Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Community Team
Alteryx Community Team

For this episode of Alter Everything, guest host Alex Koszycki is joined by Alteryx Community stars, Mike Fratoni, Matt Desimone, and Ozzie Dembowski. All Drexel University alumni, they share a chat about their experiences navigating the higher education world, and life afterwards as they carved out their career paths in analytics.

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Episode Transcription

Alex: [00:00:00] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Alex Koszycki, and I'll be your host. For this episode, I'm joined by my Alteryx teammates Mike Fratoni, Matt DeSimone and Ozzie Dembowski. We all attended Drexel University back in the day, and today we're going to chat about our experience in the higher education world. Class is in session, so let's get started.

All right, I'll get started a sec. Three two one.  Hello, welcome to alter everything. I'm Alex Koszycki and I'll be your host today. With me is Mike Fratoni, Ozzie Dembowski and Matt DeSimone. Mike would you like to give a quick intro?

[00:01:05] Mike: [00:01:05] Let's see, I hail from Philadelphia. I am a customer support engineer with Alteryx. So yeah, I basically help customers out when they receive a lot of errors and stuff and then I kind of play with the tool itself and try to build out my own workflows.

[00:01:24] Alex: [00:01:24] Excellent. Ozzie, do you want to give us an idea of who you are and put a voice to the name?

[00:01:30] Ozzie: [00:01:30]
Sure, Ozzie Debowski. I am a software engineer here at Alteryx and I specifically work on our Visualytics investment area. So, anything involving the insights tool, interactive charting, basically our reporting suite and I'm also from Philadelphia

[00:01:54] Alex: [00:01:54]
Great, and last we have Matt DeSimone. Could you give us a little bit of background on you?

[00:02:01] Matt: [00:02:01]
Yeah, so, my name is Matt DeSimone. I'm from Baltimore originally, went to school in Philadelphia. It's where I met these guys, but now I work as a data engineer for the Community.

[00:02:12] Alex: [00:02:12]
Excellent. Yeah, so as Matt just alluded to we have different backgrounds. I work on the Community team and we run the support Community site for Alteryx. But despite all our different backgrounds. We do have something in common, which is that we all went to school together at Bristol University. 

[00:02:36] Ozzie: [00:02:36] Go dragons!

[00:02:39] Alex: [00:02:39] Yeah, go dragons! We're here today to talk about how we navigated the higher education system and ended up all working together at Alteryx and I think that there's no better person to start off that story than Matt who was actually the first person to to join Alteryx, and the corral the rest of us. So Matt, do you want to give us a little spiel about you know how we all ended up in the same place?

[00:03:11] Matt: [00:03:11] Yeah be happy too. So, I guess it started back when we were doing research together, but as we were going through that process of applying to jobs after school, you know enduring all that stress together, we were sharing different opportunities that came up. I did some research on some of the best places to work in tech and Alteryx was a top of the list. So after giving them a call, and the interview going quite well, I sent in a referral with Alex. And yeah, the rest is kind of history and kind of dominoed from there.

[00:03:45] Alex: [00:03:45]
Yeah, and I mean went and applied and also got the job and then about six months later, we convinced our friend Ozzie who was also in the biomedical engineering program at Drexel with us to come and over to the dark side, you know over to Tech from from research and we got him here too. And then Ozzie, how did Mike get here?

[00:04:13] Ozzie: [00:04:13]
Me, Alex, and Matt all kind of used to live together when we first started Alteryx in California, and we had another roommate that was also from Drexel and his name was Justin. So, me and Justin actually took a trip up to the San Francisco area to you know, check out San Fran and we actually ended up staying with Mike who was Justin's friend and after talking with Mike, you know, it seems like his interest lied in kind of the analytical space. So, Mike was super interested and we kind of kept in touch and after a lengthy interview process. He finally got a job at Alteryx.

[00:04:57] Alex: [00:04:57]
Is that how you remember it Mike?

[00:05:01] Mike: [00:05:01]
Yeah when I was at Drexel, I kind of took a very all over all over the place type of path like I started a business and I did some biomedical engineering then I switch to civil engineering and then I was just trying to figure out what I want to do. So, you know, I believe I started out doing like project management stuff with civil than I went to structural and just wound up doing water resources.

[00:05:30] And why I kind of settled on water resources was because I just like the whole systematic approach and you can look at a whole like watershed a whole system and kind of analyze the whole thing. So that may have been like the very first introduction to me, you know being really into data as a whole and then when I did my grad school up at Berkeley and I didn't actually like water resources so I switched to transportation and what I actually found in doing Transportation with all its different niches, I liked making models - basically stats models - you know that uses survey data and stuff to try to predict how people move within the city.  And so fast forward to when Ozzie and Justin came up. I was just looking for a job and I was playing with the idea of not doing data solely with Transportation but data as a whole, and when Ozzie kind of pitched what Alteryx was about, I was definitely very interested.

[00:06:36] Alex: [00:06:36]
Yeah, I think that the journey of us all ending up working here is a bit unusual based on what I hear from some of my other friends in college. It was tough to find a job to begin with and I wanted to start there with you guys and hear what were your experiences coming out of college and looking for a job trying to navigate that whole process.

So I think Matt you might be a good person to kick us off there. How was your job search in college?

[00:07:15] Matt: [00:07:15]
So I played the numbers game. I probably sent out north of 300 applications. At least. There were a couple days were all I did we're send out applications

[00:07:27] Alex: [00:07:27]
300 is an impressive number of applications.

[00:07:30] Matt: [00:07:30]
Oh, yeah. Yep. Did it en masse. I will say though. I think we had the benefit of the co-op program coming from Drexel working for us.

[00:07:39] Alex: [00:07:39]
That's definitely true Ozzie. Could you give us kind of a snapshot of what the call program is?

[00:07:46] Ozzie: [00:07:46]
Yeah, so the co-op program at Drexel is kind of like a forced internship where you're working for six months. So, you apply like to a job but like as an intern and you do it for usually it's around like a six-month period and actually have the choice between like if you're a four-year student versus a five year student. If you're a four-year student you only get one six-month Co-op, but if you're a five-year student you get a total of three six-month Co-op so that way.

When you exit Drexel after the five years you have accumulated 18 months’ worth of experience which in today's world, experience is very important if you want to try to get an entry level job.

[00:08:36] Alex: [00:08:36]
Yeah, I think it really helped to up the conversion rate from education to employment in a pretty tangible way that I know many of my friends were not feeling that same effect.

[00:08:47] So yeah, I'd like to zero in on this a little bit. What do you guys think is the difference between. This kind of concept of paying your dues, you know coming in on the ground floor, maybe not getting paid, you know, your dream salary or anything like that, but working hard, you know for a few years until you can kind of breakthrough to that next level the next Echelon.

I know it's pretty common in some Industries, you know, like Consulting for instance. It's kind of a grind right at the beginning but you know after a certain point it becomes worth it in a good way. What do you guys think is that difference between paying your dues and sort of you know being stubborn and knowing your worth and trying to negotiate right out the gate?

[00:09:39] Ozzie: [00:09:39]
I think it kind of depends on where you're coming from and I guess how much experience you have with the field that you're in. I know at least for me, I didn't go into a field related to my degree. So, it was kind of like I barely have experience in this field and I had a couple of experiences with data analytics and what not and I was like super interested in it, but I knew that I wasn't going to be you know, I know that my worth wasn't very high. I was just trying to get in, you know as a college student. I think that's what a lot of people just want to do. They just want to kind of get in get their feet wet get comfortable get a lot of experience and then from there they're like, okay, well, I know all of these things I can kind of gauge my worth from going to Glassdoor, go into all these other websites. But also, if you do come from academia, but you've also have had a lot of experience doing what employers want, then I guess you can also kind of market yourself a little bit more and try to get more money, but I think it's a balance right? I think it depends on several factors and if you're new to a field, I think you kind of have to pay your dues. But if you're not I think you have every right to try to get as much as you think you're worth.

[00:11:22] Matt: [00:11:22]
I feel like with entry-level that's especially important where yeah, you might need to pay some dues without much experience. Yeah, luckily coming to Alteryx, we had, you know, 18 months of co-op experience and I kind of had my fingers crossed with the master's degree.

[00:11:42] Mike: [00:11:42]
I'll also say it's probably down to what tangible things have you done? Because as a new grad this is kind of the stuff that people ideally would be wanting to think about when they're in college because for me, I never took advantage really of any of those like extracurricular academic societies or anything like that and I think that may have but probably showed in terms of my resume or you could say my interview  process. Really having these tangible items to be like, hey, this is part of my portfolio. You know, that's where you can probably start negotiating.

[00:12:23] Alex: [00:12:23]
Yeah. That's a good point. How do you think that the student loan sort of conundrum factors into that that crucial time, you know as a new grad you're looking at what you can do, you're looking at probably starting with whatever your major was, looking at those industries and seeing what kind of jobs are out there? But at the same time you have this loan debt hanging over your head. I imagine - I mean, I don't have to really imagine because I was in a similar situation - but I imagine that definitely changes the way that you make that decision, you know how much you're willing to negotiate, for instance.

[00:13:10] Ozzie: [00:13:10]
Yeah, so when I first started Alteryx, as a customer support engineer and obviously it was my first job out of college and especially moving to California and dealing with that, dealing with my student loans, learning how to tackle them learning about refinancing all that stuff. Basically, just trying to be adult I will say personally I pretty much almost broke even my first year because yeah, there was just kind of a lot to think about financially, but once I had like a years’ worth of experience at Alteryx, I've learned so much.

[00:13:53] Alex: [00:13:53]
I think also I mean I'll put you on the spot for a second Ozzie but graduating college doesn't mean that education is over it by no stretch of the imagination. There's so much that I learned after graduating and I continue to learn every day and I think your story is also an example of that because while you were in support, I know that you were teaching yourself how to code and doing all these programs outside of your normal 9-5 to get that leg up and get that basis. So you know that continued education, that growth is definitely a response to that.

[00:14:37] Mike: [00:14:37]
Yeah, I'll echo that that Alex. I learned definitely learned more in the two years I've worked here and probably my years of grad school than I really ever did.

[00:14:47] Ozzie: [00:14:47]
I think there's just so much more that you learn in Industry because you have a lot of hands-on experience and you're doing a lot more things. Also, going into college you don't really know what kind of jobs exist even for like a particular field. But then once you get to a certain field, you're like, oh I didn't know that was a job or I didn't know that was a thing, you know coming to a tech company. I didn't know I didn't know what a product manager was. I didn't know what an agile coach was and there's just so many jobs that you don't even know about even when you're in college, right because they don't have degrees for you know, a lot of those certain things and it's just one of those things that you're not exposed to until you're in the field.

[00:15:35] I do think academia is catching up with the market a little bit. I mean I've been hearing that a lot of universities now have data science programs, which I never even heard of when I was at Drexel and I think now they're starting to realize how important it is.

[00:15:55] Alex: [00:15:55]
Yeah, that's interesting you bring that up. I do like that now that data science has kind of gotten more into vogue, there's more of a focus on it because yeah in my experience we did a bunch of scientific classes and in engineering and all of our engineering course tracks, but the statistics and the data science, it was all subservient to some other goal, right. It was all a piece of another class and you know, you could take stats for instance and that'll get you some of the way there but, you know data science also takes a little bit of understanding about, you know how businesses work and how markets work and maybe if you're looking at Big Data you need to know a little bit about AI and ML - machine learning -  I should probably say these things out loud.

[00:16:52] I wanted to steer the discussion a little bit towards the current state of higher education in terms of its value to folks, you know, and also its imprint on the economy. So I'm sure that you guys have heard we're in a little bit of a higher education bubble, and I'll just outline some of the facts here that have caused this to happen.

[00:17:25] So generally, every year tuition on average is increasing by 7.4% and that greatly has outpaced the Consumer Price Index of 3.8% So I mean if you're almost doubling that that index, it means that there's going to be a squeeze and some people aren't going to be able to afford that education and you know it becomes more of a luxury good for the society.

[00:18:01] But in the end it's led to over 1.5 trillion dollars in debt. I think that this is probably related to the fact that people wait longer to buy a house or wait longer to get married. I feel those two data points are kind of always in the news about the Millennials, right? Where we're not getting married and we're not buying houses and people freak out right?

[00:18:32] I think that higher education has definitely got to be one of the big reasons for that. I mean if you have a $700 payment to your student loans every month, you can't really afford a mortgage which, you know, it's another huge trunk.

[00:18:49] Ozzie: [00:18:49]
Yeah, I've read somewhere that middle-class birth rates have started to slow down especially amongst Millennials. I think it's for that reason, right because we were paying so much money that you know, we can't really afford that house we have to. A lot of Millennials are staying with their parents a lot longer and it is just all these things that can be attributed back to just having these high student loan costs. So I think it just kind of delays like the onset of typical things that you imagine an American adult doing, you know, it's going to start happening later in life. Because now that they have this huge debt that is almost as much as their income

[00:19:51] Matt: [00:19:51]
It definitely doesn't make mortgage payments, car payments all that easier. But yeah, I've heard the same thing also - that somehow the divorce rate is lower with Millennials because they get married later but that's probably a function of wanting security. You know, when you start those things.

[00:20:07] I also read somewhere that 41 percent of people with student loans can't afford a surprise or emergency bill of $400, which is quite surprising. And I don't know if that's a great trend considering. You know, that's the highly educated class.

[00:20:23] Mike: [00:20:23]
After you graduate, that sensation and that feeling of 'yes! I can start doing stuff that I want to do, I can actually be positive with my income and I can you know, buy a house or go travel' you know, do whatever you want to do. And I feel like probably nowadays, there's that two to three-year period where you just feel like you're catching up. And you're just trying to be stable at some point and that probably is creating that lag time for buying houses and stuff like that. 

[00:20:57] Alex: [00:20:57]
But Mike why don't you just work your way through college and pay all your tuition by yourself?

[00:21:04] Matt: [00:21:04]
I know this! It's impossible!

Honestly though if you crunch the numbers. In 1976, it took 958 hours worked on the minimum wage to pay for the average college tuition. That's public and private undergrad education. Nowadays, it is roughly 7021 hours worked at minimum wage to pay for the same undergraduate public and private average tuition.Which is insane!

[00:21:40] Alex: [00:21:40]
Wow, that's it's a really interesting way to frame this problem. That's very tangible. I mean, I worked at Chipotle in college, but I mean that was just so I could buy things irresponsibly and not to pay my college tuition, which I was just resigned to having a loan for so I mean I can't imagine having enough money to just you know pay for it outright. And then there's also room and board. So, our average tuitions of private schools are above 50,000 dollars and for public schools, out-of-state tuition is pretty close to that too, it's a little less than 50. I think it's like 48 or 49 as of last year.

[00:22:31] And I mean, that's just to be able to go there but you still have to pay for food, and you have to pay for lodging. So, there's a big chunk of debt that you're accepting to get this degree.

[00:22:48] Do you guys think that the degree is worth it still at the end of it? You know getting that piece of paper that proves that you're talented at something do you think that's worth it or do you think that there are ways to not go to college and still be very successful that are better options for some folks?

[00:23:10] Matt: [00:23:10]
So I do think it's possible to not go to college and still be successful for sure.

[00:23:14] But just in general, you know, highly educated folks do make more in terms of the jobs that they can they can achieve. Also, you know with automation being a growing trend, I think that more highly educated jobs will be the jobs that persist. Yeah, I definitely still think the education is worth it and is a great investment for anyone for sure.

[00:23:42] Mike: [00:23:42]
To really understand what you want to do, I mean at the very heart of it, you just have to reach out right. So again, I was a biomedical engineer at one point and I chose biomedical engineering just off of a hunch that I like studying biology and I'm an engineer. You know, I really had no idea what the actual job market was or what jobs were out there. And an easy thing for me to do would be to just find a company, a local company, and just like ask someone be like, "hey, you know, I'm just a college student. I'm just trying to get information on how it works."

[00:24:19] I guarantee you like 98% of people in the world would be like "Sure! Yeah, you want to have a quick chat about it?" Like no one's going to be like, "Oh, no, I can't help a college student," you know, so even reaching out and just ask for their advice. "Hey, what do you think I would need to do to get there" and they tell you "Oh, make sure you know this stuff," you know? And maybe what they tell you isn't actually in school.

[00:24:40] Maybe you could learn that stuff outside somewhere else. So it's probably just this fear of networking I would say because you know when I was an undergrad and even at a grad student, I kind of had that mindset of like "I don't want to have to talk to someone to get a job" I'd hated that concept but, it's how you learn in general. You just have to reach out and just talk to people and just be honest with yourself.

[00:25:03] You know, I felt like, you know after grad school. I had this false perception of like, "Okay. I have a master's degree! I should easily be able to get a job and people should would be coming to me." But that's not the case, you know, you still have to do that networking.

[00:25:20] Just casual talking - you don't have to pretend to be something you're not you know, it's just the casual reaching out and just asking your questions and just being honest with yourself and yeah things which should hopefully ideally fall into place. But you know, that's just like an easy way to start off. Send out an email, you know?

[00:25:39] Alex: [00:25:39]
I think that's a really good point and I think it's sort of overlooked a lot but it's really important to be proactive and to be honest with yourself and be humble when you're talking to other people and asking questions and trying to feel out what could be the right path and I think.

[00:25:57] To the point of you know, is degree worth it, and what are the other options? There are some great options like coding bootcamp is a great option. There's also tech schools and trade schools, you know, it might be something that you enjoy. So I think that, you know really depends on what the passion and goals are of the individual, but there are paths that might be a bit more financially viable and could get you to the same end result.

[00:26:29] Well, it's that time! We are going to go to our Community Picks segment. So this is the segment where we shout out things that we find are interesting or cool or we want people to know about so to kick us off, Mike, can you give us your picks?

[00:26:47] Mike: [00:26:47]
Yeah, I'd like to give a shout-out to our Alteryx for good program. And you know with that are Academy on Community. You know this whole no other resources outside of classes for University or college, you know, if you're a student just want to kind of get a crack at data analysis or you want to play around with a specific software that helps you understand the computer or like data prep stuff.

[00:27:15] Get in touch with Alteryx for good. We give out student licenses to basically enable that experience, you know, we definitely want to enable as much Alteryx users out there and just data analysts in general, you know, any cool thing you can do to start using it and then yeah, once you get that license to just play around with, you know, use that Academy on community. Lots of tutorials and they're really helpful in terms of just understanding data flow and all the tools that we offer. It's kind of what I used to start off with and I'd say it's been super helpful

[00:27:55] Alex: [00:27:55]
And it's free! That's a really cool part about it - free for students and nonprofits.

[00:28:03] So if you want to just mess around and see you know, what it can do definitely reach out to all works for good. I personally I know Matt and I used to talk about this we were in customer support. We wish we had Alteryx when we were doing our data analysis in college because it's faster than you know, scripting up something on the fly. Very cool. I will actually hand the ball over to you Matt. What are your community picks?

[00:28:33] Matt: [00:28:33]
My community pick is anything and everything on the Data Science Blog. I'm not sure how much time you guys spend reading the good stuff from Sydney Firmin and Criston Schellenger, but it should be more time. These articles are amazing. Especially these last ones on data frames. There's just so many good ones on AI and fun concepts that you can apply them to so there's just a deluge a good content.

Also, Certification. Apparently, Certification has kind of made its way into the industry and is a job hiring standard now. So yeah, Certification resources as well.

[00:29:17] Mike: [00:29:17]
Get that student license to practice to get a certification for free

[00:29:22] Matt: [00:29:22]
Boom. Make entry level that much easier.

[00:29:25] Alex: [00:29:25]
Great! Ozzie, what are your community picks?

[00:29:29] Ozzie: [00:29:29]
My community pick is the Developer Community and the Developer blog because I've definitely contributed to it to it.

[00:29:39] But anybody who wants information with how to even if you're like kind of a beginner developer but know Alteryx really well and want to start kind of making your own advanced tools, you know using HTML, JavaScript, Python - the developer Community is the place to go. There are so many resources that I myself have contributed towards and I think would greatly help anybody listening they ever if you wanted to get started with that.

[00:30:13] That's actually how I kind of got into the role I am in today. I got really good with Alteryx, but then I learned programming on the side to kind of, you know supplement that into Alteryx and make some cool stuff. So that'll be my community pick. 

[00:30:34] Alex: [00:30:34]
Awesome. Yeah, it's a great section. My community pick actually doesn't have anything to do with Alteryx, but it's just this podcast I listened to the other day that blew me away. It was really cool.

[00:30:47] So one of our keynote speakers at this last Inspire conference in Nashville was Malcolm Gladwell and he has this podcast called Revisionist History and I very strongly recommend anyone to listen to this podcast. It's very good quality, very well produced, great stories, and each episode is basically sort of a deep dive about something in history that is forgotten or misunderstood and it's just very insightful.

[00:31:21] The episode that I was listening to the other day that blew me away is called "Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis." It's about The King, Elvis, and his struggle with parapraxis, which is the technical term for Freudian slip and the episode kind of goes into how there are multiple recordings of Elvis's songs where he would reliably get certain parts of the song wrong. He would forget the line, or he would substitute the line with something else and how it was a textbook example of parapraxis.

[00:32:04] There's only one recording of the correct version of Elvis singing this one song and twenty where he just flubs the same places and they base this research  off of this paper where some researchers actually chart it out, you know what part of the song he got wrong and you can see these crazy patterns and they get really deep into Elvis's head.

[00:32:33] So I definitely recommend that one. I love Elvis, I've been listening to Elvis for a while, and this is a side of him that I had no idea existed. So, Revisionist History and "Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis" is my pick of this podcast.

[00:32:52] Matt: [00:32:52]
Sounds amazing!

[00:32:53] Alex: [00:32:53]
Right? Yeah. It's very interesting stuff.

[00:32:58] All right, well, I think that'll be it for today. Thanks so much guys for making the time, Mike, Ozzie, Matt, always a pleasure to hear from you and thanks for discussing higher education and sharing your experiences with us!

[00:33:13] Maddie: [00:33:13] (Theme music)
Thanks for tuning in to Alter Everything. Continue the fun and share your thoughts on Twitter using #AlterEverythingPodcast or leave us a review on your favorite podcast app.

You can also subscribe on the Alteryx Community at And hey! While you're there, go ahead and fill out our audience engagement survey. The first 100 people to leave their feedback will be entered to win one of five pairs of Bluetooth headphones. You can also join us in person at Inspire London this October. Use the promo code "inspirepodcast" - all one word - for 15% off your Inspire registration.

Hope to see you there!

[00:33:53] Alex: [00:33:53]
Yeah, so Chipotle when I worked there, the thing that I spent my money on the most may have been paintball gear and just like a lot of costumes because I would play dodgeball and paintball dressed like Pikachu and there are some hilarious photos out there about that, but I'm not gonna torture you guys with them.

What were some of the irresponsible things that you guys spent your money on in college?

[00:34:30] Matt: [00:34:30]
There was one day that I went to Home Depot and I got all these two by fours and I made the Captain America shield. Why? I couldn't tell you to this day. Oh, man. Worth every penny though.

[00:34:48]Alex: [00:34:48]
Matt. Didn't you just buy a full suit of armor recently? Something is tickling my memory...

[00:34:55] Matt: [00:34:55]
Okay. So, the armor itself was a Halloween costume, but I did buy an exact replica of the sword from Gladiator.




@Ozzie and @AlexKo at graduation@Ozzie and @AlexKo at graduation   @Ozzie, @JordanB, @AlexKo, @MattD, and @MichaelF@Ozzie, @JordanB, @AlexKo, @MattD, and @MichaelF   I chose you, @AlexKo!I chose you, @AlexKo!

This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).