I am not an engineer
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What skills do you require for your data project?

What skills do you require for your data project? Find the answers on my “Tech Skills Map” below. Funny enough, this is my takeaway from the Open Government Partnership Summit in Paris, which I attended last week.

tech skills map - i am not an engineer

It all started at the OGP Summit in Paris

The Open Government Partnership has 70 member countries and hundreds of civil society organizations that promote transparency, citizen participation and democratic innovation. Last week, the Paris summit gathered 3000 high civil servants, MPs, local authorities, start-ups, developers, researchers, journalists and people of the undefined kind like me.

The high-level event included more than 300 discussion panels, workshops, pitches as well as a hackathon for the civic tech movement. The OGP took place in several prestigeous venues such as the Economic Social and Environmental Council, the Tokyo Palace, the National Assembly, the Senate and the Paris town hall.

“Why the lack of competence?”

As a former public affairs consultant, I am used to the political atmosphere of such events. The topics discussed are often highly interesting, but the outcome of the discussions are rarely satisfying. It is like trying to solve a problem by asking even more questions about how to solve the problem. Maybe because nobody knows the answer. After all, isn’t this what politics is all about? Raising issues without solving them?

Either way, I had not come for politics. I did not even have any business interests of my own. So, I had to set other goals than simply following the debates. I tried to get as much practical insight into open data as possible.

Therefore, as a data science n00b, I registered for a workshop about “publishing your first data set”. A few minutes into the presentation, it struck me again, as so many times before in similar events: why would people in charge of open data projects attend such a panel? Aren’t they supposed to know how data works? Why are people in charge of data projects, who visibly have no clue about data in the first place?

These guys need you!

I came to gather practical insight, but the workshop was all about reading, processing and visualizing data automatically by using online software. So, I tried to make sense out of the situation: basically a software tutorial given to data project leaders by a young sales representative. And there it was, the big picture!

These project leaders came to learn. I could teach them how to make good use of their data. I do not even need to be a PhD-level genius and god-like creator of algorithms. I could be just as helpful with my recently acquired basic skills. This led me to focus on the role played by tech skills in projects and organisations.

The Tech Skills Requirement Map

In another discussion panel on data activism, three NGOs presented the way they used open data in their respective awareness campaigns. The first one crunched public health data to denounce social inequalities in hospital treatments. The second one noted corruption cases on a map of France. The third one was prompting people to produce data about inequalities in gender representation at events.

Even though all three initiatives were interesting as such, it was even more interesing to evaluate the level of tech skills required for each project. Whereas the first one is based on data analysis, the last one involves more advanced infrastructure and technical knowledge. It was time to sum up the required tech skills on a map.

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