Benjamin Laken

Thu 26 January 2017

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First days as a Data Scientist at Vizzuality

After having spent the last 10 years in Universities and Research Institutes, I had seen many colleagues and friends make the shift from the public to the private-sector, particularly into Data Science roles. I was unsure what life would be like after making the change myself. I am now two weeks in to my transition to life as a Data Scientist at Vizzuality, and so far it has been quite exciting!

There are many interesting projects being developed here that feed directly to policy-makers and influence public-opinion. Projects like the Global Forest Watch. And in some ways that feels a lot like the day-to-day life in a high-quality university group, where people work on projects or synthesis reports which reach the desks of critical people. Except, whereas universities felt bureaucratic and institutional, Vizzuality feels dynamic and modern: It works at a totally different pace, and generally aims at a far larger and more impactful audience. Of course there is also the dimension of a profit motive behind the private-sector, but it seems that at Vizzuality, the ethos is to actively push towards projects and services that raise awareness, and encourage responsible stewardship of our ecosystem at a planetary-scale.

Fortunately for me, my past year as a Research Software Engineer at University College London prepared me for the day-to-day tasks which I am currently working on: As more time goes on, it's clearer-and-clearer that the group that UCL (and Dr. James Heatherington in particular) created is the future-face of Research in the University setting: the abstraction of the skills required to perform a research project from the domain specific knowledge; creating effective teams of dynamic computer-science literate people, who understand the scientific method, and the way knowledge is created. It was, in fact, the creation of a Data Science group, focused on research and reproducibility!

Consequently, coming from this group, I felt pretty happy to hit the ground running at Vizzuality, and in the past two weeks at Vizzuality, I have had a chance to help them develop a new Open Source Python library called sql2gee, which converts SQL requests into calls to Google's Earth Engine, and should let us easily use the data on that platform in future Vizzuality products. So this has been very positive for me so far, as I happen to love the Earth Engine, Open Source, and Python, not to mention the prospect of contributing to projects that could contribute to creating a more sustainable future. Exactly why I, and many others, became scientists in the first place.

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