Full disclosure: when I went into my conversation with the QAC tutors involved with the Agero Data Education Program this winter, I had no clue what Agero was or what they did. Scrolling through the company’s website before the interviews didn’t really help me either. This is apparently a common reaction: neither Kyle Akepanidtaworn ’18 nor Kelly Jamrog ’19 knew anything about the company before entering their Boston office this January.
On their website, Agero describe themselves as, “driving the next generation of vehicle and mobile technology forward, pushing the limits of big data to transform the entire driving experience.” These can seem like surprising concepts to mix together – driving and mobile technology? – and most people are likely confused about Agero at first glance because they’re unsure how the driving experience requires transformation. But there are a lot of organizational aspects behind vehicle-run industries that we rarely think about.
“The catchy phrase they used to explain [the company to us is], ‘We’re the 800 number you call” said Kelly. Students working for Agero’s winter program got to know the breadth of driving-related fundamentals that Agero covered over the first week of the program, crammed both with presentations and more hands-on field work, such as calling a tow truck to see how roadside assistance actually works. Everyone I talked to commented on the variety of its services in a speedy list – roadside assistance, app development, asset management, and so on.
Though I have never heard of the company before, some of Agero’s customers definitely ring a bell (think State Farm). Agero’s behind the scenes work serves 80 million drivers, and 11 out of 15 top insurance carriers. That’s a ton of services, which (unsurprisingly) generate a lot of data, information that Agero collects through checklists filled out by people on the other end of the dispatcher’s phone line.
This massive data set is where the students came into play. As a part of Agero’s program, they were given the chance to wrestle with the information over the course of four weeks. For the first week of the program, the students came in to the Agero offices and were swept along in a bootcamp-style series of coding case studies and software flybys – among programs familiar to the QAC, such as Tabelau and Python. This culminated in a hypothetical challenge: the company wanted to move into a new market in Dallas, TX – the goal was to minimize cost, maximize customer experience, and give a two year projection of performance. The students were given 1.6 million data points over the last six years in five different markets and essentially told, “You have three weeks; have at it.”
“You had to figure out, firstly, what you wanted to do – which was a thing that made me think, whoa.” said Kelly, “Because very often in school when we get an assignment, it’s often — do question one, now do question two….and this [instead] was, tell us what you find. That was really cool.”
Fredrick Corpuz ‘19, whose presentation won the top prize at the end of the experience, had a similar reaction. “I got a real feeling of what being a data scientist actually was. You never know if you got something right. Looking back — was that actually good insight pulled from the data? Do I know if they’re actually going to do anything with what I told?”
The sheer amount of data would seem pretty daunting to most anyone. Out of the 30 variables given, 7 had 95% of the data missing. Ideas had to be adjusted, modeling techniques scrapped, and needless to say, management took a lot of retooling. Still, the six students developed their own approaches to the challenge at hand for about three weeks — with personal takes on the problem at hand motivating their work. Kyle used a specific type of regression called lasso, and worked on finding individual factors determining user experience. Kelly adjusted her approaches due to the amount of missing information. Frederick explored relationships between driver congestion changes through the day and availability of tow trucks. All this culminated in final presentations to a board of Agero executives.
What’s especially exciting was that this program was exclusively available to Wesleyan students. The head of the department managing the program was a Wesleyan alum, excited to give this opportunity to other critically minded people. Wesleyan participants enjoyed the trust in their skills and freedom given to them during the program, and felt it was an overall good experience. When asked what they’d change about the program if they had the chance, many thought the experience might be better structured as a weekend long intensive – but the suggestion came amidst praise of this great opportunity. It will be interesting to see how Agero moves forward from this program, and what learning opportunities it might offer in the future.