This Q&A is the second in a series of profiles of Data Driven Detroit staff members.
Nate Barnes was first introduced to Data Driven Detroit through Assistant Director of Projects Erica Raleigh in October 2011 at a Wayne State University event. He began interning at D3 shortly thereafter. As a data analyst, Nate primarily focuses his skillset on Census birth and death rates, and is currently working on labor forecasts in Michigan. When Nate is not taking on massive data sets, he can be found coaching soccer at Detroit Cristo Rey High School.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Vienna, West Virginia. 2010 population: 10,749.
Where did you go to school?
I spent my freshman year at Marietta College in Ohio. I transferred to Michigan State University the following year and graduated in 2005. I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree at Wayne State University.
What is your degree in? Why did you choose your degree?
I have a political science BA, and my MA will be in urban planning. When I transferred to MSU, I switched my major from English to Political Science. Two years as an English student prepped me for report-writing, but I found policy and planning to be more engaging than Keats.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?
I’ve taken off in an airplane more times than I’ve landed in an airplane.
What is your history with Detroit?
I’ve officially been a Detroiter for close to three years. Before I moved to the city, I would drive from Lansing to catch concerts or sporting events. My wife currently works for the Detroit Institute of Arts, and two generations of her family were born and raised in the city.
What did you do before working at D3?
I was a content manager for a small web-based educational tool developer. Before that, I worked the graveyard shift preparing news briefs for federal agencies.
What do you like about working at D3? How do you think the work you are doing benefits the city/region?
There’s a measure of satisfaction to be had from making sense of raw data. It’s sort of fun to stare down a hydra-like database and slay it with queries. Having the opportunity to share our research (and debunk a few bothersome Detroit-centric myths) adds a great deal of meaning to the nerdtastic work we all do at D3.
What is your favorite D3 map or data visualization?
I’m usually a sucker for our dot density maps, and I also dig our student dispersion maps. However, my favorite graphic would have to be Charles Joseph Minard’s 1869 data map depicting Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 Russian campaign– simple, honest, and incredibly effective.
What is your favorite type of data?
All types (no, really). I prefer to have several different types of data presented in concert. Knowing that Detroit’s population dropped by a quarter between 2000 and 2010 tells you little-to-nothing without contextual data.
Who or what inspired you to take the path to Detroit, data or both?
Before moving to Detroit, I committed myself to learning as much as possible about my new home. Though I had a vague idea of its history and geography, I felt that it was necessary to have a deeper understanding of Detroit in order to be an engaged citizen. Ignorance – of place or time or culture – is inexcusable (especially when we have instant access to the requisite data). Books, newspapers, blogs, conversations with residents, and maps all provided me with a baseline of city (and regional) knowledge. So in that sense, Detroit inspired me to take the path toward data. In the relatively short period of time that I’ve been a Detroiter, I’ve come to realize that data collection never ends.