Max Richman

Research Analyst at InterMedia and freelance international development researcher and technologist.

Washington DC

We met Max at our first DC DataDive, where he worked with the DC Action for Children team and utlimately went on to finish a six-month project with them building an interactive visualization of child wellbeing.  Almost a year later, Max returned to the frontlines as one of our Data Ambassadors at our recent World Bank DataDive, tirelessly working for months before the event to understand the World Bank’s needs around Poverty and Anti-corruption through leading a team of 15 to build scrapers of food prices across the world.  Max is one of the most enthusiastic, sharp, and down-to-earth dudes we’ve ever met, and we’re glad to have you guys meet him too.

Tell us about your work with DataKind.

Where to start….  With a confession: When I first heard about the DC datadive in early 2012, I was skeptical.  I’d participated in a few hackathons, even “social action” focused ones and the end results were always nice but rarely impactful.  Flash-forward one year.  Working with fellow DataKind volunteers (shout-out to the whole Team Awesome!), we built a map prototype that weekend and then over the coming months iteratively developed a fully-fledged interactive childhood well-being indicator platform for (the wonderful and amazing!) DC Action for Children.  The project was formally launched in October with DC mayor Vincent Gray in attendance.

I was also extremely honored to represent DataKind during a simulation of the Digital Humanitarian Network at the 2012 International Crisis Mappers Conference, blending my volunteer work with my professional expertise.

What inspires you to use your data skills for good in your spare time?

Suppose I’m one of those crazies trying to both acquire and apply data skills for “good” full time.  Although certainly not as well developed data-wise as the commercial and media sectors, social sector data work is quickly picking-up steam.  Among others, two main inspirations:

  1. Altruism: I try to give back after growing-up comfortably in a world that affords such comforts to very few.
  2. Self-interest: I love meeting and learning from amazing people.

What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned or seen in working with data?

How mapping, research, and data are really all about the process.  You definitely want solid visuals, insights, and outputs, but the real value is unlocked as you gain a greater understanding of the domain in which you are applying your skills and your partners/clients/audience see new value in data.

What’s the most interesting or visually striking data project you’ve seen recently?

The Census Dotmap app is pretty nifty – http://bmander.com/dotmap/index.html  –  rMarkdown and rPubs seem like great new ways to disseminate research and findings using R.  Love what Kiva does with their micro-lending platform and API –  http://build.kiva.org/   –   I’m a huge fan of what Data Community DC is building.  Lots of great meet-ups and events all around the district – http://datacommunitydc.org/blog/

What does someone getting started with data science need to learn?

My message to those who want do data work:

  1. Chat with someone about how to get started.
  2. Learn how you learn so you can best self-teach.
  3. Do it for work or as a hobby.
  4. With repetition one gets better at estimating how long tasks take, and
  5. Then pad that time to further unpack concepts and streamline what you are doing.

For instance, I started with major commercial software like Excel (data processing), ArcGIS (mapping) and Stata/SPSS (statistics).  As time permitted, I experimented with more code-based as well as free and open-source ways of accomplishing these tasks, using Python, QGIS, and R.  I still have tons to learn, but I find this stack fits a lot of needs.

What blogs do you read?

More aggregators than specific blogs.  I serendipitously sip from the river of tweets by the data, design, and international development geeks I follow.   Hacker News from time to time.  I also just started reading US-edition Google News in Spanish to brush-up on my vocab.

What is your favorite vacation destination?

Grew up in Los Angeles and grad school in London, so those are two of my favorites.  Unawatuna beach in Sri Lanka isn’t bad either.