Meet Ben Coppersmith. He works as a Product Manager on a Data Services team within the Walt Disney Studios.
How’d you get into data?
In college math classes, we would spend ten weeks of a class learning theory and then the last three days doing an applied analysis with real data. That analysis would only take about three seconds - the rest was spent fetching or cleaning data. After college, I wanted to take advantage that. I took classes online in coding and worked my way up at Factual, a location data company in Century City. My team at Factual built a “Places of Interest” dataset which we sold to other companies like Apple and Uber. My data day-job helped give me the tools to do citizen data work.
What are your go-to analysis and visualization tools?
For mapping, I use Carto. At Factual, we used PostGIS and Ruby. I’m much more fluent in Ruby than Python. I don’t actually do that much data visualization but when I do I use whatever I can get my hands on including, Google Sheets. At Disney, my team’s primary products are databases that other divisions can query using Tableau, notebooks, or any programming interface that allows you to pull from databases.
What issue in Los Angeles County do you think has the most potential for a data-driven solution?
Homelessness, housing affordability and transit. Broadly speaking, data on its own is useless, like air. It’s all in how you use it. It’s more effective to start with the problem and what you want to know rather than start with the data and find ways to use it. That said, I tend to do both because it’s faster to start with the data.
What’s your favorite “data-story”?
I’ve worked a lot with parking tickets. People in LA County care about parking. It’s comically complex to know where to park. Parking rules are a mess, but citations are available. I live on a street with a very steep incline, and I found out that no ticket has ever been issued on this hill. This is great because when we have guests over we know they won’t get ticketed. I also wrote a story about parking tickets in Silver Lake which you can find on the LA Counts website.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start using LA Counts datasets to tell their own stories?
Have your problem in mind when you start because it will help you figure out what to look for, and you can always discover more as you go.