2 Minutes With Wes McKinney

August 8, 2018

DataKind's Founder & Executive Director, Jake Porway, and Wes McKinney recently caught-up in NYC for a chat. Here's some of what they spoke about...

A little about Wes...

  • Data scientist, founder, inventor, author and 33K+ Twitter followers
  • Created open source Pandas package for data analysis in the Python programming language and a member of the Apache Software Foundation
  • B.S. Theoretical Mathematics, MIT; Statistics, Duke University
  • Serial founder: DataPad sold to Cloudera and now Ursa Labs an innovation lab for open source data science
  • Interested in sustainable financial support models for open source developers and maintainers
  • Avid traveler and since a young age has had a keen interest in linguistics, accents, and foreign languages, spending most of his time abroad in Spain and Germany

Jake: What’s the “WHAT IF?” that inspires the work you do?

Wes: Early in my career, I was struck (scarred, perhaps?) by how tedious the daily work of a data scientist can be. I started building better data wrangling tools in Python to make myself and others more productive. Building this software and making it freely available for everyone to use has been really satisfying, since people can use the time they save on mundane data manipulation to solve bigger and more ambitious problems. I like hearing stories about how the work of the open source community has empowered individuals to do good with data.



Jake: AI - lots of hope or lots of hype?

Wes: It’s a mixed bag. One of the best things I’ve read recently on this is the blog “Artificial Intelligence -- The Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet” by UC Berkeley professor Michael I. Jordan. The upside of the AI hype cycle is that it’s spurring major investments in computational infrastructure, systems, and new hardware for machine learning and general data processing. The new systems being developed are general purpose enough that even if “deep learning” becomes less popular, we’ll be able to reap the benefits in other areas of statistical computing for decades to come.

Jake: What’s the best example you’ve seen (or hope to see) of data science being used for social good?

Wes: As a wannabe-linguist I like to think that machine translation and natural language processing are helping people better understand each other and make the world feel “smaller”. We don’t quite have a Universal Translator yet, but we are making progress.

Jake: What are you most excited about right now?

Wes: I’m excited to see more in-depth open source collaborations happening between different programming language ecosystems like Python and R. The Apache Arrow open source project was created at the beginning of 2016 to help with this. I’ve founded Ursa Labs in partnership with Hadley Wickham and RStudio to help boost Python-R cross-pollination and to raise funding to build out the Arrow ecosystem.