PyDev of the Week: Katherine Scott

This week we welcome Katherine Scott (@kscottz) as our PyDev of the Week! Katherine was was the lead developer of the SimpleCV computer vision library and co-author of the SimpleCV O’Reilly Book. You can check out Katherine’s open source projects over on Github. Let’s take a few moments to get to know her better!

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

A quick summary about me:

I am currently the image analytics team lead at Planet Labs. Planet is one of the largest satellite imaging companies in the world and my team helps take Planet’s daily satellite imagery and turn into actionable information. We currently image the entire planet every day at ~3m resolution and not only do I get to see that data, but I also have the resources to apply my computer vision skills to our whole data set. On top of this I get to work stuff in space! It goes without saying that I absolutely love my job. I am also on the board of the Open Source Hardware Association and I help put together the Open Hardware Summit.

Prior to working at Planet i co-founded two success start-up Tempo Automation and SightMachine. Prior to founding those two start-ups I worked at really awesome research and development company called Cybernet Systems. While I was at Cybernet I did computer vision, augmented reality, and robotics research.

I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2005 with dual degrees in computer engineering and electrical engineering. To put myself through school I worked as a research assistant with a couple of really awesome labs where I did research on MEMS neural prosthetics and the RHex Robot (a cousin to the Big Dog robot you may be familiar with). In 2010 I decided to go back to school to get my masters degree at Columbia University. I majored in computer science with a focus on computer vision and robotics. It was at the tail end of grad school that I got bit by the start-up bug and helped start Sight Machine.

My hobbies are currently constrained by my tiny apartment in San Francisco, but I like to build and make stuff (art, hardware, software, etc) in my spare time. I am also really into music so I go to a lot of live shows. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I need to exercise if I want to stay in front of a screen so I like to walk, bike, and do pilates. I am also the owner of three pet rats. I started keeping rats after working with them in the lab during college.

Why did you start using Python?

I was almost exclusively a C/C++/C# user for the first ten years I was an engineer. There was some Lua and Java mixed in here and there but I spent 90% of my time writing C++ from scratch. When I started at SightMachine I switched over to Python to help build a computer vision library called SimpleCV for the company. I fell in love almost immediately. Python allowed me to abstract away a lot of the compiler, linker, and memory management related tasks and focus more on computer vision algorithm development. The sheer volume of scientific and mathematical libraries was also a fantastic resource.

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?
I’ve been a professional engineer now for twelve years so I have basically seen it all and done it all. I’ve done non-trivial projects in C, C++, C#, Java, Javascript and Python and I’ve dabbled using some of the more esoteric languages like lisp, lua, coffee script, and ocaml. Python is my favorite because the “batteries are included.” With so many libraries and packages out there it is like having a super power, if I can dream it up I can code it.

What projects are you working on now?

My job keeps me very busy right now but it is super rewarding as I feel like we are giving everyone on Earth an ability to see the planet in real time. In April Planet released a Kaggle competition that focuses on detecting illegal mining and deforestation in the Amazon. More recently I just wrapped up working on my latest Pycon Talk and putting together the speaker list for Open Hardware Summit. With this stuff out of the way I starting a couple of new projects with some far left activist groups in the Bay Area. We are trying to put together an activist hack-a-thon where we develop tools for Bay Area non-profits. The project I am going to focus on specifically is a tool to systematically mine and analyze the advertising content of hate speech websites in an effort to defund them. These projects are still in the planning stage, but I am hoping to have them up and running by late summer.

Which Python libraries are your favorite (core or 3rd party)?

The whole scientific python community is amazing and I am a huge fan of Project Jupyter. Given my line of work I use OpenCV, Keras, Scikit, Pandas, and Numpy on a daily basis. Now that I am doing GIS work I have been exploring that space quite a bit. Right now I am getting really familiar with GeoPandas, Shapely, GDAL’s python bindings, and libraries the provide interfaces to Open Street Maps just to name a few. I also want to give a big shout out to the Robot Operating System and the Open Source Robotics Foundation.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I have a lot of things I could say but most of them would become a rant. I will say I try to make myself available over the internet, particularly to younger engineers just learning their craft. If you have questions about my field or software engineering in general, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Thanks for doing the interview!