Geek looking at data


Geek Of The Week: Uschi Erne

Apr 15, 2013, 03:10 PM by Michael J. Weiss

At Environics Analytics, there are baseball fans, serious baseball fans and then there’s Uschi Erne. The Client Advocate has a commanding knowledge of all 750 Major League Baseball players, can cite statistics about every Toronto Blue Jays and watches all of the Jays’ 182 games—either at Rogers’ Centre or in front of a TV. A
“In a League
of Her Own”

collector of baseball memorabilia, she last year sold a rookie baseball card of Washington Nationals’ centre fielder Bryce Harper for a cool $500. “I’m not the summertime fan who goes to a game and falls asleep in the sun,” she says.

Uschi’s own stats as a baseball fan are almost as impressive as some of the players she follows. Besides collecting baseball cards, she owns baseballs signed by Jay’s third baseman Brett Lawrie and ex-Jay outfielder Travis Snider as well as ballcaps signed by retired shortstop Omar Vizquel and pitcher Brandon Morrow. When she’s not watching games, she reads baseball books, watches baseball documentaries and monitors trade rumours on her smartphone.

“I’m a person who devotes everything to a hobby,” Uschi explains. “You can go as far down the rabbit hole as you want as a baseball fan, and that’s what I’ve done. I’m a numbers person, and baseball is a game of numbers.”

But Uschi’s passion for numbers isn’t limited to baseball; it can also be seen in her work for EA’s finance, insurance, telecommunications and travel (FITT) practice. Whenever she’s assigned a new project, her first step is to find all the data she can on the client—when they were established, what products they offer, how much money they bring in. “It’s important to find out what they’re trying to do before I start an imaging project,” she says. While Uschi spends most of her time writing reports and creating deliverables, she says that her favourite part of the job is presenting her findings to the client.

“I like being able to give them new insights that they haven’t thought about,” she notes. “You sometimes see a light go on when the client gets a clearer picture of the people coming into their doors or calling them to buy specific products.”

Uschi’s fondness for imaging still surprises her because she never planned on a career in marketing analytics. “When I was growing up, I never knew this type of job existed,” she says. “I had wanted a business degree.” But when fate intervened—the business program she coveted was overbooked—she switched her attention to geography. “Today, I’m happy and thankful that I did,” she says.

“I didn’t want to lose any momentum. I wanted to work. I wanted to start my life.”

Born in Toronto, Uschi was raised in a household of what she calls “struggling artists”: Her Swiss-German father was a documentary filmmaker and film projectionist who won a Genie Award for a documentary about Christian bikers called “God Rides a Harley.” Her mother, a footloose native of Shediac, New Brunswick, lived in four provinces by the time she was 15 and worked in film before moving to the publishing industry. They named their daughter Ursula, though she has always gone by the German nickname—Uschi (pronounced “oo-she”)—except by her younger brother, Dash, who calls her “Oosh.” He’s currently a Queen’s University senior studying history.

In 2006, Uschi headed off to Kingston and Queen’s University still undecided about her major. But in her second year, she took a course in geographic information science that sparked her imagination. “I loved it so much that I decided to make GIS my major,” she recalls. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in GIS and geography in 2010, she continued directly into a master’s program in spatial analysis at Ryerson University. “I didn’t want to lose any momentum,” says Uschi, whose academic career was distinguished with regular research awards. “I wanted to work. I wanted to start my life. But I graduated with a master’s degree before many of my friends had finished their undergraduate degrees.”

Uschi came to EA by the same route as many young employees: following a practicum in graduate school. In January 2011, she interviewed with Tony Lea, Danny Heuman and Sean Howard, another Queen’s University alum. Describing EA as her “first true office job,” Uschi notes that she was happily surprised by the staff’s diversity—in age and experience. “There are industry leaders here and people who just graduated from school,” she observes. “So it’s a great place to learn a lot and a fun place to be.”

Since joining EA’s FITT team, Uschi has come to appreciate the problem-solving dimension of her job. “You never know what you’re going to find in the data,” she says. “There’s nothing more rewarding than finding out what’s going on with the customers of a company.” Although analytical skills are critical to carrying out her job, she says the most important quality is being a good listener. “You have to be able to listen to the client talk out their needs and describe where they want to go in the future,” says Uschi. “There’s no such thing as a cookie cutter way of approaching a project. You have to find a custom solution for every problem.”


Part of Uschi’s baseball collection. About once a month Uschi visits a collectables’ store like From Hockey to Hollywood to buy a pack of baseball cards from Topps. Last year, she found a Bryce Harper card in a $75 box of cards which she quickly sold for $500—“a pretty good return on the investment,” she says.

Uschi makes her home in the Riverdale section of Toronto, a neighbourhood classified in the PRIZM C2 segmentation system as Continental Culture (upper-middle-class, multi-ethnic urban households). Popularly known as “Greektown,” she notes that the area in recent years has become more diverse with an influx of immigrants from Asia and other parts of the world. “You can now get dim sum and sushi at local restaurants,” she notes, “but about half still serve Greek cuisine. The local Tim Horton’s still acts as a Greek men’s club every weekday morning.” Having lived in the area off and on since the 1990s, Uschi observes that while it includes more young residents now, it’s still the kind of community “where you know the names of most of your neighbours. There are still older homes with three generations inside and an Old World lifestyle.”

Although the PRIZM profile describes Continental Culture members as fans of the theatre, museums and zoos, Uschi concedes that she has simpler tastes. After work, she likes to read, listen to music—country and classic rock are favourite genres—and watch movies, particularly documentaries. “I got the film bug from my dad,” she says. “But I like a quiet lifestyle. I don’t need things to be open 24 hours a day in a big city.” This winter, she’s also volunteered for Out of the Cold, an organization that provides meals and clothing to those in need. “While I never went without,” she says, “at times, my parents struggled to find enough work.”

To hear Uschi, her own lifestyle is unremarkable except her passion for baseball—and that’s a relatively recent phenomenon; she didn’t even play or watch baseball growing up. But while an undergraduate at Queen’s University, she visited her Syracuse, N.Y.-born roommate’s family and discovered a house full of New York Yankees fans. “They seemed to have memorized the stats of every Yankee from the newspaper,” she recalls, “and I thought that was amazing.” After her roommate gave her a copy of Watching Baseball, a kind of insider’s guide by Boston Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy, Uschi was hooked. “I had no idea that it was such a strategic game,” she says. “And it made me want to learn more.”

Today, Uschi confesses that baseball has become a year-round hobby, and she’s already excited about the Blue Jays’ off-season trades. For several months, her phone has buzzed with news of acquisitions like shortstop Jose Reyes, outfielder Melky Cabrera and pitchers Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. After years of mediocrity, the Jays on paper look like division contenders. Indeed, on a grey and drizzly December afternoon, Uschi’s thoughts are already four months ahead, pondering the upcoming season. “I can barely wait until spring training,” she says. “It’s going to be exciting.”

–Michael J. Weiss