Keeping Data on the Rails: Miranda Powell's Work at TTX

On any given weekday, a handful of analysts are working in an office above North Wacker Drive, collecting current data on over 200,000 railcars scattered across North America, the fleet of the TTX Company. Freight is constantly in motion, and this means data is constantly pouring in. Miranda Powell, a senior at UIC Business, is one of the analysts who makes sense of it all. “A railcar goes over alerts on the tracks, and we get data from each axle or 'truck' on each car,” says Powell. “Alerts give me weight, location, car initials and numbers, and information about any problem with the car. For each type of car, we have as many as forty different initials, and for each initial, hundreds of different car numbers. Tons of data—no pun intended—and I get to make it useful.”

Powell’s path to TTX began years ago, in marketing and international business classes at Streamwood High School. From there she came straight to UIC Business, where she started out studying management. Her first internship, at Shiftgig, was in human resources, helping newcomers get set up within Shiftgig’s network.

In the fall of her sophomore year, an IDS core class changed her thinking. “We started working on data analysis, and I saw pretty quickly that this was what I wanted to be doing,” Powell says. After getting more involved in the IDS department, she was tapped by a senior IDS student to fill a vacant position at TTX. “TTX had its first UIC Business intern years ago,” says Powell, “and now there’s just this sort of tradition of the senior intern at TTX hand-picking new interns from the IDS department.”

TTX contacted Powell and brought her to Wacker Drive for an interview, which included a tour of the office and introductions among the staff. “Interviews are so often just a quick conversation in a small room, and then you’re right back outside. Getting a glimpse of the work environment and getting to meet team members really helped me consider whether TTX was a good fit.” Powell started in December of 2015, and will stay on at TTX through her graduation in May of 2017.

In the meantime, she’s winnowing a constant stream of data. “I pull out the truck alerts using SQL, then turn them into something readable and start manipulating everything in Tableau, a data visualization software,” she says. “Dealing with the raw data requires a lot of calculations and coding by hand. But once I get it in Tableau, I can create dashboards for different people in the organization.”

Powell says that her shared open workspace at TTX has been great for teamwork among interns. “And I get a lot of mentoring directly from my boss and people in other departments, too. Everyone here is very amenable to helping each other out.” With the arrival of incoming interns, Powell will be moving into a cubicle. She’ll miss the open workspace, she says, but looks forward to seeing more UIC Business students in the office.

“My one piece of advice for students is to seek internships as soon as possible. My experience at Shiftgig was a big factor in getting the position at TTX. They like that I already had that kind of work experience and that I was eager to learn more.” Though Powell has been the mentee in most of her work at TTX, she’s looking forward to meeting the fresh recruits. “The intern who trained me is leaving in about a month, and now I’ll be stepping up to train someone new. I like how the UIC Business students hand down their experience to each other here at TTX. I look forward to showing someone the ropes.”