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May 15, 2020

iX Teacher Spotlight — Jonathan Whitaker — Data Science 2020

Written by

Jonathan Whitaker

Jonathan got his start in data science programming species distribution models for research projects in Zimbabwe. He then detoured through an Electrical and Computer Engineering degree at the University of Cape Town before moving back into the data world as a Data Science Educator with Ixio Analytics. He is currently working as a consultant for various firms in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and also works part time as a data scientist for Zindi. You can see some of his personal projects on his blog.

Jonathan was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, and his work today covers a broad range of data-centric projects. He's worked on a new method of more rapid machine learning with unlabelled data, classifying images and so much more. He's exactly the kind of intrepid data explorer that makes him one of the best people to learn data science from today. He'll be teaching the second iX Remote session Data Science course.


Jonathan Whitaker, iXperience 2020 Data Science Session 2 Head Instructor

What are you working on now?

Besides getting ready for new competitions at Zindi, I’m working on taking some of the winning submissions to past competitions and building them into useful solutions. Examples in the pipeline include a bird call identification app and a dataset of predicted historical air quality for cities across Africa.

What do you enjoy most about Data Science?

I view Data Science as a set of tools that can be applied to many different fields. I enjoy seeing new places where these tools can make an impact.

Why did you decide to get involved with teaching and how do you continue to keep things fresh?

  • Teaching is a great way to learn more for yourself, and I’m finding more and more that my first instinct when I learn something new is to pass that knowledge on and thus cement it in my mind. It’s also a powerful multiplier of impact - giving skills to others lets them do more than any single person could. But I think that in my case, some of the blame also has to fall on my dad, who is an incredible teacher.

What are you most looking forward to about iXperience this summer? 

I’m looking forward to the class time. Nothing quite matches the immediate feedback and interaction you get when teaching in real-time.

How do you see the Data Science industry changing in the next five years? What skills will professionals need to hone?

Many components of the Data Science workflow are getting automated or replaced as new methods become available, but the core skills of asking good questions, testing your hypotheses, dealing with unusual data and knowing how to share results are always going to be necessary.

What skills will iX students have after graduating from your class?

Knowing how to do some useful things. Knowing how to look up and learn many more useful things. And hopefully all the core skills mentioned above.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for the iX class of 2020?

Find excuses to write code. Automate simple tasks, make dumb games, solve maths problems, bore your friends and family with graphs and simulations on random topics. Practice is how we get better :)

What would students be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a bit of a hobby collector. The basics like music, art, birdwatching, rock climbing, hiking juggling, photography... But also lock-picking, entomology, arachnology, printer disassembly, 3D printing, electronics, Rubik's cube speed-solving, amateur microscopy…

What are your ‘desert island’ books or movies?

Pratchett for light (re-)reading, the Bible for faith, some decent field guides to identify the plants and animals on the island…

What song do you know all the lyrics to?

‘Rocket Man’, just that one song, was my most listened-to genre of music over one semester at UCT. It’s pretty indelibly burned into my brain :)

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