The Inquisitive Anthropologist

by Astrid Willis Countee

Software Developer. Social Scientist. Innovator.

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2016 Level Up List

Its that time again and I have my own list of resolutions. Last year I only wanted to stick to reading, and created a reading list. The problem is that I didn’t do so well. I read a few books, but nothing to be impressed by. Which is pretty pathetic, so this year I decided to be more determined and detailed.

I will resolve that reading list issue, and add to it some new resolutions:

1. Write every day

I have already started doing this one and I have to say that I am seeing a big improvement. Not so much in my writing, cause its not like I am editing it, but more so in my thoughts. Writing helps to clarify what it is that you want to say. A good reason to pick up a writing habit if I ever heard one.

2. Code every day

And by this I don’t mean what I do at work. I have found that even though my learning curve is steep I still need to find the time to practice. I started this one

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Raising the Barre


I am on Christmas break. Just saying that feels like a luxury after a year of constant working and more work and more work. But I have had some victories.

I became a freelancer with regular clients. I started working as a full time software developer, first in QA and now in DevOps. I started my second masters, interdisciplinary in computer science and math, and got a 4.0 this semester. I joined a startup as a co-founder. I got my thesis published into a book and started a blog for it. So naturally I am ready for my next challenge ( not to say that I have mastered what was already listed).

Since I am on a break, I have had a chance to do a bit of reading, for pleasure. I choose, Raising The Barre by Lauren Kessler because I have a dream that somewhere inside of me lives and artist that will come out if I just keep reading about it. I approached this book as a light read, and a

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Over the last few months I have been obsessed with stories.

Not because I am looking for a good way to be entertained, but because I am looking. Yes looking. Looking for snippets in the lives of others who have grown themselves beyond the usual. I want to be one of them.

This has been a long time coming for me. I have never exactly fit into one place or another and I often seem to go against the crowd. Like being a anthropologist who needs to learn to code. Or, learning to code and landing that coveted full time paying job, and needing to become a computer scientist because learning to code is just not enough. I have a thirst for knowledge yes, but truth be told my real hunger is for reinvention.

I feel compelled to push myself further in order to become a higher version of myself.

So I listen to stories of others who go beyond the norm. And like a good researcher, I noticed

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Annie Malone

Because I love listening to podcasts I periodically hunt out a new and interesting one to add to my collection.

This week I decided to try out Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour partly cause the latest episode was on work. As a woman trying to find my place in the world, I tend to focus on discussions about careers for guidance. In the Lena’s Corner section of the show, she highlighted a female entrepreneur that I had never heard of, but bears repeating her story named Annie Malone.

Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone was an American Businesswoman and Philanthropist that lived from August 9, 1869 – May 10, 1957. She was the 10th of 11 children born to escaped slaves in southern Illinois. Annie was orphaned at a young age, and was subsequently raised by her older sister in Peoria. In high school, she excelled at Chemistry, but never got to finish because of frequent illness.

Her fascination

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What Matters


This week of thanksgiving has been for me a much needed break and a chance to spend long overdue time with family. It has also given me the chance to think. The past few years have been like a whirlwind for me, and in many ways I am still trying to catch up.

Taking time to access yourself, for yourself, is important and should be done from time to time.

As a person who often feels alone in my path, a periodic reflection is my only touchstone. This reflection usually revolves around life and career and this week was no different. What kind of life do I want? and what kind of career do I want? I am much more aligned with my ultimate goal now than any other time I can think of. But, I keep asking myself these questions in order to give myself a guiding post to watch in the distance.

Being a junior dev, in many ways, opens up more questions than I had a year ago. Last year I wanted

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What’s Data got to do with it?


I love me some data.

I can’t seem to help it. Maybe it’s all those years working in a data company. It could be that statistics was one of my favorite classes (nerd, I know). It might have something to do with Data science being the sexist job of the 21st century. Although I really think its more like this.

But mostly I think its just so much fun to play with.

Which is why I feel that I spend so much time trying to convince people that they can and should learn more about data. Especially, since there are so many people who are working with it anyway. I recently wrote an article about Data and Anthropology, to make other anthropologists aware of their close relationship to data science. As a former data and business analyst, I have seen the great influence that understanding and analyzing data can have on the bottom line, and your career.

Wanting to be a better data analyst

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Being a junior developer is awesome, amazing, and scary at the same time. I often say that I feel like Harry Potter.

At Hogwarts, (a.k.a. your job) you are just a little wizard.

You can’t cast spells properly, you fall of your broom. Just when you think that you finally got it, there is a puff of smoke instead the awesomeness that you thought you were creating. But…

When around the muggles, you are a LITTLE WIZARD!

You can see the world through code like you are in the matrix. You actually understand why that button on their site isn’t working, and can fix it. You might hold the secret keys to the internet.

The dichotomy of this experience can give you whiplash.

But in addition to that, it can be quite uncomfortable. Because in one part of your world you are amazing, a genius, inspiring. But in the other part, you are coming up short, taking too long, asking too many

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Today is my 1 year anniversary of becoming a programmer.

After 1 year, I can say that I have learned so much…and have much left to learn. But this is a celebration, so I will reflect on how far I have come. Since this is also this blogs anniversary, I think it would be best to demonstrate my growth through words.

Words I didn’t know 1 year ago

  • git/github
  • devops
  • font awesome
  • travis ci
  • terminal
  • aws
  • ecma
  • asset pipeline
  • DHH
  • nginx
  • bash
  • heroku

Words that I thought I knew, but really didn’t

  • rails
  • ruby
  • javascript
  • programmer
  • software engineering
  • client
  • service
  • api
  • check-in
  • pair programming
  • python
  • scripting

Words that I did know, but took on a whole new meaning

  • problem solving
  • easy
  • hard
  • programming
  • engineer
  • hacker
  • geek
  • code
  • teamwork
  • sleepless
  • perseverance
  • impostor
  • teacher
  • maker
  • writer
  • curl
  • gem
  • migration

This is a small sample, but a good representation of how far I am from

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What Does it Mean to be T-Shaped?

In a world where career, job and purpose are interchanged as we go from position to position, it can be hard to describe who you are in 2 pages or less. I have a little experience with this problem, and I am not alone.

As a member of the millennial generation, I have come to accept that I will not have the same job–or even the same career for more than 5 years. This also means that I can’t rely on a job title, or particular industry to define my career and what I offer.

So how should you aggregate your experience and skills into a cohesive offering?

This is where the concept of being T Shaped comes in. In general, you want to have a depth of skills, and also a breadth of skills (hence the T shape). Thinking of your skills this way can help provide a guidepost to how you present yourself, and what skills you would like to deepen or broaden in the future.


Seems like a lot

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Computer & Social Science: A Love Story


I am often amazed at the shock that an anthropologist is also a web developer. I get questions like this often,

“Why did you make the the change?”
“Wow that is so different?”
“Why would you want to be an anthropologist? Software Developer? (take your pick)”

What I don’t get is, why does everyone think it so different?

Its really not. In fact, I would say that the two disciplines need each other. The minute computers start interfacing with humans, computer science and social science collide. Actually, it is way before that. As long as there are people that design and build the hardware, and design and build the software, there is a human element. In the scope of history, computing is yet another tool that humans have used to extend themselves in the world. There is a whole theory behind it. The short version goes:

Human makes hammer to be an extension of arm and force.

Human makes

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