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Behind Hakai: Finn Short - Hakai Institute

Behind Hakai: Finn Short

A blog series highlighting the people who play an integral role behind-the-scenes to ensure the data keeps flowing and the Hakai Institute keeps running.

Millions of pieces of data are produced by the Hakai Institute each year. In its raw form, the data is often unusable—it may need to be calibrated, transformed, or combined before analysis can begin. Manually processing all of that data would take an inordinate amount of time. That’s where software, and people like Finn Short, becomes invaluable. Without them, data collection would screech to a halt.

Photo by Finn Short

What do you do at the Hakai Institute?

I’m a software developer. I help manage the mass amount of data that comes into Hakai. I keep the data flowing. Then I talk to the scientists who use my software and find out the little things I can tweak to make it better.

What’s a unique challenge you’ve had to overcome that people outside your role might not think of?

Sometimes I don’t think people know exactly what I do. It can be sort of a black box. Someone once even asked if I code in ones and zeroes. I get it. We come from different backgrounds. So the scientists I work with may or may not know what’s an easy task and what’s a complicated task when they ask for help with the software.

Finn Short’s dog Fizzy helps with their software development. Photo by Gillian Sadlier-Brown

What got you into this kind of work?

I started on the environmental science side of things at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo studying geography and chemistry. I learned to program basic stuff by working with a lab during the summers. I really enjoyed it. There’s a lot of power in being able to program. I wanted to be at the intersection of environmental and computer science. That led me to Concordia in Montreal to do a diploma in computer science. And after my diploma, I started right away at Hakai.

Whats one aspect of the job you could do without?

I do find it challenging to sit at a desk all the time, so being able to help out with the sensor network and spend some time in the field during the year is really nice.

Whats your favorite project youve worked on for Hakai?

The bulk of my work is software related to Hakai data. When I was first hired, I was getting the oceanography data organized and automated. As soon as the technicians upload the data, it automatically processes it. We processed 12,000 CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) casts automatically that many organizations would have to work up manually. And it’s completely reproducible. We can fix the files. We’re able to gather so much more data than ever before, so we need even more sophisticated data management. That’s really exciting to be working on.

*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.