Today, we're thrilled to share a guest interview featuring Data Platform MVP Andrew Brust on how he created COVID-19 data visualizations using public data provided by John Hopkins using Power BI. He shares more insights on this, and his story on what first inspired him to start career in technology!
Q: How did you get into the technology sector? Who/what inspired you to pursue tech?
A: It all started with Mrs. Winner’s afterschool class in BASIC programming when I was in 7th grade, in 1978. It eventually continued with a computer science major in college and a job as a programmer with the NYC Parks Department during my freshman year. Then lots of years consulting, including my own firm for 10 years and 6 more with the firm that bought it, which put me in a leadership position at a Microsoft Gold Partner. As to what inspired me…I loved the “contract” of computer programming: follow the rules and the syntax of a programming language and the computer will do what you say.
Q: Based on existing COVID-19 data published by John Hopkins on their dashboard, you were able to create several visualizations of the data in Power BI – can you tell us a little more about that?
A: The Johns Hopkins data had been made available in the format of a simple CSV (comma-separated values) file. Power BI can open such data files directly. From there, it became very easy to start exploring the data. With Power BI, it literally just takes a few clicks to get the data visualized. Sitting here in Manhattan, my lifelong home – and the epicenter of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak – being able to make the data “my own” made me feel a bit more informed and in control.
Q: You mentioned that you're "a data person" - What other use cases do you see Power BI potentially being applied in helping solve other critical world challenges?
A: The combination of Power BI desktop being a free download, super easy to use at the entry level, and the great abundance of public data sets at local, state, national and international levels means that Power BI can be used to gain insights into an array of challenges facing the world. That includes not just the current pandemic, but even tougher world issues, like climate change and the refugee crisis. But it also applies to local concerns, like noise complaints, bike lane usage and crime patterns.
Q: What do you think is the role technology plays in times of crisis such as these?
A: I think we have to be careful not to overplay tech’s role; we’re not going to cure a pandemic just by visualizing new cases in a bar chart. But when we have a new virus about which we know so little, being able to discern patterns quickly can help out public authorities a lot, in allocating resources to geographic area and demographic groups hardest hit. Predictive analytics can help forecast needs, and all of this technology, especially in the cloud, can facilitate research for a vaccine, and foster collaboration among experts worldwide.
Q: How do you balance your day job, commitments as a Regional Director (RD) AND social impact initiatives like exploring tech tools to help construct better visualizations of essential data published by national government bodies? Any advice for folks wanting to also get involved in using tech for good?
A: I just try and move things forward in each area of my work, without neglecting any one of them. Ultimately, I find that if you’re “doing it right”, different workstreams overlap and are mutually complimentary. Taking them all on provides acceleration in each area that you might not have otherwise. My advice for people who want to get involved is to do some homework with the technology and the data, gain confidence in your command of it all, and then get involved with a coordinated effort, like a meetup or a hackathon, that leverages the power of working in groups. It’s also OK to do the work privately, understand the issues better, and then support groups already working on the hard problems.
Want to learn more about Power BI and Andrew's projects? Follow him on Twitter at @andrewbrust.
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