Economics Alumnus Finds the Story in the Numbers

Valentin Todorov had migrated to the United States from Bulgaria, learned two languages, and received a degree in mechanical engineering (ME) as well as an Master of Business Administration (MBA), but his first semester as a Master’s student at the IAC School of Economics was nearly too much for him to handle.

“I thought about quitting the first semester,” said Todorov. “I wouldn’t say there was anything easy about going into the economics program.”

Todorov was born in Bulgaria and studied mechanical engineering before coming to the United States ten years ago. His cousin is a professor at the University of West Georgia (UWG), making Atlanta a natural choice to start a new life. Todorov graduated with an MBA from the UWG in 2005, but felt the urge to narrow his focus of study further.

“I wanted to study a more quantitative discipline,” said Todorov, and “graduate to work in an exciting field.” He was looking to delve into numbers with a scientific approach like his ME degree and a social application like his MBA. The School of Economics, recommended to him by a friend, was the perfect academic blend. He emailed the program director and received a prompt response.

“The director said, ‘Sure, come on over!’” recalled Todorov. “I got a warm reception when talking to professors in the program.”

They may have been friendly, but Todorov quickly discovered their high expectations for him once he began classes. He soldiered through that first semester, knowing he could not come so far only to fall short.

“I don’t quit whatever I start,” said Todorov.  “I came here [to the United States] as an international student. When you come, you’re really determined to change your life. Once you leave, there is really no going back.”

Todorov pushed through the first semester, found his stride, and graduated in 2007. After spending a few months as a stockbroker intern for Scottrade, he began work as a statistician for Assurant and became a statistical consultant at Equifax in March.  He credits his success in data forecasting to knowledge gained in the economics program.

“A lot of the tools I learned at Georgia Tech,” said Todorov. Once students gain a familiarity with the basics, he encourages them to move beyond tools to develop storytelling skills to capture audiences.

“It’s good to know the tools. It’s good to know how to crunch numbers,” he said. “But people are interested in your stories, and crunching numbers is just one way to get them.”

He says his job is to tell stories with numbers. He spent his three years at Assurant looking at the daily performance of mortgage data and reporting that data to the upper management.

“What I do is say, forget all the tens of millions of records. Here’s what’s important,” he said.

Being able to choose the right statistical method and the best data visualization type is imperative to clearly communicate the message in the numbers. The daily challenge to do just that keeps Todorov going.

“When you’ve found your calling, that’s what matters,” he said. “You have to find something that makes you want to wake up in the morning and go to work.”

For Todorov, that motivation stems from a long journey to a new world filled with numbers, all quietly waiting for their stories to be told.

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Rebecca Rolfe