Technology

Hacker profile: Jason Tondu

Turning zeroes and ones into gold at SmartZip Analytics

Job Title: Senior Data Scientist at SmartZip Analytics

Time at SmartZip Analytics: 6 years

What he does: I make data actionable.

Age: 37

Degree: None. “I’m an autodidact. I’ve been working with computers since I was 12 years old and have never stopped learning. I tried several universities, but they just didn’t move fast enough for me.”

Location: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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Social media: LinkedIn and “too busy to tweet”

I'd like to make real estate more transparent, more attainable, understandable, and generally less esoteric."

I use computers to crunch large amounts of data in an effort to help people make the right decisions at the right time, mostly related to buying and selling homes.

I live and breathe data. On its own, data is pretty useless, but if you apply a little context you get actionable insights. For example, a spreadsheet says, “Here’s some data.” That same data plotted on a map says something like, “Homes are more expensive over here than over there.” That transformation is what I love.

I’ve been knee-deep in data integration and architecture for my whole career. I have a knack for it.

At SmartZip Analytics, I automate the collection of data from hundreds of sources both big and small and apply that data to answer questions related to real estate like whether a home will maintain its current estimated value or how likely it will be sold. With SmartTargeting, SmartZip’s flagship product, I help design and maintain machine-learning frameworks and predictive models.

Data takes a lot of work to become useful. You have to get it from the source, which at times is not so easy; you have to store it, transform it to your needs, then run it through a number of algorithms. When that’s done, you have to analyze not only the results but all the data the algorithms themselves produce by simply running. It’s a big task and I do my best to make it efficient and effective.

The amount of data coming from and going into real estate is growing exponentially. What was once a slow-moving process is quickly accelerating. We’re only just beginning to tap into more powerful ways to consume this data.

workspace
Tondu’s workspace.

Favorite Twitter accounts?

I don’t always follow Twitter accounts, but when I do it would be Hans Rosling or Jeff Jonas.

What is your favorite food?

I don’t have a single favorite food, but I do love Ethiopian and Indian cuisine.

What is your favorite video game?

Sid Meier’s “Civilization.”

What is your favorite city?

I have many, but top of the list is Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Who’s your favorite band or singer?

I don’t have just one … but I can say I’m a fan of Tool, Pretty Lights and Beats Antique.

What do you hate about technology?

Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of technology states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Yet magic is defined as “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Because of this, many people think technology is “mysterious” or even unattainable. It’s not, though. I guess I hate that people think technology is out of their reach when in fact it’s right in front of them.

What is one thing you would like to fix about the real estate industry?

At some point in most of our lives we have to make a decision whether or not to buy or sell a home. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have to be hard either. I’d like to make real estate more transparent, more attainable, understandable, and generally less esoteric. I believe the real estate industry is inefficient, and through better decision support, standardization of information and by arming agents with the means to educate homebuyers and sellers, we can turn this industry into something closer resembling a capital market.

Do you think technology can change the industry?

Oh, yes! Absolutely. I see the real estate industry changing almost before my eyes because of growing technological advances. This change is also being accelerated by new instigators of demand and productivity. The desire for individual freedom, flexibility and access to social networking platforms is causing serious disruption in every sector of the real estate industry.

In or out of real estate, is there one problem, large or small, that you would like to solve?

I like to solve problems. The problems I like to solve the most involve enabling the best decision possible from the available choices — whether that’s in real estate or any other vertical.

What motivates you?

Like an alchemist of old, I like to turn zeroes and ones into gold. Metaphors aside, what motivates me is creating value where there previously wasn’t any. The work is challenging, it requires creativity, the results are meaningful, and in the end I’m helping someone solve an important problem. So it’s a win-win for me. It also helps that I love what I do.