“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” ~John Cusack in Say Anything
In this timeless moment of modern cinema, John Cusack then goes on to explain that kickboxing is his current career choice, which I think is a really good choice. But if he were more into computers, graphics, data or code, I think there’s a better option for him: he could have been a Knight-Mozilla Fellow. Right now, I’m like a cyber John Cusack, and I’m holding up my boombox.
I don’t have a journalism background. I’ve designed, developed, and visualized for companies and academia. I wasn’t entirely disenchanted with my previous jobs, but I increasingly wanted to make things for the sake of knowledge and people, not for a client or a sponsor’s agenda. I wanted to make things more relevant to humanity, not to an industry. I wanted to focus on science, the environment and our intersection with it, and let people explore data and concepts in visual and interactive ways. I couldn’t help but notice all the amazing interactive work the New York Times was releasing, and the fellowship seemed like a way in, with freedom to explore the topics I care about. So I applied two years in a row, first from Philly to no avail, and then from Singapore to maximum avail. Now I’m at ProPublica in New York over half way through the placement.
I’m working on a project that involves visualizing NASA data, integrating with repositories of satellite imagery, processing it in Photoshop, in the command-line, making it interactive in a news application, helping to create what I hope will be something really beautiful and worthwhile to explore. Working with data from space is basically the coolest thing I could be doing right now. Did I expect to be doing this? Not really. All I did was follow my interests, because I have less of a job description and more of a general mandate to work with incredibly smart people and make interesting things.
Along the way another unexpected thing happened. Part of all this is being able to travel around the world, going to conferences and workshops, and I was accepted to talk at some. Preparing for and talking in front of crowds is really hard for me, but I didn’t realize how much I’d appreciate the outcome. It inspires people to come over and talk about things they’re also interested in, and I’ve met a lot of people I never would have otherwise. I just got back from the csv,conf and Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin and feel totally energized.
You don’t have to be a news junkie or feel like a hotshot to become one of next year’s fellows. If you like making digital things, want a change of pace from where you’re at, and are at all curious about what goes on in newsrooms around the world, don’t hesitate to apply. You have until August 16th.