By: Leslie Dees on July 7th, 2018

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From Textbooks to Traffic Data: A High Schooler’s Time at StreetLight Data

This summer, the StreetLight Data team welcomed Leslie Dees into our ranks as a summer intern. He helped us process validation data for our AADT Metrics. Read this Q&A with Leslie to find out what he learned and how he contributed to our team over the past few months.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Leslie Dees and I'm from Auburn, Alabama. I will be a senior in high school this coming year. I didn't have experience at a company before my internship with StreetLight Data, and the closest that I have come to working in an engineering setting was my experience through Science Olympiad, programming robots, and doing volunteer engineering projects like building dog kennels at my local humane society. I had little computer science experience before coming to StreetLight Data, and the experience that I did have was limited to small scale coding.

Why did you want to work at StreetLight Data?

I've been interested in computer science and engineering my entire life, and StreetLight Data is the perfect place for me to explore both of those fields. With college on the horizon, it was important for me to explore my interests in a more hands-on approach so that I could understand the scope of the field that I hoped to become a part of. Also, since I am hoping to eventually start my own tech/engineering company, I knew that personal experience with a company in that field was important to understanding what the future would hold.

What projects have you worked on this summer? 

While most regular internships involve getting food and grunt work, my internship at StreetLight Data involved much more. I was immediately put into a relatively new project to improve the company’s AADT Metrics. My assignment was to help the team collect traffic data from thousands of roads throughout the US in order to better estimate traffic patterns. I collected data from all different sizes of roads in order to increase the accuracy of StreetLight Data's algorithms. I also helped verify the data that was collected by comparing the locations of physical roads to the locations indicated by the data in order to assure its precision.

What skills did you learn this summer?

When my internship began at StreetLight Data, I had only a little knowledge of coding and the only modeling known to me was 3D modeling. However, I quickly delved into the realm of geospatial modeling through QGIS, and was immersed in the world of coordinates and metadata. I had to analyze thousands of points that each represented a real world location and the average annual daily traffic (AADT) data that went with that specific location. Exploring this data was my main role at StreetLight Data, and the majority of my time was spent reading through data and creating digital representations of it in QGIS.

Through my work with AADT data, I spent a large amount of time in Excel documents sorting, verifying, and updating already published documents by dozens of Departments of Transportation. Through the programming language SQL, I was able to create new points from the dozens of documents that were collected. All of this data was used to further improve upon StreetLight Data’s Metrics.

aadt-texas-traffic-data

Above: These are all of the data points in Texas that Leslie analyzed and created in QGIS this summer.

Above: This is one of the data points in Texas that Leslie created. It represents the location of a sensor collecting traffic count data on I-40.

Has working at StreetLight Data changed your perspective on anything?

My internship at StreetLight Data has shown me just how important it is to work together at a company. Through the constant group meetings to the open atmosphere, it has taught me that no single person can do something on their own. It also taught me that it is completely fine to ask for help if I don't know how to do something on my own. When I first started here, I was terrified that I would mess up a project or make a drastic mistake, so I spent a huge amount of time trying to figure out how to do everything on my own. However, I learned that the purpose behind working on a project isn't just to finish the work that you were given; it's to produce a product that everyone is collectively working on. Because of that, everyone was always happy to help with any questions that I had.

What advice would you give to other high school age interns working for tech companies? 

Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. One of the biggest mistakes I made early in my internship was trying to get everything done on my own, but when I didn't know how to do something, I became stuck. Others are happy to help you if you need it, so don't be afraid to ask. Through this internship I was also able to narrow down what field I was interested in for college and a career. StreetLight Data showed me just how interesting working in a tech company is, and I hope to pursue a career in technology later in my life. However, a part of any internship is learning what you do and don't enjoy doing. Having an internship at a company similar to StreetLight Data really does help you decide what field you should pursue within the broad spectrum of tech.

Having an internship for a tech company is not effortless, but it is full of rewarding experiences that a classroom could never offer. Take full advantage of all opportunities that are presented to you, whether it is working on projects that require you to learn new skills or getting to know the different people that you work with. An internship isn't just about learning how to do a job, it's also about learning just who does that job. If you are interested in a field, you will come to meet dozens of people from all different walks of life who all have advice to help you succeed in the future.

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