Who gets this ad online? She builds tech at Conversant that decides
By Erin Chan Ding
Blue Sky Innovation|
Dec 11, 2017 | 9:00 AM
What's it really like to work at Chicago startups and tech companies? Blue Sky's Inside Job lets people on the ground tell us in their own words.
Neus Herranz, 39, Director of Decision Science at Conversant
Conversant is a tech company in the ad space. We leverage large amounts of data that we collect ourselves, or that our clients provide us, to drive personalized advertising for our clients.
We’re the digital media arm of Epsilon. Our clients are big retail companies like Cabela’s and The Land of Nod. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is also a client. We really touch all verticals. Our client base is around 4,000.
Decision science builds the models that determine when we advertise and how we advertise. We have a team that’s in charge of building this identification mechanism that we have.
I write code for a model that tells you, “This ad is going to be seen.” I write code for a model that tells you, “This particular web page is very impactful for the client.” I write code that says, “This user is very good prospect for this client.”
My team is almost all Ph.D.s. We have people from all disciplines. We’ve got computational linguists, and computer science, statistics, physics, electrical engineering majors.
There are about 690 staff in the Chicago (Loop) office, and overall we have 1,500. We have four floors. On this one, the colors are actually green and yellow because Ric (Elert), our president, is a super-big Green Bay Packers fan. Upstairs, it’s blue and orange because John Giuliani, our founder, he went to the University of Illinois (at Urbana-Champaign).
My name is in Catalan. Neus is the plural of snow. My grandmother was from the Valencia area. I am from Madrid. My husband jokes we moved here because they kicked us out because we didn’t like soccer.
I did my undergrad in Spain, in law and economics at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. After I finished undergrad, I got a scholarship to go to the U.S. to do grad work. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and did my Ph.D. with a specialty in econometrics; you can think of that as statistics applied to economics. I graduated in 2009.
Until we went through the process of getting a green card, I had a (work) gap of a couple of years. I was a desperate housewife for two years. I’m not a good housewife.
I kept active. I volunteered to teach math, and I did it in Spanish, in the Austin neighborhood, for people getting their GED. I was doing some research in bibliometrics, the study of publications, cooperating with a professor in Spain. This was just for fun, so I could keep coding and someone could give me access to data.
I started applying for jobs, and I got a call from the Obama campaign for 2012. I worked for them for some time doing media analytics, trying to determine what was the best data-driven way to buy ads for the campaign.
Then this opportunity came to work for Dotomi, which later became known as Conversant. I applied during the campaign. I was the first decision science hire after Loch Rose, the senior vice president of analytics.
I started working here in 2012. It’s a very, very smart crowd. I get to see a very wide spectrum; I work with very technical people and also work with product people. The fact they have strong technology and large volumes of data — that makes work fun and makes it possible to get good results.
In the summer, they take us on a boat to the lake. Now, we’re getting ready for House of Blues for our holiday party. It’s super cool because we have our own in-house Conversant band that takes it very, very seriously. We rent out the entire venue, and the band, LCA — it stands for Low-Cost Alternative — plays on the main stage.
We have a summer ice cream refrigerator. If I’m very hungry, I have the Drumstick. If I’m feeling really good, it’s the Dove ice cream bar. On Fridays, we have breakfast. There’s a fitness reimbursement of $300 annually. There’s backup care, so they’ll find a service to help if your kid is sick but you have to come in.
The biggest perk is unlimited vacation, with manager approval and making sure that your work gets done. It’s very clear it’s your responsibility to get the work done and get that life balance. The flexibility, for me, is a huge perk.
When my youngest daughter was born, she was born very early, so I had to spend some time working from home, in Westmont, while she was at the hospital. She was in the hospital for 80 days. Everybody was incredibly supportive, and saying, “How do we make this work?”
As the technology changes, we keep changing. I’m working on a project that fascinates me: How do we know when advertising is making the most difference? How do we maximize that difference? It’s good for us, and it’s good for our clients. All our interests are aligned, and it gets me very excited.
As told to freelance reporter Erin Chan Ding. Stories are edited for length and clarity.