Homing in on Data

Alaina Dingwell ’23 and Tenille Black both weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to do in the next chapter of their careers when they entered the master’s of business analytics program at USC Upstate. But an assistantship program with Zillow earlier this year helped both discover what they loved about working with data.

The program was an opportunity for business analytics students to work on teams at Zillow, where they could apply what they were learning in class to real-world projects. Dingwell and Black say doing a deep-dive into data and analyzing customer behaviors and experiences helped build their technical skills.

“As great as our classes have been, and as much as we’ve learned from them, there’s still that limitation of getting a lot of data to work with at a time,” Dingwell says. “So having that experience of working with really big data was something that the classroom wasn’t able to offer me.”

Black agrees, adding that the assistantship lent an immediacy to what they were studying. “I know in a lot of classrooms, they’ll say, ‘When you get to the corporate world, this will happen,’” Black says. “This kind of closed that gap really quickly. You get to Zillow and you’re like, oh yeah, that’s exactly what they meant.”

Black, who had worked as a teacher assistant since getting her degree in economics from North Carolina A&T in 2011, always knew she wanted a job focused on research. When she learned about the field of business analytics, it gave her interest a name and a direction to go for her career reset. The Zillow assistantship confirmed she had chosen the right path.

“I really want to keep the momentum going and look for more assistantships,” Black says. “This has definitely been a confidence booster.”

For Dingwell, who had discovered an interest in analytics while working at a library after graduating from USC in Columbia with a French degree, the assistantship helped her figure out what area she liked. Initially she thought she’d love doing data visualization, but her work at Zillow showed her she much preferred SQL, a standard language used in programming and database management.

“It really helped to clarify what type of job I want and what skills I would want to use at that job,” Dingwell says.