Longtime successful data duo talks about their last DataFest

Rob and Bob looking at computer

April 3, 2019

Over 150 students signed up for this year’s DataFest, but for two seniors, the event holds special meaning. Rob Garrett and Bob Krueger, now both in their fourth year, have collaborated at DataFest for the past three years. The competition this weekend will be their last.

“It’s been one of the most fun parts of studying here,” Garrett said.

Krueger is a math and physics major. Garrett is a math & stats and predictive analytics major. Both are pursuing PhDs after graduation and both have been on the same DataFest team for four years, despite the roster around them changing – meaning they’ve been working together at DataFest as long as the competition has been at Miami.

However, it’s not just the years that have made this DataFest-duo special, but also the results; Bob and Rob’s teams have notched two first-place finishes and one third-place finish in their tenure.

The dynasty began with a surprise victory their freshman year.

“We got there, we sat down, had the data loaded within five minutes, and then had absolutely no clue what to do,” Garrett said.

Krueger echoed his partner’s sentiment.

“We hadn’t had too much experience working on open ended project like that,” he said. “We kind of had to dig into the data ourselves and see what was interesting and go off of it.”

Despite their youth during that first year, the two, along with the three other freshman members of their team, beat out several of their upperclassman friends for the $1,000 prize.

“It was the first time anybody there was doing this,” Krueger said, “and so no one really knew what to expect or how to go into it or how to prepare that much for any of this. It was a pretty level playing field, in some respects.”

Meeting as roommates, during their first year, the two explained their relationship works so well because they bring different skill sets to the table; Garrett’s expertise leans heavily on the data science side while Krueger has much a more conceptual, mathematical background. The pair said a diverse team skillset is key to victory, giving their teammates’ credit for their other first-place finish at last year’s DataFest and emphasizing how intellectually diverse their team is this year.

“If we’ve learned something,” Garrett added, “it’s not just the nerd who’s sitting there using R and Python that has something to contribute. Anyone from any kind of background plays a role.”

In addition to good data visualization and time management, the two explained that presenting results in a sophisticated but understandable manner is key to victory. Going into this year’s contest, Krueger said he doesn’t expect anything and will be happy if there is a good result for their team.

Garrett upped the ante.

“I’m definitely going for the victory,” he said, “but I don’t think we need to push ourselves too hard this year. It’s kind of our last time to enjoy this competition.”

Both emphasized how much they enjoy the uniqueness of the competition, which uses a different dataset each year from a different industry.

“I never thought I’d care about where job openings are in certain areas,” Garrett said. “Or with the Ticketmaster one, I never thought I’d care about who goes to Taylor Swift vs. Beyonce concerts. But when you’re doing DataFest, you do care.”

With DataFest now in its fourth year and having tripled in size from 2016 to now, Krueger and Garrett expressed how fun it is to see more students and more schools participate.

“With so many people coming, it’s evident that everyone thinks they can do well in this competition and learn something for this competition,” Krueger said.

Both made sure to express gratitude for those who produce the event, along with the myriad students that they have gotten to call teammates over the years.

“We’re very grateful for that,” Garrett said.

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