Data Heroes: Tom Levine
DataKind has had the great honor of working with a number of truly fabulous volunteers in the past year. We are endlessly impressed by their skills, passion, and commitment, and we want you to get to know them and their data feats.
It’s no mistake that Tom Levine is our first featured Data Hero: this man is simply incredible. He has attended all but one of our DataDives, he’s made awesome contributions on multiple projects, and his endless commitment to making the world better through data truly embodies the DataKind spirit (he can also balance a laptop on his head, so bonus points for that). Without further ado, meet our first Data Hero, Tom Levine:
Name: Thomas Levine
What’s your day job? Data scientist at ScraperWiki
Tell us about your work with DataKind.
- At the New York datadive, I worked with the Microfinance Information Exchange (MIX) , mainly writing scripts to collect information from public websites.
- For the first half of 2012, I wrote a bunch more such scripts for MIX to collect information on the locations of financial institutions in South Africa, Rwanda and Mozambique.
- At the DC datadive, I worked with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to help them measure effects of their initiatives. Among other things, I wrote exactly one line of code.
- At the Chicago datadive, I worked with Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY). My main conclusion was ideas on how to compose resource directories (that is, specialized telephone books) more efficiently.
- I’m going to miss the upcoming New York datadive :(
- I’ll be at the London datadive :D
What inspires you to use your data skills for good in your spare time?
I suspect that it’s the same thing that inspires me to use my data skills for anything in my spare time. I suspect further that I acquired these skills by using them in my spare time and that you wouldn’t me asking me about my data skills if I hadn’t acquired them in my spare time; this makes me wonder whether the answer is any different from why anyone does anything in her or his (or zir if you like that word) spare time. I’ve been pondering this for years and haven’t come up with a particularly good answer. Here are some approximations.
- People want to feel like they’re doing important things.
- People eventually want to reach something like ego integrity, self-actualization, stage six, enlightenment,&c.
- People are animals too.
- Games are fun. Here are some things I call games.
- It’s complicated, and motivations change.
What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned or seen in working with data?
When I was in school, I used hacky scripts to tidy my data, analyze them and report them. Most people I knew did all that stuff manually, but I thought most people who do this more seriously must be doing things more properly. Nope! A lot of people who work with “data” are a lot worse at managing and analyzing them than I’d assumed they would be.
What’s the most interesting or visually striking data project you’ve seen recently?
RCloud looks cool. I went to a talk on it a few days ago.
What does someone getting started with data science need to learn?
- Even the simplest of analyses excite people.
- The profession was invented recently, so I wouldn’t consider anyone an expert data scientist.
- Definitions of “data science” are varied enough that my suggestions might be totally irrelevant.
What blogs do you read?
None, not even my own
What did you eat for breakfast?
My patterns of sleep complicate concepts like “breakfast”.