On my first day my boss told me; ‘we work with auticon who’ve provided an autistic data consultant to support your team’,” says Dr. Ute Schulze, Head of Data & Analytics at DA Direkt, the online insurance arm of Zurich Gruppe Deutschland (Zurich Germany).
“I hadn’t heard of auticon, and I didn’t know much about autism. Over the next few months, I worked closely with the consultant, Tobias, and discovered more about both.
“Tobias was fantastic. We completed our project together in July and to be honest, we can imagine working with auticon again. I’d recommend them to anyone.”
A different operating system
The auticon Ute hadn’t heard of is an IT/Data consultancy and social enterprise that only recruits autistic consultants.
“I met auticon early on,” recalls Ute. “They presented who they are, what they do and told me about autism, describing it as a different operating system: another way of thinking and approaching problems. They shared how autistic people have many skills – such as attention to detail, pattern recognition and high concentration levels – that make them ideally suited for IT and data projects.”
Just like the big data project Ute and her team needed support with. “We’re a digital insurer, providing customers with mostly motor coverage, but also pet, property, accident, dental and personal liability insurance,” explains Ute.
“Our business relies heavily on data. Every detail a customer shares with us – about their personal circumstances, needs, insurances – is data we use to drive our Customer Relationship Management system and feed dashboard analysis and reports.
“Getting the most out of our data is vital,” continues Ute. “My team of data scientists, data analysts and data engineers build tables from it that are the building blocks of various data storage, preparation and analysis projects, which teams use to create products and services.
“The problem is, while the tables work well for us, they could always work better – if only we had the time to optimize them!”
Fresh views bring big impacts
Enter 35-year-old auticon consultant, Tobias Thesing, who has a degree in classical computer science and a masters in web science from Koblenz University. He also has a love for developing worlds and stories for role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and plays the Pokémon Trading Card game at an international competitive level!
“Neurotypical people often develop ‘inner guidance systems’ to navigate everyday situations,” says Tobias who learned he was autistic in 2002. “Not me. I have to think about these situations and how to adapt to them and need more time for processing social interactions than other people. But this lack of a ‘mental autopilot’ means I excel in thinking abstractly and coming up with creative ideas.”
Thinking outside-of-the-box proved useful when working with DA Direkt. “There were lots of different and interesting tasks,” recalls Tobias. “Some I’d done before, like aggregating data and visualizing statistics. Others were more intricate, such as simplifying complex data field calculations, using automation to visualize data tables or recommending data structure improvement.”
“I really enjoyed it,” concludes Tobias. “I used my professional and educational experience to do lots of work I’m good at – like creative coding and database design and I learned lots of new skills on the job and through my auticon colleagues. In the end, I feel I helped DA Direkt use their data better.”
Ute echoed Tobias’s feelings. “He took a fine-tooth comb to our data and helped clean it up, focusing on customer history, clustering algorithms, process mining, documenting base tables and descriptive analysis of socio-economic variables.”
The outcome was, well…impressive! “He did an amazing job,” says Ute. “He ensured everything does what it’s meant to and proposed sophisticated suggestions to make the code and the tables we’ve created work even better. For example, it’s important to use UniKeys when building tables because they allow you to connect tables for different purposes, saving time and improving performance. Tobias optimized our UniKeys, connecting tables better and enhancing our modelling capabilities.
Adapting approach and reaping the benefits
“Tobias works best with very clear instructions,” reflects Ute. “At the beginning of our working relationship, we found that because our requirements weren’t clear, things weren’t getting done the way we wanted. So, we changed our approach and started having daily meetings to agree tasks and deliverables and give Tobias the opportunity to ask questions. This allowed us both to make sure everything was going in the right direction, and we functioned better as a team because of it.”
Ute looks back on her experience with auticon as a positive one. “Tobias did a great job for us while he was here and really improved the quality of the data we work with. I would encourage anyone to consider auticon’s consultants for their IT and data projects!”