Charna Parkey is the data science director of the Seattle startup Kaskada. (Courtesy photo by Charna Parkey)
Growing up, Charna Parkey was always the “technical person” in her house. In high school, she got IT certifications, and by the time she got to college, she took as many engineering courses as possible.
On the recommendation of a professor, Parkey, who grew up in Florida, got her first job when she was 19 at a small startup in the defense industry. The professor had introduced Parkey to signal processing, which she quickly realized was the interface of everything she wanted to do.
Ten years after starting her defense, Parkey received her PhD in signal processing.
“I moved to Seattle and entered the startup world, starting with a senior position as a software engineer at Textio,” said Parkey of the advanced writing startup. “Over the next four years, I was fortunate to have immeasurable experience starting our discipline in Customer Success Engineering, then Account Management and Customer Experience as VP of Customer Success.
In her last year at the company, she worked as an applied scientist at Textio.
“When I was thinking about my next step, I was considering starting up, but met Emily Kruger, VP of Product at Kaskada, and I was intrigued that they wanted a data science lead on a product team,” said Parkey.
Founded by former Google engineers, Kaskada’s software is primarily aimed at companies outside of the tech world that still rely on some form of data science for their products. The startup aims to make it easier for the two main roles in machine learning products – data scientists and data engineers – to work together.
“I’ve always been related to a product, so this was a new discipline to learn,” said Parkey. “Eventually I found someone who built a product for the data scientist – by centering the data scientist.
“I also enjoy working in areas that can dramatically change the world and the way we interpret it,” she added. “It could be signal processing, data science, or machine learning. A key component of these areas is how we handle human problems and how we measure and represent people. “
When she’s not working, Parkey considers herself a “hobby collector”.
“I love learning new intricate things, from the interaction of materials in woodworking, robotics, and construction to painting watercolors or using fibers to make beautifully woven blankets,” she said.
Find out more about our newest geek of the week, Charna Parkey:
What are you doing and why are you doing this As a data science lead at Kaskada, I have three parts in my job.
- Part of it is defining what we should be building and working with our developers to develop solutions that fully understand the needs of data scientists as they build.
- The second part deals with connecting and building the data science community. I speak a lot and write publicly about important topics in our industry. We need to have talks to solve these problems.
- The third part works directly with our customers as data scientists. When we have someone who is using or wanting to use our product, I work with them to understand what ML models they want to build and how to implement them using Kaskada’s end-to-end feature engineering platform .
I came to Kaskada not only to solve individual data science problems, but also the problems every data scientist encounters when trying to solve problems. How do we enable data science, not make data science behave like another discipline?
What is the most important thing people should know about your specialty? Data science is ultimately a human problem. It’s not an isolated data problem. If we remove time or how the world changes around us, or our analysis or representation of people, then we make mistakes.
Where do you get your inspiration from? My mother grew up in a huge family and finances were always a problem. When I was young, she had promised me that I would never have to rely on someone else’s money to make my mate choices based on who they were and whether or not I wanted to have a family. From there I just kept walking down the path people said I shouldn’t go down.
I’ve had some great teachers whose support has helped me move forward, but I’ve also had teachers and other people who kept saying I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. When I started taking high school IT certification courses, I walked in and the professor gave the books to my brother. When my brother said, “I don’t take class, it is her,” the professor looked at me and said, “You can’t, you’re a girl.”
For a long time, my drive was due to proving people wrong. Then I had to get out of the survival mentality and find my other drive that comes from really wanting to have an impact on my work – empowering individual people to understand the impact they have on other people, not just the business impact .
What’s the only technology you couldn’t live without and why? I just bought a house last year and introduced a gas stove to my kitchen for the first time – it was like, what have I done all my life without one? I knew I was going to like it, but I didn’t know what difference it would make.
(Courtesy photo by Charna Parkey)
What does your workspace look like and why does it work for you? With the pandemic, I mainly worked a few blocks away from my art studio. There I keep everything that has nothing to do with home. My computer is also set up there, which is usually covered with a tarpaulin so that I don’t get sawdust or anything on it. Here I also work with local artists to rethink how they can create art with technology. We did things like a robotic installation of an inverted pendulum that responds to you – visually it can “see” you and when you move it moves.
It works for me because I am surrounded by creative people in my group of friends who think differently – architects, nannies, musicians, multimedia artists. When I’m trying to figure out something in the world that may need to be changed, we talk about it, toss it around and work it out. We use sticky notes, draw on the walls. Even now I can go there and it helps me move from home to work and back.
Your best tip or trick for managing day-to-day work and everyday life. (Help us, we need it.) 1. Therapy! 2. Limits and communication. Set them, force them. Something always burns and there is no “done” in this world. Trust me, people will be glad you have limits and communicate them, it’s so much easier.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.
Favorite superhero or science fiction character? The current favorite is Grogu. I’m looking forward to the next season of “The Mandalorian”.
Transporter, time machine or cloak of invisibility? Transporter.
If someone gave me $ 1 million to start a startup, I would … Choose my dream team, put them in a room and allow a session about what we should be aiming for. I don’t want to solve an individual problem that I’m interested in.
I waited in line once for … Food. We are in a pandemic 🙂
Your role models: a person whose behavior in a certain role is mimicked by others. I often hear people use the term as a box to put someone on a pedestal.
I like to think of every interaction with people as possible moments of inspiration. For me, this enables me to be inspired by someone in a moment without having to put them on a pedestal that requires them to be a “role model” for a long time in all parts of their life.
I was recently inspired by my mom in the pandemic and how she found beauty and peace in gardening and other activities when she couldn’t be with others including me. Children are especially inspiring today, before they were restricted by society.
And of course I am often inspired by people in my community, employees and managers. And people like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Amanda Gorman, Dr. Mae Jemison and Vice President Kamala Harris inspire me every day when I can read about them or reflect on the journey they have traveled.
The greatest game in history: “Invisible Sun” from Monte Cook Games.
Best device ever: My iPad Pro with pencil.
First computer: It was a DOS-based computer, and I played some kind of text-based game where you could switch to a certain mode with different colors.
Current phone: iPhone 10.
Favorite app: Hue – It connects to the lightbulbs in my house and lets you set “scenes” like “arctic aurora” and “sunset”. You can even upload photos from a vacation to create the same lighting mood.
Favorite cause: For one thing, I’ll highlight two nonprofits working with intersectional causes in Washington state. The two I am thinking of are TAF and Got Green.
- The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) is a Seattle-based nonprofit that is redefining K-12 public education across Washington state for all students and teachers, especially those who identify as a black person and from traditionally underserved communities come.
- Got Green organizes for environmental, racial and economic justice as a grassroots organization based in South Seattle, which is led by people of color and low incomes. They cultivate multi-generation community leaders as central voices in the green movement to ensure that the benefits of the movement and the green economy (green jobs, healthy eating, energy efficient and healthy homes, public transportation) reach low-income communities and communities of color .
Most important technology of 2021: The machine learning models that helped with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Most important technology of 2023: If it were possible I would love it when it comes to climate change. Instead, I think it’s about a method of monitoring the impact of AI on people. Right now, people have to start business – for example, photo apps sometimes shower friends with photos of gorillas. I think someone will find a way to monitor these things from a third party and make them public.
Final advice for your fellow freaks: It is even more important than before the pandemic to move away from what has become your new normal. Find creative ways to experience moments of awe – be it in nature, listening to profound music, or looking at something that will remind your brain that everything that is going on in that moment is compared to the bigger picture is small. This will help more than anything in achieving your next goal.
Twitter: HarCharna Parkey
LinkedIn: Charna Parkey