Machiko Yasuda: “You’d be surprised how much spatial thinking is involved in something as basic as selling and shipping things”

Machiko Yasuda
Machiko Yasuda
Machiko Yasuda (machiko.co) is a journalist-turned-web developer, who especially likes writing Ruby.

She loves to teach and organize. She has taught bike safety, web development at General Assembly and coached at Rails Girls. She helps organize a pair programming meetup and Maptime LA. Outside of work, she likes rock climbing and is currently obsessed with learning about alignment and Nutritious Movement.

Q: Where do you work and what do you do there?

A: I currently work in Los Angeles at the Reformation, an eco-friendly women’s fashion company. Reformation makes “clothes that don’t kill the environment”, and I make apps that help the in-house team and factory design, manufacture, and ship clothes around the world.

Q: How did you get attracted to mapping?

A: When I was little, I onced asked my parents for an e-mail address and my own domain for my birthday. I always wanted to “work for a big website” but didn’t know how. I chose colleges by comparing how professional their daily newspapers looked, and immediately joined the Daily Bruin at UCLA to work on their site. We mapped local crime data from the police logs, but that was about it.

I always wanted to get more into web mapping, but without a geography degree or an ArcGIS license I felt like I had no options. In 2010 though, at my first full-time job out of college at a daily local paper, I learned about Google Fusion Tables and that really changed my life. I found myself mapping census data with Google Fusion Tables, even converting latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and seconds from the National Park Service into decimals in Excel — because I didn’t know any other way. That’s how I got into mapping and code.

I couldn’t answer this question without a shout out to all those early tutorials and open-source tools I first used: Google Fusion Tables tutorials from John Keefe at WNYC: http://johnkeefe.net/,  SHPEscape for converting data formats: http://shpescape.com/  and http://colorbrewer2.org/ for colors.

Q: You are one of the co-organizers of MaptimeLA. Tell us how and why that happened, and what keeps you going back.

A:  After I got my first apprenticeship at a software start-up, I heard about the original Maptime in the Bay Area. I had met many developers through the local tech meetups, but not many interested in GIS and maps. I wondered, out loud, on Twitter, whether LA could start a Maptime. A few months later, Alan from MaptimeHQ contacted me with others who were also interested. Voila! That’s how MaptimeLA started.

MaptimeLA grew out of a handful of local map enthusiasts from all sorts of industries — architecture, software, transportation, environment, consulting, local government, social justice, to name a few — and we all have a love, a rather nerdy sort of love, for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a vast, often confusing, sometimes intimidating, mysterious place. Mapping and meeting people from other corners of LA are two ways to explore this city, and that’s what I think brings people back to Maptime here.

You can see through the maps we make at MaptimeLA, whether it’s maps of historic restaurants or food banks, that everyone’s trying to visualize their appreciation for LA and share it with others.

Mapillary's Johan explains the workings behind the app to MaptimeLA at Opodz
Mapillary’s Johan explains the workings behind the app to MaptimeLA at Opodz

Q: You are representative of a new generation of software engineers for whom GIS / spatial / mapping is just one of many tools in their arsenal. Will a GIS / mapping skillset be to the office worker of the future what typing is to the office worker of today? Or is it already?

A: I work in e-commerce and tech, and you’d be surprised how much “spatial thinking” is involved in something as basic as selling and shipping things. Whether it’s querying addresses and calculating distances, visually displaying geographic information, or estimating employees’ commute times, offices have a lot of “spatial needs”, as Ken Jennings calls it in his must-read book on different kinds of mapping nerds, “Maphead”.

In Ellen Ullman’s 1997 book, “Closer to the Machine”, she talks about how graphical user interfaces of the Internet and in particular, spreadsheet software, embolden users by being able to bring shape to data. (http://cwinters.com/2015/02/28/spreadsheets.html) (http://www.ftrain.com/ullman_machine.html) The 2000s equivalent, I believe, are open source mapping tools.

Q: Along the same lines, you are representative of a new generation of software engineers who “do GIS” outside of the Esri ecosystem. What do you think about open source? Is open source the future of computing?

A: I wouldn’t have been able to learn GIS without open source software and tutorials — starting with Google Fusion Tables, QGIS, GDAL, ogr2ogr, Leaflet, Mapbox, and more. I already see a lot of friends in small non-profits using free tiers of Google Maps and Google Fusion Tables to create maps for their own without much coding necessary. The abilities to gather data, map boundaries, layer data and publish it are the new spreadsheets.

The more we can build mapping tools like OpenStreetMaps to involve as many new people as possible, the better for everyone.

I remember when I first moved to a new neighborhood two years ago, I noticed that on Apple Maps, my neighborhood was spelled incorrectly. “Del Rey” was spelled “Del Ray” everywhere. “Del Ray Blvd.”, “Marina Del Ray Elementary,” and “Del Ray” as the neighborhood. At the time, I did not know anything about OpenStreetMap, but was still able to somehow easily log in and request a spelling change. And now it’s fixed: https://www.openstreetmap.org/changeset/21637352#map=16/33.9866/-118.4249

Everyone these days knows about Wikipedia, but not very many of even the computer-heads know about or use OpenStreetMap. I hope Maptime can change this.

Q: In his infamous rant about cloud computing, Oracle’s Larry Ellison says: “The computer industry is the only industry that’s more fashion-driven than women’s fashion.” Do you agree? Why / why not?

A: Agreed. In the computer industry there’s an even higher level of pretentiousness that comes with all the hardware and software choices you have to make: Mac vs. Windows, vim vs. something else, mechanical keyboards vs. everything else, and in GIS, Esri vs. everything else. I’ve found that at Maptime especially, that attitude drives people away and we try not to do that by making sure our tutorials and workshops cover as many operating systems and libraries.

Q: What is the normcore of GIS?

A: I don’t know how to answer this! Maybe Google Maps? It’s so ubiquitous, at least for us in developed areas. It’s plain, it’s unpretentious, it’s basic.

Q: As befitting to a geohipster, you cycle. Tell us why you do it.

A: Unlike most Angelenos, I didn’t get a car and a driver license at 16. I didn’t drive for all of college at UCLA and used a bike instead. As an especially unathletic, non-active, map-obsessed and tree-hugging child, biking was perfect for me. I got a scholarship to become a bike-safety instructor — where I got interested in hands-on teaching as a form of advocacy.

Q: On closing, any final thoughts for the GeoHipster crowd?

A: Cheers to another year of much mapping!

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