets of a company same as how we have the financial assets that are also acids. You know, in that same way, how we have HR managing people within a company and we have the finance department, managing the financial assets. Well, in that same way we have data governance that's managing data as another asset of the company.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right, that makes no sense comparison. And I think for many people, the HR part and the finance part Is it logical, right? It's installed in the business.
George Firican: Yeah. So thinking you know, thinking about it this way, right? When you're working with HR, you're you as a manager, let's say you're doing some HR related activities. So you might be you're still interviewing the person for the role in your team because you would be the most knowledgeable on who to hire not not HR, right? You're giving the performance reviews.
You're giving recommendations for a salary raise, you're giving your input on how that job description should be created, so many things and so on, you know, you're approving the vacation time and there's so many processes and, and things that you're doing as a manager, but you wouldn't be able to do them properly without HR so hrs. frauding you well, you know, George This is the policy that we need to abide by. That person needs to have at least four weeks vacation a year. It's not up to you. Here the standards and the processes and the steps for you to interview or hire somebody or offered them a salary and these are the guidelines you can offer them more than this and all these things are put together by HR and you're using all those artifacts that HR is putting together to have because otherwise, anybody in the company will do different things will not be consistent. It'd be you know, a lot of people that will be unhappy and probably a lot of lawsuits happening if we wouldn't follow the same rules and regulations and standards and processes, processes that HR is putting together and seeing for data governance, data governance, putting together the policies, procedures, processes standards for data to be managed. And then you can still have one department taking care of their own data, or multiple departments taking care of the same data together. But following these common standards, policies, rules, procedures.
Steps to take about Data Governance
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: That makes sense that makes sense. And I think there are many companies and organizations that have heard of data management, data governance, but don't really know where to start or where to continue. Maybe they've heard of it or some awareness. They know it's important, but they don't really know how to proceed. Do you have any any advice I know you have some some templates on your next record show session templates. Can you tell us a bit more about what steps people can take to start with this?
I think as with with anything first you need to see where you stand you need to have that has is analysis and see where are you today? And it's great to always take that baseline because then you also want to just compare your progress against that baseline. And so often, at least in the IT world, we forget to do that. We're just so eager to Okay, let's just improve whatever we have right now. Let's just make it better. But then we forget where we are and then we can really show that progress anymore. So that's the first step. I think we need to do that as this analysis he What are different issues that we're facing with our data. How does that impact our processes our business, the bottom line, the goals of the organization? How is it impeding those goals? And I recommend, again, looking from from a data perspective, and from that data perspective, to look at the acquisition of data and maintenance of data, and that dissemination of data. So in all those three streams to see where the issues were to stakeholders impacted by it, were the processes you got to buy it. What are the projects that can be done or they're being done? Not as easy if we don't have this data governance piece, so that's definitely the first step and then you want to get that adoption from higher management you need that sponsoring somebody that you know, routes you and also finances your your program. And then you want to start some sort of a data governance console I call it which is a group of high level individuals usually VPS or even CXOs that come in as a voice of the company and they dictate it they tell you this is what's important for the company. This is what you should focus right now because we have limited resources so we can tackle everything at once. But focus on this you know ABC things to start. And then the data governance lead whoever that person would be, would choose. Okay, well, I know, I need to focus on ABC. But it's up to me on how I do that, you know, following best practices and, and their experience and things like that.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right, that makes sense. And you also mentioned getting executive buy in right are getting the right funds. once asked what is the what is the role of data communication and data management and data governance Who do you see a role in that piece or how do you see it in the broader perspective?
George Firican: I think it's a huge communication plays a huge role. I was at a conference a few years ago and somebody was saying that communication plays 90% of the role in data governance. Maybe that's a bit much but I still think it's like very high it definitely has a very high emphasis. And often I feel like it's missed, like this. Things are getting done and they're not being communicated. And this is not good at all. It has no good outcome. So I'm, I'm you know, proponent of over communication sometimes I feel that we can get a lot and then have people you know, kind of pick and choose what's relevant to them, but I feel it's better to over communicate and under communicate if that makes sense. And to does, I always I always try and communicate what we have done what we are doing and what we're going to do and again, I try and relate that to those business schools or you know, a specific department schools or, or even a specific individual's needs. So try and make that relevant to wherever the audience would be. And sometimes it's hard to tackle all of these things at once. Right?
Understanding Business Goals
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: And how do you discover those needs those individuals needs are how do you understand the business goals? Because before you can relate it to those to those goals to their to them? Yeah, you need to understand their perspective, right? Well, yeah. But what is your view on how you how you can get that? What's the whole process.
George Firican: What's the whole process but you know, it does start with that as his assessment initially, because as part of that, as his assessment, you're starting to have a lot of interviews or conversations with the different stakeholders that are being impacted. And through these conversations, you're basically drawing out okay, what's bothering you right now? And you're really making a list and keeping track of those issues. So then you try and relate, okay, well, how does what I'm doing right now? Maybe he's fixing that issue or addressing that issue. So you're communicating, communicating that back to those stakeholders. So that's definitely one way but I think you also need to be in constant communication with these individuals in to have regular status updates and but not just a one way directional status updates and you are actually having a conversation or always listening to their needs. I think that's that's also key, you know, as part of the communication, we just, were not just expecting to talk a lot to listen. So then we can, we can always show that relationship between what you're doing to how it affects them.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Right. That makes no sense. And I think no matter where you work, in what type of field we need to listen more, and ask better questions. I think it's also important that in the data science field data analytics that are no good, better than data, governance, data management, but I see a lot of parallels also, that often is not communicated enough, right. And what I see with it adolescent data scientists that they they like to work. They'd like doing the work right, doing the analysis, making a model. Instead of communicating and aligning with stakeholders and understanding their perspective. What I think is that also something else is at play is that many people in data are more introverted. So they prefer working by themselves or with other data professionals. And instead of being in meetings, make meetings with stakeholders. Do you see the same dynamic in Data Management or what's your perspective? That's a good point.
George Firican: Yes, I do see that. Yeah, you're right. I think it's the overall people like to just do the work and get to the bottom of it. Not detract this much to to others, especially from the business side. And you know, what, what I what I find is challenging for us for them. And, you know, by us and them, I mean, introverts in general. I find that when we're communicating to the business side, a lot of individuals from the business side tend to be extroverts. And maybe I'm generalizing things here but often I find that we're talking to extroverts. And for an introvert, I feel it's takes a lot out of you takes a lot of energy. And we also want to want to make sure that they're not going to dominate a conversation and it's actually going to be a conversation and not just coming from them. So you'll also get a chance to ask those questions and you know, answer and give your perspective too. So I think that's the challenge with with introverts or people working data.
Preparation before speaking in public
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. You right now because we talk about being an introvert. Right now you do a lot of public speaking, right? Are you still nervous? Do you have any rituals or mental prep before you go live to livestream or have a presentation?
George Firican: I know you do and we can talk about that too. Great question. I don't know when you posted this on LinkedIn, I was you know, thinking well, what do I do? And I don't do much to be honest. So I want to make sure that I you know, practice before so I know my material. It's always easier if I know it going in and I know what I'm going to talk about and how I'm going to talk about it and there's you know, different lines or key points that I want to make sure I'm going to address. I also want to make sure I'm not over preparing so I'm not memorizing content because then you can just sounds robotic and it's even more stressful. But then I think just on the day of a few minutes before, you know 1015 minutes before want to make sure I have my water my coffee, just to get that you know extra hype from the coffee from the caffeine. And I don't know. No, I'm just generally excited. I'm trying to like I'm starting to get into that energy. And I feel that I can especially once it starts I'm like, you know high energy, very excited. No nerves, or maybe they're still nervous. You know, somebody told me there was this speaker that I talked to at one point and she was you know, traveling the world speaking to audiences and she was getting paid for it and asked her the same question Gilbert, you know, do you still get nervous, nervous and she said yes, every time but I tried to like channel those butterflies I feel in my stomach like I try and channel that in my voice and to you know, push it out of me and like it really helps and energizes the whole speech and like, Okay, I'll, I'll try and do that and couldn't quite figure out what she meant. But I think now I do I feel like that nervousness I'm trying to put it in just an energetic voice out there. If that makes any sense. That makes that makes no sense.
Gilbert Eijkelenboom: I once heard, you need to transform. You need to label your nerves as excitement and transform it to into excitement because that's what you are right? You're not nervous or nervous to fail. You're excited to perform and to to tell your story. And I think that clicks something for me, I I tried to do the same so I can see what si si was trying to say. I think there's a similar similar thing. And for me, and I think many people can relate to this. I wanted to, you know, I focus a lot on the content a lot of what I wanted to say, not memorizing everything, but still was very focused on it needs to be correct or needs to be right what I'm saying. And because I was focusing so much on the content, I was not really focused on on the delivery and on the connection with my audience and, you know, making making small interactions. And I think it's very easy if you do that to come across as too robotic or too, too static or not, not enough showing not enough emotions. And I think that's what you need to do right as on a presentation, even the drives presentation. If you evoke emotion in the audience. It's so much more effective. People will remember your message and is this something you're trying to do as well.
George Firican: I'm trying to put in more anecdotes in my in my speeches or tutorials and stories. I feel that's really getting the audience more attentive and all of a sudden, it's also a change from maybe the more practical content. And it's sometimes something that they can relate to or it's just they're curious, like, Okay, what did that company do, even though you're not naming the company or, or what did happen to that individual? I feel maybe as humans, we're kind of drawn to that to that storytelling piece. Whenever I you know, introduce one of those stories. I feel people are likely star