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UMD Grad's Statistical Skill Predicts Homeowner Trends

UMD grad Angie Hugeback

Angie Hugeback works at Porch.com writing algorithms and analyzing a database of over 130 million products and 3.2 million professionals. Her goal, help homeowners make decisions about their home improvement projects.

Find out more about UMD's Mathematics and Statistics major. | Admissions Information.  

Angie Hugeback has crunched data at Google, participated in a Netflix contest, and recently landed at Porch, a home improvement network. She graduated as a statistics major and credits UMD for nurturing her love of mathematics.

“My time at UMD was really formative,” Hugeback said. In high school, Hugeback enjoyed math, but didn’t see the potential for a math-focused degree. But, as an undergrad, she took Introduction to Probability with Barry James, mathematics and statistics professor. It changed her outlook on how math could be used.

“He was fantastic, and touched on my interest in what we can learn about how the world works,” she said. “I came to learn that statistics is applied math; math that can have real, practical applications.” Hugeback’s current work for Porch.com allows her to use these analytical skills to help people make the right decisions.

Porch describes itself as a "home network that connects homeowners to professionals based on who their neighbors and friends have used." With 350+ employees and growing, the website strives to bring people "organized inspiration, project data, and word-of-mouth referrals" all in one place.

Hugeback is the technical lead for Porch’s data products team. She and her small group of statisticians develop algorithms to discern patterns among Porch.com users. Porch has assembled a database of over 130 million products and 3.2 million professionals and has a partnership with the home improvement store Lowe’s, where they are present in more than 1,700 stores. Pulling all of this information together in a useful way is a monumental problem for Hugeback and her team. There's a lot of data to sort through and a lot of info to present to homeowners. The sheer volume makes Hugeback's quality algorithms and analysis all the more important.

Helping Homeowners
"By analyzing and breaking down this data, we can find patterns in what people are doing with their homes,” Hugeback said. She's happy to have found a place where she can use her mathematical skills to learn about how the world works on a large scale. The path from student to professional in this growing field was a winding one.

The Path to Porch
After a bachelors degree in 1994 and a few graduate courses at UMD, Hugeback moved to the University of Chicago, where she earned a masters degree and a Ph.D. “Chicago was great. It's where I met my husband. We are both musicians, so there were plenty of venues for musical gigs."

After Chicago, Hugeback worked for Google in their Seattle office before moving on. Her next stops were a post-doctorate program at the University of Washington and a stint as an independent consultant.

Algorithms and Netflix
One stop on Hugeback's journey to Porch involved a personal interest in feature films. While at the University of Chicago, she participated in the ‘Netflix Prize’ competition which was posed by Netflix in order to improve the algorithm they used to recommend movies to customers. Hugeback at one point scored 12th on the contest leaderboard, then realized there was a major flaw in the way the problem was framed.  

“I used the algorithm to generate actual recommendations for friends and family, then discovered the recommendations themselves weren't that great, despite the algorithm's predictive accuracy."  Hugeback continued to develop the algorithm from a different angle, eventually improving it significantly and creating an effective movie recommendation tool that she uses to this day.

Hugeback and her husband have two children, and while she enjoys Seattle, Hugeback recalls her time in Duluth fondly. “I remember the view of Lake Superior from my apartment window on Skyline Drive,” she said. “It was gorgeous; I really miss the city.”

By Zach Lunderberg, April 2015.

UMD News Articles | News Releases
Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu

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