Building the Future of Data at Enigma
Published early 2017
Stanley Ndagi is an Andela Developer based in Nairobi, Kenya. He’s currently a Data Engineer with Enigma, a New York-based startup that provides data discovery and analytics tools to help organizations make better decisions.
“We are in the future,” says Enigma CEO and Co-founder Hicham Oudghiri. This “future” relies on the infinite volume of data generated by businesses and governments, which allows us to make smarter decisions about everything from choosing which business activities will generate the most revenue to improving the efficiency of public services. But there’s a catch — as “Big Data” has emerged as a buzzword in the past few years, organizations struggle to store and work with the vast amount of information they collect.
Enigma recognizes that it’s through data that you and I can make sense out of the convoluted world we live in. Enigma’s job is to provide analysis-ready public data and offer handy tools to help companies discover and analyze their own data, even if the datasets are pre-21st century or in formats you’d typically deem less than useful.
I joined Enigma as a Data Engineer in the fall, but my interest in data goes back much farther. From a young age, I have been a builder and breaker. As a child, my curiosity about how something as simple as how a remote controller works led me to break it while trying to discern its parts. Eventually, I got the hang of piecing devices back together so that I could explore other appliances without my family saying, "Figures he broke it."
I was first exposed to computing through studying information technology at Taita Taveta University, where I transitioned from playing computer games to understanding how they were built. At Taita Taveta, I was a member of the technology club, Mictec. Whenever possible, Mictec would attend tech events in Nairobi and Mombasa. Among the events I attended was the Global Open Data Index (GODI) Day in Mombasa. It was roughly 150 kilometers from my campus, which meant I had to take a motorbike ride to Voi town, a bus to Mombasa, then a tuktuk to the venue.
The goal of the GODI event was to evaluate the quality and availability of national governments’ open data. Most of the countries we studied were far from accomplishing a robust database of public information — but through the combined efforts of Ahmed Maawy, Open Knowledge International, and Jaffery Institute of Professional Studies, GODI took a significant step in the direction of this goal. Who would have thought that an event overloaded with data nuances and the unforgiving spirit of hacking away would eventually lead me to become a Data Engineer at Enigma?
That was back in 2014. I would then embark on IoT (The Internet of Things) for my third year project and slowly but surely try to merge it with data exploration. (I didn’t have a better name for it then.) They make a wonderful couple: IoT is a data-generator. So what’s left is making sense out of generated data.
At Enigma, we do this using a proprietary package we call Parsekit. It allows us, as a team, to parse both public and private data at an amazing speed while maintaining quality. We work with many types of data focus on oil and gas data, reference data, company data (for example, tracking the financials of newer businesses to help them secure funding), and healthcare data. These have been brought together as Expertly-Curated Data Packages easily accessible via Enigma’s Public Data Explorer.
Because I’m the first and only remote developer at Enigma, one of my favorite parts of the onboarding process was spending time in person with the rest of the team. In early December I went to New York to meet my team in person and it’s because of that trip that I feel truly integrated into Enigma’s team. During this two-week period, I got to experience the company’s culture, sit, chat, dine, play music instruments, and even sing with my colleagues at Enigma. (Yes, sing! At both Andela and Enigma I have musically talented colleagues.) The cultural exchange was epic and I believe it did more than just empower us to work better together.
Enigma's belief is that data "can reveal tremendous things about the world." I couldn’t be more excited to help uncover insights that will lead to better decision-making across businesses, governments, and other organizations from Nairobi to New York City — and beyond.