How I Went from Public Policy Wonk to InterWorks Analytics Consultant


How I Went from Public Policy Wonk to InterWorks Analytics Consultant

by Kathryn Bridges

"How I Went from" is an ongoing blog series that highlights our employees' different journeys to InterWorks. The results are pretty diverse, but each story is special in its own right.

As evidenced by my StrengthFinders 2.0 test from Gallup (Connectedness, Arranger, Empathy, and Relator are all in my top five), I have always been a people person. Specifically, I love helping people. During college, I felt like the best way to help people was first to understand them, so I set off to study sociology and women’s studies near home in Athens, Georgia.

Volunteering for Amnesty International in college

Above: Volunteering for Amnesty International in college.

About two years in, I realized I loved quantitative sociology – being able to mathematically understand how people were behaving and then responding in the most precise way. At this point, I decided to pick up an economics degree as well. Armed with experience working with Amnesty International and our college’s local LGBTQ organization, I felt my degrees positioned me well to go into either a nonprofit or continue doing research on people.

The summer after college, while I was still trying to figure out what that position looked like, I took the opportunity to teach high school kids math in the city of Atlanta. It was at this point that I realized no matter how much I understood people and their behaviors, there was a limit to what I could do to help until I understood and changed the underlying policies and procedures that created the system. Knowing this, I decided to go back to graduate school for public policy.

Becoming a Public Policy Wonk

Policy encapsulated everything I had tried to put together before: people, how they behave in a system, the policies that regulate that behavior and an analysis of whether all those things are efficient or beneficial. You move one lever that is an input to this system, and suddenly behaviors and people start changing as well. I was (and still am) fascinated by this and dove into policy work with a county government in Georgia.

 Getting my MPP diploma in the mail

Above: Getting my MPP diploma in the mail.

The problems I was solving and the questions I was answering – why water billing to constituents was incorrect, how we could incentivize government entities to apply to more grants, where the most used bike trails in the county were – felt meaningful and impactful. It was also at this point that I went to “Tableau Day” at Georgia State University and met Dan Murray. It was Dan who first introduced me to the potential that data visualization had in this arena.

The Move to Illinois

Interested in continuing this work, after graduation, I moved up to Illinois to work with the Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Here, I evaluated how government policy around grants designed to help low-income students in community college impacted student outcomes. Writing the final report for The Department of Labor, I was struck by how influential the regressions I ran were on future government spending dedicated to helping students continue and complete their educational goals. Since grants come to a close, I was soon searching for my next role. One that combined my love for people with a quantitative approach.

My first Illinois winter

Above: My first Illinois winter.

I found this opportunity through data visualization at Caterpillar. Although I wasn’t working in the non-profit or government space, I was still able to help people, and I jumped at this opportunity to sharpen my business skills. I worked with folks in countless departments and learned words they don’t teach you when you get your MPP (seriously … I had only thought about “social return on investment” … who knew bottom lines were so important). During this time, I also began volunteering with my local government and working with a community analytics initiative, all while immersing myself in Tableau and data and all the quantitative things I enjoyed.

Putting It All Together with InterWorks

When it became time for a change, I knew I wanted to work for a company that allowed me to bring all these experiences and interests together. I googled B-corps, reminisced on my time working for REI during college and considered starting a non-profit. I also thought about all sorts of other ideas that would afford me the opportunity to do rigorous analysis while feeling as if I was making an impact of others.

Sitting at my friend’s kitchen table talking about these things, I remembered Dan Murray, his excitement for Tableau and the work he was doing. I then found everything that I could on InterWorks, and it seemed exciting – people filled with passion and hope and who cared about the work they did. I decided I’d take a chance and apply. As I filled out the application (my interesting fact is that my back-up career plan is to open up a vegan food truck), I became more and more excited about the possibility.

When I got an email they were interested in talking, I was beyond ecstatic. I talked with some folks over the phone, built a dashboard to begin thinking about what it means to be an analytics consultant and was eventually invited to Stillwater. Having seen me go through several phases of interests and enthusiasm, my partner looked at me the morning I was leaving and said, “Wow, it really seems like you want this job. I think this is going to be a good fit.”

Aran supporting another of my hobbies- sailing

Above: Aran supporting another of my hobbies sailing.

These Are My People

That first day in Stillwater was such a fun one. I started with InterWorks almost a month later, and thinking back to the Onboarding week, I had so many moments realizing that “these are my people.” We’re weird, nerdy and have all sorts of interests that we’re trying to figure out how to channel. Most of all, we’re just passionate about people and making a difference.

Train the Trainer in OKC

Above: Train the Trainer in OKC.

From my first day of onboarding to today, I have to pinch myself sometimes to remember that this is really my job. I get to travel the country and talk with people who are doing interesting, meaningful things. I also get to help them use their data to make their work even more impactful. It doesn’t hurt that my team is filled with brilliant, inspiring folks as well.

Looking back, I’m not sure I would have believed you ten years ago if you told me I would be an analytics consultant. But honestly, I can’t imagine anything being a better fit. Having experience in several industries, the chance to see so much and understand how all the pieces fit together day to day keeps me as engaged and excited as I was as an idealistic college student. Suffice it to say that I love InterWorks – our culture, our people and our clients!

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More About the Author

Kathryn Bridges

Analytics Consultant
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