What do we use at work? This series of posts interviews the Ushahidi staff about their methods of working and the tools they use. The profile of a different employee will be posted twice a week until we make our way through most or all of the staff!


“It’s in the excess that you find the gems.” – Jon Gosier

What’s your day to day at Ushahidi like?

To say that each day is unpredictable is an understatement. I’m a meticulous planner and notetaker, it helps me make sure I’m staying on task and getting things done, but the reality is so many random requests or urgent emails come in that all my planning goes out the window to deal with new stuff. So finding the balance between urgent now, and urgent now-now (as my friends say in East Africa) is critical.

My role at Ushahidi is directing the SwiftRiver project, managing the Swift community, designing product, managing staff and developers, business development and a lot of speaking engagements. I also do a lot of design and marketing – the Swiftly.org website, the copy, the videos, the webinars, the newsletters, the print material are also things that I do.

How did you get involved in the software/tech space?

When I was around 10 or 11 my mother got us our first family computer, an IBM PS/1 and I promptly dropped whatever comicbook I was reading at the time to explore this new world of interactive media. I don’t know if I had seen the movie WARGAMES at the time or not, but it was stories like that that fascinated me. I was never that good of a programmer but trying to teach myself what I could in those early days forced me to discipline myself. There was no one in my family who could program and there were no classes I could take (at the time) to learn. So I was content teaching myself.

I’m a very visual person which is what originally drew me to the area of data visualization. I went to an art school, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where I was focused on a career in Entertainment. However, I worked in the Music industry, the Film industry and Advertising before I finally wound up at a fledgling series of startups in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2008 I moved to Uganda and started my own software company, Appfrica.

What are some of your favorite apps for work and how do you use them?

The basics: Gmail by-far is the web app I spend the most time in. Skype is invaluable for me, anyone who is regularly on conference calls that span seven timezones or more knows what I’m talking about. TimeandDate.com is another one, for scheduling and planning across timezones.

Basecamp from 37 Signals is another app that’s integral to my workflow. I mentioned before that I’m a meticulous planner. It’s because I’m forgetful, if I don’t write it down (preferably on a screen) I don’t remember to do it. Basecamp I like a lot because I can keep appointments as milestones which show up on my calendar. At the same time, I can plan todos and communicate around those same milestones for managing teams and projects.

I try to use all apps at least once. I use CloudApp for sharing screenshots, Github for managing code, GeckoBoard as a visual dashboard, Chrome for browsing the web, Keynote for presentations.

I’m an avid user of the entire Google Suite but in particular Docs and Reader. As a data-junkie, I love an excess of information. I subscribe to every blog under the sun in Google Reader and then just let the ‘magic’ filter they have recommend what’s interesting from what’s aggregated. A lot of people get overwhelmed by the number of unread content in Reader, but for me that’s the point – if it’s interesting it gets surfaced or you can search random words. It’s in the excess that you find the gems.

What are some cool projects you’re working on right now at Ushahidi or; What excites you about your work right now?

RiverID is the big one. For a long time people haven’t really understand what we aim to achieve with Swift. The apps like Sweeper and SwiftMeme are somewhat irrelevant to the greater goal, which is to truly provide a platform for vetting data. RiverID is a global distributed trust system that builds on a lot of public data from past Ushahidi deployments, data from other trust systems as well as the APIs of various social networks. You can read more about RiverID in this NewYorkTimes article.

Beyond that, I’m really excited that we’re moving into various areas of data science. I feel the value we add as a company is that we produce software tools that make data science relatable to the general public.

What helps you make it through each day?

A sloppy Italian Sub for lunch. If you don’t feel like you need a shower afterwards, it’s not a good sandwich. Also, I really like the people at my co-working space Affinity Lab in DC.

The one thing you can’t live without?

Data. No input, no output.