Monday, January 28, 2008

New Staff at InSTEDD

We have two new members of the InSTEDD team and I couldn't be more pleased. You'll see their bios appear on the Bio page but Olaf and Suzanne are just as remarkable as the rest of the team, have both been working around us for a while, and will fit right in as full-time members of the staff.

Olaf Conijn - a Dutch development star

Olaf is a stunning coder, considered "incredible" by our director of engineering, Ed Jezierski (and Ed himself was considered a "force" at Microsoft, leading the "Patterns and Practices" group before joining InSTEDD, so one star is apparently able to recognize another...) . Ed's known Olaf for a while and has watched him develop software for several years. Olaf, though, is modest about his achievements, noting only that, as a teenager, he found he "liked writing computer programs". Only when pressed does he mention that he was teaching coding to world-class professionals (some at Microsoft) when he was 17. He's now all of 25 and living in Amsterdam. He'll be working on platform development and tool integration for our deep-field cross-border reporting systems, and helping national Ministries of Health meet reporting requirements for the new International Health Regulations that came into effect in June of 2007.

Suzanne Jul - a perfect match for InSTEDD

Suzanne is a PhD computer scientist and disaster maven with a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Washington and a PhD in Human-Computer Interface from the University of Michigan. She then got interested in disaster response tools, became a Red Cross Disaster Services volunteer, took courses in disaster response and International Humanitarian Law while consulting for Cisco, worked in the Katrina response and in disaster exercises for the State of California, then showed up on our radar after working at the ISCRAM Conference in the Netherlands last year (Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management). I talked with her during a meeting at the Technical University in Delft and was impressed with both her career achievements and her pragmatic intelligence. Lots of common sense, and a huge desire to put all of that careful training to use somewhere that matters. So she started at InSTEDD last week. I've seen her portfolio and she's perfect for the interface design problems we've seen all over the humanitarian support space.

The team is looking at shortcomings in humanitarian tools

About that interface design problem. Suzanne is particularly important because so much (not all, but most) humanitarian software has been either designed for other tasks and adopted simply for ubiquity and access, or it was designed precisely to meet a perceived need by someone who DOES that job, but isn't trained in software design, quality assurance, or interface optimization. Now InSTEDD has the luxury of staff trained in all three, PLUS experience in the field and a near-constant exposure to real field conditions because we test our stuff in places like the Mekong Delta, Olympic National Park, and the Costa Rican cloud forests.

Nothing is ever guaranteed, but this is shaping up fairly well.