Meet Colin, Python DevOps at Kai Analytics
Updated: Apr 29
Colin is responsible for Python development and statistical programming at Kai Analytics. He was born and raised in Canada and got his Masters degree in Economics from the University of Waterloo. He is an analytical and methodical thinker, and he has been the driving force behind optimizing Kai Analytics' new qualitative analysis software, Unigrams.
What made you want to make the switch from economics to software development?
To me this switch felt natural because of the part of software development I wanted to get into. I think there is a similar type of logic and problem-solving aspect to both fields, and what I liked about economics were the applications and the tools that it could provide. I saw that these tools were not used as well as they could be, and I thought that the way to fix that would be to become the one to develop them. I also found software development satisfying in a similar way to economics - when you write code or work on a problem and then it all clicks and comes together, it is a great feeling.
What advice would you give to someone who might want to get into software development or change careers?
I think that one of the best and quickest ways to learn something new (in my case it was software development) is to work with other people. As long as you are honest about your experience level, most people are usually open to help you out. One of the most important reasons why I think it is important to work with others is because you can learn about best practices that are not taught in online tutorials. For example, you can write code correctly, but it might not be something someone else can look at and understand quickly. But when you are working with other people, you learn how to write code that works and is intuitive as well.
What does a typical day at Kai Analytics look like for you?
In the morning, I review my responsibilities for the day and read up on how to do specific tasks. I also check communications as we all work remotely and in different time zones, so sometimes messages come in through the night. There is also often a call either with the rest of the team or with my boss, Kevin, directly. With Kevin, I update him on my current projects, he explains what his expectations are, and then he lets me know what he is working on currently. The rest of the day for me is quite evenly split between programming and researching how to solve a specific problem. Some days I spend a lot more time researching the best ways to solve an issue as opposed to coding, because whatever issue I have someone else has probably had already and fixed it too, and it is best to learn from other peoples’ experience as opposed to reinventing the wheel.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
I think the most challenging part of my role is prioritization. It can be difficult not to fall into scope-creep and if you are nit-picky, you can notice a lot of small things that can be easily improved but it is important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. For example, you can notice that the font is the wrong size but not pay attention to the fact that a whole web page is missing. To not fall into this trap, I find that it is helpful to talk to other people as they can look at your work from a different perspective and help you identify what actually matters.
I find that it is helpful to talk to other people as they can look at your work from a different perspective and help you identify what actually matters.
I often talk to Kevin and ask him what he thinks is the most important thing to focus on as I trust him to notice the most glaring gaps in my code. The project that I am currently working on is Unigrams, a qualitative data analysis platform that is powered by natural language processing and is designed specifically for higher education, so I trust Kevin to know exactly what people from higher education might want from this tool as he previously led institutional research at a number of institutions before creating Kai Analytics.
What has been your biggest accomplishment since you’ve joined Kai Analytics?
One of my biggest accomplishments is that Kevin uses the version of Unigrams that I worked on to do qualitative analysis for the projects he is currently working on. Kevin gives me feedback on the bug testing that I do that makes the software faster, so I am happy to know that Unigrams is getting better and better.
What's the most rewarding thing about working at Kai Analytics?
I am happy that the software that I am writing can ease the process of open-ended survey analysis and minimizes the possibility of any information being lost in Excel sheets. But I would say that the most rewarding part about working at Kai Analytics is knowing that I am helping people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I would say that the most rewarding part about working at Kai Analytics is knowing that I am helping people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kai Analytics works with a lot of COVID-19 related surveys for higher education that look into topics such as how people are learning remotely, should student go back to campus this fall, etc. It feels good to in some small way help students and faculty be understood and facilitate the conversation around how to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would want the Dr. Manhattan power, whatever his “everything” power is. I like that his power is difficult to comprehend and that it has limitations,
I also think that his different interpretation of time is pretty cool. Because most superpowers tend to be this gift that you just get, Dr. Manhattan’s power that you have to learn how to use and discover looks like a lot more fun.