Data do-gooding with DataKind DataCorps

Those who know me personally, know that most of my decisions are always influenced by potential for large positive impact. The fact that I work for Medidata is just one demonstration of that. Ever since I started working in Manhattan in February 2016, I had planned volunteering with DataKind as one of the experiences I wanted to have. My dear friend, Devangana Khokhar, who is Chapter Leader for DataKind, Bangalore, had told me about DataKind NYC and had urged me to go drop by at their office in Manhattan when I got the chance. However, since I had started out at a new job post-graduation, I had not gotten a chance to think beyond work, in 2016. After a year, I thought it was time to sign up for the DataKind DataCorps program, when Devangana sent me an email with a link to the application form for DataCorps program. Having a friend who pushes you to execute what you once planned is definitely a boon! Thanks Devangana, for the push I needed, because most days, after a long day at work, you hardly have motivation to go the extra mile.

What started as an application to DataKind’s DataCorps as a Volunteer Data Expert on a project culminated today in a very useful tool to eventually ensure all children, irrespective of what background they come from, get access to basic education. My journey with DataKind DataCorps for the last 3.5 months has been very interesting and rewarding, to the say the least.

In March 2017, our DataCorps Volunteer team got together for the first time, in an in-person meeting. We had already had a video intro call, so we had mapped faces to names already. Since all the team members work in Manhattan, it was easy for us to meet at Datakind’s NYC office after work. DataCorps brings together pro bono data scientists to work with social organizations to help solve problems in their sector, using data science. These are usually long-term projects spanning over a few months.

Any DataCorps team is composed of 1 Data Science Manager, 1 Data Ambassador and 2 Data Experts. I was a Data Expert on the team for the project with a social organization in the educational sector.

Image credits: DataKind

This is our dashing Volunteer team!

We also had assistance provided in terms of getting us resources we needed, from a Data Science Manager from DataKind, who coordinated the logistics and project-related administration. This team was basically my volunteer family for the 3.5 months we worked on the project together. We worked after-work hours and on weekends, brainstorming ideas on how to approach the problem at hand, learning new technologies along the way, and eventually ended up developing a beautiful cloud-based suite of services, written in Python, which includes a data collection and processing pipeline dumping results into a store, exposing the results in the form of a dashboard!

The journey of working on the DataCorps team was a great learning experience for me! Not only did I get to meet these awesome data do-gooders and expand my network, but I also got to use my data science skills, share what I knew with the team, and in return, learn how to collaborate on volunteer projects and juggle the day job and after-hours volunteer work with flair!

I am definitely looking forward to work with DataKind on other engagements in the near future! Putting my skills to use to serve society is definitely very fulfilling. Looking forward to more data do-gooding with DataKind!