Many of us “baby data scientists”, as Margaret loves to refer to us as, often have a difficult time connecting the hard coding and statistics associated with Data Science with an industry or problem in society which requires solving. Data science is a tool, and an incredibly powerful one at that, and it is up to us to decide which industry to give our utility to. For me, I found my niche through a frustration. Let’s be honest, traffic is one of the most frustrating things humans encounter on a day to day basis. We are sitting there, in a car we’ve paid thousands of dollars for, a car which would happily go 80 mph, yet the speed we are currently going is 0, because the whole world and their mothers decided to drive somewhere at the same time as us. Why can’t the society which can build rockets that bring humans to the moon figure out traffic, a problem so rudimentary even a child knows exactly what it is.
This is the exact reason for which I’ve decided to combine my major in Data Science with a second major in Urban Studies and Planning. When I was emailed a job opportunity at SANDAG (The San Diego Association of Governments), I didn’t even know what SANDAG was. I did a bit of research, learned this was the place to be as an urban planner, and ended up applying for an internship in the Intelligent Transportation Systems department. I was remarkably under-qualified (and was even originally told I didn’t even get an interview) but was hired with the help of one reason (this is a direct quote from my current boss): “well, we saw data science on your resume”. To me, this doesn’t mean data science is an instant path to success, but in industries where data science is just entering the scene, adding that skill to an already semi-qualified resume will definitely give you the edge over other applicants.
I have been at SANDAG for eight months now, and absolutely love it. I work mostly on two independent projects. My first project is to constantly monitor the performance of the most advanced freeway in the world – the San Diego I-15 Integrated Corridor Management System. This 20-mile segment of the I-15 combines a flexible express lane configuration, 263 arterial road traffic signals, and countless on-ramp meters and notification boards along the segment to keep traffic moving quickly, even on one of the busiest freeways in California. The system monitors traffic speed real time, and when it senses congestion, it runs models to see if directing cars onto side streets and pre-designated detour routes will be faster than keeping cars on the freeway. Every time it does this, the system “triggers” and my job is to evaluate the performance of said trigger, evaluating with every imaginable statistic how much speed was improved and congestion relieved. My second task is to act as a supporting author to the annually produced San Diego Region State of the Commute (SOC). I sit in on meetings, create all statistics, and help my Supervisor in producing statistics that are interesting, useful, and easily comprehensible for the average resident. The longer I have been at SANDAG, I have been granted more and more autonomy in deciding what should go in the SOC and what should not, and this has been the most incredible part so far. From Data Science at UCSD, I have gained the tools, and from SANDAG the background knowledge and regional context to produce something incredibly useful to commuters and the region in general.
Thanks for reading, and if you’d ever like to speak about transportation, bikeshare, autonomous vehicles, freeways, traffic, or just life in general please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org