Working for pet insurer Trupanion means he spends most of his time working with people — and talking about cats and dogs.

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TJ Houk

What do you do? As the chief data officer at Trupanion [a pet insurance company in Ballard], I’m responsible for raising knowledge and providing value to the company through data analysis. I share how the data we collect can inform us about our policyholders, their pets, our partner veterinarians and numerous other stakeholders. I work closely with Trupanion’s analytics team members to find unique insights that can help optimize each team’s activities from customer care to the claims department.
How did you get started in that field? I certainly took an unusual road. My background is in actuarial science and finance, as opposed to computer science from where many data and analytics professionals come. I joined Trupanion in 2009, when we were small and had no formal data analytics function. I started by providing data to support a variety of teams and over time, between the increasing needs of the company and my own intellectual curiosity, we built an entirely new company department.
What’s a typical day like? Each day is generally a mix of some time on my own analyses, meeting with team members about their current projects, and meeting with executives and managers across the company to make sure our teams are aligned on various activities. My best days are when I get to block off big chunks of a day to work with people on the team getting through a really complicated problem. My team is filled with talented and creative people; their work is really exciting with each discovery they make!
What’s the best part of the job? Spending time with my team. It takes a team to navigate the complexities of big data and use it to make an impact on the company. Our group shares a commitment to protecting pets, technical excellence and active collaboration. Trupanion is a leader in the pet insurance industry — so much of the work we do has never been done in the pet space before. It’s exciting to be spearheading work in uncharted territory. The type of data we have on cats and dogs is unprecedented, so we have the opportunity to use it in a way that adds value to the company, while informing pet owners and veterinarians at the same time.  
What surprises people about what you do? I spend most of my time working with people, and talking about cats and dogs. People tend to assume data-focused people are glued to lines of code and spreadsheets, and I certainly do that at times, but my job is to connect the results of those spreadsheets to the things people care about: Which people are most likely to buy Trupanion policies?  Which customers are happiest and why?  At what age do golden retrievers tend to start getting cancer? Packaging that info so it’s useful for my colleagues inside Trupanion, our partners and the pet community involves much more than printing out numbers from a spreadsheet.

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