Will Strimling is a UW CSE undergraduate with a passion for data visualization and politics. This quarter, he has taken a break from hitting the books for an opportunity to work as a Visual Journalism Intern with Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, one of the most influential sites for analysis of the 2016 election. If you are following the race for the Oval Office — and like the proverbial car wreck, who could look away? — you have probably seen some of Will’s charts and interactives.
Kicking off a new feature of the blog in which we interview students with interesting stories to share, we bring you the CSE Undergrad Spotlight, election edition.
CSE: Why did you choose to study computer science?
WS: I believe the invention and application of new technologies is the largest instigator of socio-political change — and because I’m interested in creating things that might have a meaningful impact on society, learning to create technology made sense. Computer science teaches methods for constructing tools through programming, but more importantly provides new lenses and paradigms through which one can reason about the world and solve problems. I think of computer science as the perfect bridge between quantitative methods, engineering, and philosophy — which is a good fit for my interests.
CSE: Why did you decide to intern at FiveThirtyEight?
WS: It allows me the unique opportunity to contribute to important, widely read journalism work during the precarious 2016 presidential election, to learn from some of the best in data visualization, and of course to apply some of what I’ve learned in class and while working on tools in CSE’s Interactive Data Lab.
CSE: What are your responsibilities as an intern?
WS: I help build the larger interactives found on the site for predicting the upcoming election, sports, etc. I also work on static charts for use in everyday articles, and the tools used internally to generate them.
CSE: What is your favorite project you have worked on so far?
WS: One of the charts I created appeared on the Daily Show, which I thought was pretty cool. I really like seeing my work enjoyed, especially when it brings about meaningful discussions.
CSE: How has UW CSE inspired you and helped prepare you for your role at FiveThirtyEight?
The work and achievements of the Interactive Data Lab, where I have helped out a bit over the last year, has definitely had the greatest impact on me and is part of the reason I came to the UW! Professor Jeff Heer‘s Data Visualization class and working in the lab with Ph.D. students Dominik Moritz and Kanit Wongsuphasawat turned me on to new ways of thinking that have continued to have an impact on my studies and my work. This experience inspired me to work on data visualization projects and tools both this summer at Harvard and this fall at FiveThirtyEight — I can’t get enough. I greatly look forward to pursuing this interest further and deepening my involvement with the lab. They have been great teachers and role-models.
Check out some of Will’s work on the FiveThirtyEight blog here, and don’t forget to vote!