Engineering with Ali

What is it you say you do here?

I would say that I build applications that either process data for our internal use or display data in an easily understandable way. I write code for both our internal and client facing applications, on both the front and back ends of the applications. My two main projects are our Dashboard, which analyzes and displays client data from a bunch of sources all in one place, and the AutoBalancer, which creates balanced, stratified samples from various data sources.

How does a Government major end up as a software developer?

I took a computer science class one semester in college on a whim and I ended up taking more while assistant teaching the introductory class. I originally wanted to work in campaigning, and I worked on a couple campaigns in high school and college. I really like the data and strategy aspects of modern political campaigns. I wound up interning for Øptimus last summer, and ended up taking on more of a development role. Most of the skills that I use on a day to day basis are self-taught. There are so many resources out there for learning how to code at your own pace which have really helped me.

What is your stack?

My favorite programming language is Python because of how versatile it is – you can build applications easily with it, but also do complex statistical analyses. Most of the applications I work on are written in Django. On the front end, I enjoy using React to build user interfaces and D3 to create data visualizations.

How do you decide which new technologies to learn?

I follow a lot of bloggers like Free Code Camp on Medium, Wes Bos on YouTube, and Simple Is Better Than Complex in order to see what is new and may be beneficial for me to learn. I also participate in a lot of DC tech community events – like meetups, conferences, and even just their Slack channels. There are so many new things coming out nearly daily, especially in the JavaScript world, that you do have to have some blinders on and wait for other people to test out new things first to see if they gain ground.

What excites you about the work that you do?

My favorite part of coding it that it is both a challenge and creative. There are countless ways to write any piece of code, some better than others. There is also a visual element to the work I do, and making the site look good can be more of an art project.

If you could do anything else in the world what would you do?

In college, I did research on the deficiencies in our current computer science education system. Too few students have access to coding classes, and, if they do, those classes are usually taught in an intimidating and, often, boring way. The reasons I like coding are the creativity and problem solving involved with it, and I wish computer science classes focused on those aspects more. If I could do anything else, I would either teach or help develop curricula to allow for more students to learn how to code.

Tips for new programmers? Where to learn?

There are so many resources out there to learn how to code for people who are interested in different things and who have different learning styles. It can be really easy to get distracted by all of the technologies out there. I would focus on one language or framework and then build from there. Django Girls is my absolute favorite resource for beginners because you can go from not knowing anything about coding to having a full blog app that you built from scratch by the end of the day. I also use Codecademy.com for learning the syntax of a language pretty quickly.

Lightning Round

Do Hamilton grads get Hamilton tickets?

I wish! Unfortunately, no.

Bigly or Big League?

I just learned the other day that bigly is actually a word. Judging from Twitter hashtags, its Big League though.

Iced Coffee or Hot coffee?

Iced Coffee, but pretty much only from Dunkin Donuts. I’m a New Englander at heart

Favorite DC Food Truck?

Far East Taco is fantastic.

Best snack at the Øptimus kitchen?

Red Bull is very necessary, especially during election season.

Favorite DC monument?

I really like Jefferson, especially at night.