Finding DataKind's Director of Programs
November 25, 2014

We sat down with Jake Porway, DataKind's Executive Director, and Q Ethan McCallum, our interim Director of Programs, to talk about some new opportunities afoot at DataKind Headquarters.

So what’s going on at DataKind these days?

Jake Porway: This has been an amazing year for DataKind. Many people probably know us for our DataDives, our weekend events that team volunteer data scientists with nonprofit organizations, but we’ve really been focused on ramping up our DataCorps program -- building small data science teams to work on deeper, more advanced, multi-month engagements. We currently have four DataCorps projects in progress right now and the next slate will kick off in early 2015.

This year also saw the launch of five new DataKind Chapters in Bangalore, Dublin, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington DC, where DataKind volunteer leaders are furthering our mission by hosting local events and even DataDives. Also, just recently, we announced new partnerships with Cloudera and Informatica and came back from hosting IBM’s Insight conference.

All in all, this means that DataKind is growing in scale and scope. Which leads to the next big change for DataKind: we have created a new role, the Director of Programs, to craft our strategy for applying data science to societal challenges for transformational change.

What would DataKind’s Director of Programs do?

JP: Our mission is to apply data science to tough, world-changing problems. What's nice is that we have ample opportunities: a roster of 5,000 volunteer data scientists and interest from 200 organizations, all keen on creating meaningful change through data science.  Now, as my role shifts toward fundraising and governing, I’m looking for an enthusiastic, sharp, and data-savvy Director of Programs to channel those resources to the greater good.

It’s a really great opportunity for someone who is excited about strategic thinking around the topic of data-for-good but who also wants to roll up their sleeves.  This role would entail doing a lot of what I’ve done for the past three years - working with large foundations to understand their needs, scoping projects that come down our pipeline and innovating new programs.

There’s so much going on here at DataKind that I couldn’t just wait for this candidate to keep things moving.  That's where Q comes in. He's a consultant who is working with us as our interim Director of Programs.

Q, tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to this role?

Q Ethan McCallum: As Jake mentioned, I work as a consultant and have held a number of technology roles over the years across a variety of firms. These days my focus is on the strategic side of analytics, where I can help company leaders make decisions about how to put data to good use.

I came to DataKind earlier this summer to help shape some of the strategy behind DataCorps. We quickly realized that, with DataKind's growth, Jake would need someone to take a leadership role in DataCorps and the other programs.

JP: So we started to talk about what that role would be and how it would look. The Director of Programs role was born and Q took the first steps in trying it on.

Why is your title "Interim" Director of Programs?

QM: One of the services I offer clients is to step in as an interim leader, to build something (such as an internal analytics practice) and then transition it to a permanent hire. The Director of Programs role was a natural fit.

As interim Director, I have three main responsibilities:

  • help Jake define the Director of Programs role
  • fulfill the day-to-day activities of that role
  • help DataKind to find a permanent Director of Programs

So, by design, I'm meant to help launch this role and hand it off it to a full-time, permanent employee, who will continue to shape and grow it. Hence the description "interim" director.

What's a day in the life of the Director of Programs?

QM: Trick question! This role is less "day to day" and more "week to week." For example: right now I'm focused on DataCorps efforts. For our current slate of projects, this means participating in periodic check-in meetings with the partner organizations and volunteer teams and observing mid-phase presentations and demos. I may also review analyses or field other technical questions from the volunteer project teams. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to help a volunteer team work through some unpleasant data formatting issues.  More recently, I guided another team in setting their goals so they could have the greatest chance of success at the end of the project.

We're also preparing our next slate of new DataCorps projects, which involves talking with prospective partner organizations, scoping projects, reviewing datasets, and talking with volunteer data scientists in order to build the project teams.  For example, just last week, I met with a group that provides solar energy to rural India to help them use their data to better understand how to deploy their services to more people in need. I also performed a routine analysis on a dataset from an education group that's trying to make their programs more efficient.

As the next DataCorps slate kicks off, I'll have a hand in guiding our other program initiatives, such as upcoming DataDives.

What I enjoy is that, as Director, I'm able to take a high-level, leadership role for strategic issues but still have a hand in more tactical matters related to launching and running successful volunteer projects.  While checking out sample datasets this past summer, I restructured DataKind's process to scope out and on-board partner projects.

Mind you, I don't work alone: I'm part of DataKind's excellent Programs team, which also includes Shubha Bala (Programs Strategist) and Peter Darche (Data Engineer). We all coordinate to make sure projects achieve liftoff, stay airborne and land successfully.

Overall, the role of the Director of Programs is to help build and strengthen all of DataKind's programs. That means a "day in the life" boils down to, "work on impactful projects with amazing people." But the specifics change every now and then.

So, what's next?

QM: As I mentioned before, while I continue to shape the Director of Programs role, I'm also helping DataKind find a full-time employee who can build on my first steps and take this to the next level. That means someone who can grow and strengthen all of DataKind's programs, from DataDives to DataCorps and beyond. We're looking for someone who is excited to work on projects with social impact, to lead teams of volunteer data scientists and to devise new DataKind programs that lead to social change.

JP: Oh and along the way this person would have the opportunity to be at the forefront of creating social change through data science.  That means they would join me for meetings or hold their own at the Clinton Global Initiative, do site visits to Chapters and on-the-ground projects and otherwise immerse themselves in the fantastic network of world-changing technologists, social sector experts, and visionaries that DataKind holds dear.  That, and wear an orange hoodie every day.

QM:  I'll be here to help the new Director settle in, likely guiding them through a couple of projects so they can continue to build on and improve that process.  After that,  I'll return to my behind-the-scenes consulting role, advising Jake on longer-term, strategic matters around DataKind.  We have plans to improve some internal processes and otherwise make DataKind run more efficiently as its mission grows.

Any parting thoughts?

JP: Yes! We encourage anyone who's interested to apply for the Director of Programs role.  Submit your resume and cover letter directly to - we’d love to hear from you!  

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