As an economics major at Furman University, Emily Hunter found herself frequently using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and was intrigued by the wide-range of economic activity the agency measured – from labor market information to working conditions and price changes in the economy.
When the opportunity arose to join one of the country’s top statistical agencies as an economist right out of college, Hunter said it was one she couldn’t turn down.
For the past four years, the 26–year-old Hunter has played a key role in maintaining the quality of the monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most widely used measure of inflation that provides data about price changes in the nation’s economy.
The CPI combines economic theory with sampling and other statistical techniques, using data from several surveys to produce a precise measure of the average price changes for goods and services. The federal government, business, labor and American citizens all use the CPI as a guide for making economic decisions.
As an acceptance tester, Hunter is tasked with making sure the specialized software systems and database programs used to produce the CPI are working correctly. Like a detective, she must methodically uncover where problems in the numerous computer applications may lie.
Who is Emily Hunter?
POSITION: Economist, Bureau of Labor Statistics
RESIDENCE: Arlington, Va.
EDUCATION: Furman University, B.A.; Working on a Masters in Applied Economics at John Hopkins University
HOBBIES: Horseback riding, tennis
“It is Emily’s job to find mistakes,” said Mindy McAllister who heads the CPI’s acceptance test section. “Her work goes a long way to making the CPI accurate.”
Hunter performs rigorous, independent testing on the software code, user interfaces and database programs. More often than not, she has to quickly learn newly developed systems to identify the problems with the computer code, a formula or the design.
“One mistake in the code can set off a domino effect of issues. Acceptance testing is the last step to make sure everything is functioning in the production process,” said Hunter.
Hunter said to effectively test the system requires stepping into the shoes of the user for whom it’s designed and simulating its functionality. This may require her to play the role of an analyst for the day and imitate how they use the system. Other times, Hunter may have to write her own code to test the processing of the appropriate data.
“As a tester, you have to be very versatile,” said Hunter. “What is up and coming is what we are working on, so staying ahead of the curve can be challenging.”
Colleagues say Hunter is always ready for the unexpected.
“Emily doesn’t view a new assignment as a challenge. Emily’s best qualities are her ability to learn new things with a can-do attitude,” noted McAllister.
With so many different variables causing application and calculations to go awry, Hunter said she takes great pride ensuring the programs run correctly and are methodologically sound and accurate right “down to the decimal point.”
“Working to ensure the quality of such an important statistic and being on the forefront of its latest development has been such a remarkable experience,” she said.
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fed-player/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at email@example.com.