Jana Beck is an engineer at Tidepool, where they're trying to reduce the burden of type 1 diabetes through (data) technology. At CascadiaJS: Browser Day, she's going to talk about tools you need to make complex data visualizations sing and dance. Here are Jana's answers to our introductory questions.
Is this your first trip to the Pacific Northwest? Do you have other plans for your trip?
Nope! My parents met as graduate students at the University of Washington, so although I grew up in the Midwest, the PNW was a frequent vacation destination as I was growing up. I've been backpacking all over the Cascades and the Olympics. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to spend some extra time in Seattle before or after the conference, but I'm hoping to! I really want to check out Seattle's coffee scene.
What does your usual work day look like?
I usually start my day by catching up on e-mail and pull requests over my coffee. I only dive into coding once I'm sufficiently caffeinated. We're working with a lot of health data at Tidepool, so when I'm working on something really data-focused, I'm generally working on code and unit tests simultaneously, TDD-style. Lately I've also been prototyping a new data visualization that we're getting ready to get user feedback on; that's a lot of HTML and CSS, especially CSS animations (which are pretty new to me). I'm almost always listening to something while I code; some favorites for "hacking music" are Brian Eno's ambient music, Daft Punk, Moby, and Yeasayer.
Who in the industry consistently blows you away with wonderful work?
I really love Victor Powell's (interactive) visual explanations of statistical concepts. My favorite is this explanation of conditional probabilities.
Have you worked in industries other than the web?
I spent five years as a Ph.D. student in linguistics studying and modeling the syntax and semantics of Ancient Greek and Hungarian verbal morphology, among other things. My work required me to build a lot of tools to annotate, search, and analyze data in Python. I left the Ph.D. program for my current job in large part because I realized I enjoyed all the tool-making my academic work required far more than the academic work itself.
What does your dream job look like?
I really love what I do currently, both in terms of what my job requires from me technically and in that the mission is very close to my heart, as a person living with type 1 diabetes. But we're a small start-up, so we often have to make tough decisions and compromises around the function(s) of our apps in order to keep them to the minimum viable so we can ship. My dream would be to keep doing what I do but be able to design things - both in terms of app functionality and under-the-hood architecture - with a grander vision and for the longer term.
Do you knit, play the banjo, make beer, climb rocks or do anything that isn't on a computer?
Since the beginning of the year, I've been enrolled in the adult program at the Academy of Ballet in San Francisco. A lot of people that know me would probably be completely unsurprised to learn that an activity centered around making pretty shapes with your body in repetitive and obsessively symmetrical patterns appeals to me.
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you?
I'm a movie nerd, and I still get DVDs from Netflix. I am told that this latter fact makes me "weird."
Oh, and as a person with diabetes, I wear a couple of pieces of technology (an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor) that are sometimes pretty obvious. It's OK to ask me about them! I'm happy to explain what they are/how they work/how they make my life easier.