In our next installment of our Data Heroes, we’re heading across the pond to talk to Aaron Beck. Aaron is a data analyst at Aimia in London and was one of our rockstar data ambassadors at our DataDive in London. Aaron’s one of those rare people that’s able to jump into an unknown situation and not just adapt to it, but also lead others through it. Thrown in head-first to a problem with Keyfund, Aaron worked tirelessly throughout the weekend with volunteers to visualize deprivation across the UK and help build advanced models for improving Keyfund’s program offerings to high school youths. Yup. Not too shabby for 48 hours work. Without further ado we welcome our latest Data Hero, Aaron Beck!
What’s your day job?
Using data to make people’s lives a little more rewarding (specifically through the Nectar loyalty card scheme).
Tell us about your work with DataKind.
I was the data ambassador for an amazing charity called KeyFund. They help young disadvantaged people build their confidence in 12 key skills by funding their projects.
I worked with a very gifted colleague in Aimia to help prepare KeyFund’s huge database for analysis by all the data scientists during the DataDive. Over the weekend we were able to quantify the impact of KeyFund for various vulnerable groups on their skills and make recommendations for improving future data collection and the effectiveness of the programme.
What inspires you to use your data skills for good in your spare time?
Mostly the moral compulsion that comes when you understand that with great data skills comes great responsibility. But other than that my top three (in no particular order) are:
- The people you work with. Working together with a group of like-minded people to achieve a common goal, in a reasonably tight deadline builds a real esprit de corp and sense of achievement.
- It’s fun. Most of us enjoy delving into data and finding something no one knew before.
- Learning opportunities. So many talented people are attracted to DataKind with a diverse range of skills. It’s almost impossible not to learn something about a statistical technique, computer package, charity, people, working together …
What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned or seen in working with data?
I love it when data contradicts something you thought you knew. I think it’s difficult for women (especially my mum) to complain that men are pathetic when they’re sick given sick absence rates for women are higher than for men. Or for men (mostly British Men) to insist that Muhammed Ali and Angelo Dundee “cheated” Henry Cooper out of victory in a fight in 1963. The belief is that Angelo Dundee cut Ali’s gloves after being knocked down by ‘Enry at the end of the fourth round, giving Ali two minutes recovery time as they were being stitched up. It’s a strongly and widely believed “fact” – but it just isn’t true.
What’s the most interesting or visually striking data project you’ve seen recently?
I used to work in Defence and I still love the polar area pie chart Florence Nightingale used in the Crimean War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pie_chart). Developments made in mapping and multi-dimension \ dynamic diagrams like Google motion charts are ace – but Florence’s work demonstrates you don’t always need cutting edge software to develop visually striking information.
What does someone getting started with data science need to learn?
I guess the tools of trade. The fun comes from manipulating data and bending it to your will and lots of the software you need to that is now free. Some maths and statistics would be nice – but not essential I don’t think.
What did you eat for breakfast?
Lots of coffee and a croissant.