Coding for the NFL: one UNI alum’s journey to becoming a data scientist for the Chiefs

Coding for the NFL: one UNI alum’s journey to becoming a data scientist for the Chiefs

Anna Flanders /

Aaron Dzaboff in front of Geha Field Arrowhead in Chiefs poloAs a child, Aaron Dzaboff dreamed of playing in the National Football League. While the dream may not have panned out, this 2018 University of Northern Iowa alum has still managed to find himself employed by a professional football team — not as an athlete but as a data scientist. 

In his role with the Strategy, Finance and Analytics Department for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dzaboff explained he uses a combination of data engineering, analysis and a lot of coding to help the organization make better business decisions. 

“My job allows me to keep my nose in the keyboard and create insights that are helping other people within the business,” he said.

While he may not be playing on the field, Dzaboff has still found himself close to the action on game days, cheering on his team as he gets to attend all the Chiefs’ home games.

“We’ve had some great games already this year, like the Chargers game where they had that 99-yard interception,” he said. “My tickets are in the end zone, so to be part of the atmosphere is definitely a highlight of my job.”

Dzaboff grew up in northeast Iowa in a town called Earlville. He graduated from Maquoketa Valley High School in Delhi, Iowa, and chose to attend UNI in part because of the good experiences his friends had at the university.

“Something I feel is unique about UNI is the personalization,” he said. “I always felt like someone was there to be supportive and talk to me. I really enjoyed my professors who made me feel like they cared about my education, and now that I’m out and about talking to other people about their undergraduate experiences, I know not everyone has that same experience.”

Dzaboff earned his degree in economics and finance. Without his experiences at UNI, he may never have learned the power of analytics.

“I had a class called econometrics with Dr. Imam Alam, and that was the first time I started learning about analytics,” said Dzaboff. “I thought he did an excellent job explaining to us how businesses and companies were using the skills we were learning in class. It made me curious about how sports teams were using analytics. That’s what got me started on this path.” 

As Dzaboff delved further into the idea of using analytics in a career, he received guidance from Associate Professor of Economics Bryce Kanago, who was his advisor. He also found insight from an unlikely source: Twitter.

“That was when basketball teams were sharing the things they were doing with analytics on Twitter,” said Dzaboff. “I was like, ‘Now that’s interesting to me and I’d love to be able to make a career out of that.’ At that point in my life, I’d learned this was something I knew would satisfy me in a career and keep me engaged and interested.”

Dzaboff ended up going back to UNI for a semester after earning his degree to learn how to code. Then he went on to earn his master’s in business analytics from the University of Iowa.

Dzaboff completed two internships that merged his love of sports and his love for analytics. The first was a remote internship with Edge10 Group, a software company that measures sports performance, and the second was with the Indiana Pacers. 

After his second internship, Dzaboff began applying for full-time positions. While he applied to some that had nothing to do with sports, he admits his heart wasn’t in those applications. Interning with the Pacers had affirmed he wanted to work in sports.

Luckily, his old boss from the Pacers reached out to let him know about the opportunity with the Chiefs. Not long after, Dzaboff moved to Kansas City to start the position. 

While Dzaboff said he is happy to spend most days glued to his keyboard, he is excited about some of the other perks his job gives him and has his hopes up for attending a Chiefs Super Bowl party. 

“Obviously if the Chiefs make the playoffs, that’d be something to really look forward to,” said Dzaboff. “When I first got there and asked people about their favorite thing about working for the Chiefs, a lot of them said it was how tied to the community the Chiefs are. You can tell how much the Chiefs mean to this area, and you can definitely feel it on game days. It makes me feel like I’m working toward something bigger than what I see on a day-in-day-out basis.”

For more information about studying economics or finance, visit the Wilson College of Business website.