How SkyTruth Works: David Kroodsma

SkyTruth isn’t your ordinary organization. Of course, everyone says that, so we thought we’d give you a glimpse into what makes us unique. With a little inspiration from Lifehacker’s “How We Work,” we’ve asked our staff to answer a few insider questions that reflect who we are and what makes us tick. . .

Name: David Kroodsma
Job title: Research Program Manager, Global Fishing Watch
Location (at the moment): Oakland, CA

David came to SkyTruth after cycling 30,000 miles through 28 countries to talk about climate change. He says the hardest part of his journey came after the peddling when he decided to sit down and write a book about it. Today he applies his education in environmental science and physics to keeping the wheels in motion at Global Fishing Watch.

  1. Describe yourself in one to three words.
    Energetic, optimistic
  2. What are you working on this week?
    I am working with our research partners to help move a number of research projects forward. I’m working on the crowdsourcing app that we use to verify different types of fishing boats and identify different types of fishing. I’m also learning how to use Google’s Earth Engine platform which allows us to do global-scale calculations on extremely high resolution data.
  3. Do you have a set routine for your workday?
    I get up at 6:20 am and join the 6:30 am office call. It’s a daily check-in meeting for the development team at SkyTruth to share their priorities and goals for the day. It’s at 9:30 am Eastern Time, but since I’m based on the West Coast, it means I start the day at 6:30 am. I like to join that because it helps me focus for the day and it’s great to stay connected to what is a pretty dispersed team. After the meeting I like to spend some time responding to emails and getting organized for the day. Then I drop my son off at the nanny. After that it varies day to day, but usually I end up having a lot of calls, especially to help coordinate our research team. It’s nice that by the end of my day, a lot of people on the East Coast have stopped working. If I’ve gotten most of my stuff done, I can finish early in the day because I start at 6:30. But usually, that’s a good time to work on projects that don’t require a lot of interactions with other team members. Things like coding or more open ended analytic projects.
  4. Coffee or tea?
    Coffee, anything will do, really, although there’s a Philz coffee very close by.
  5. What does your workspace look like right now?
    DavidK's work space

    David Kroodsma’s Office. Photo credit: David Kroodsma.

  6. What do you consider the most creative part of your job?
    The most creative part is figuring out how to best host a research workshop: what’s the best way to organize a day such that our research partners will get the most out of it and feel the most engaged and want to contribute to the program? There’s kind of an art to setting up a meeting. In some ways that’s the most creative.
  7. What are you most excited about doing at SkyTruth?
    I am most excited about making discoveries that matter. So really what we are doing is getting access to datasets no one has had the chance to analyze before, and we’re trying to say meaningful things with them. It’s about helping interpret this amazing resource of environmental observations and making it useful for people. That’s what really excites me about this work.
  8. What’s been the biggest challenge in your professional life?
    Finding that balance between research and advocacy. I’ve kind of done both in a sense, so it’s just trying to figure where I fit on that spectrum. Because I’ve done some activist-related things, but at heart, I really love science and research. I think that’s why I was originally drawn to this organization. For me it’s the right balance of seeking both truth and change.
  9. What apps are you using to accomplish the work?
    Slack, Chrome and iPython Notebooks.
  10. In your personal life are there any apps or devices you could not live without?
    Strava. It’s an app for tracking your exercise, and mapping your runs or rides.
    Strava screenshot
  11. Of the places in which you’ve lived, or places you’ve visited what would be most interesting viewed from a satellite, and why?
    I swam in the Aral Sea in 2014, and it would be very interesting to watch how that is changing. It used to be the world’s fourth largest lake, but in the last 30 years it has declined in size by over 90 percent due to the overuse of water in Central Asia. It’s now one tenth the size it used to be.

    Satellite imagery of the Aral Sea in 1998 and 2008

    Aral Sea in 1998 and 2008

    We had to drive across the empty lake bed for many, many miles to get to the edge of the water, and it continues to recede every year. As water has drained from the lake the salinity has risen to several times that of seawater, which makes it easy to float.

    Photo of David floating in the Aral Sea

    David challenging the theory of specific gravity in water several times saltier than the ocean. 

  12. What superpower do you bring to the project, even though you don’t like to brag?
    Power napping. I can grab ten minutes or twenty minutes of sleep anywhere.
  13.  If you weren’t at SkyTruth, how would you be changing the world?
    Through making sure my five month old son gets his sleep. That would be world-changing for me.
  14.  What’s inspiring you this today or this week?
    Animated gifs.
    Animated gif of dog hanging head out of car window