big data | June 27, 2013

Don't Play It Safe: Big Data Speaker Jer Thorp On Starting Your Career

Jer Thorp didn't get to where he is today by playing it safe. The big data speaker and National Geographic Emerging Explorer carved his own path and took chances along the way. “It all started out of an act of rebellion,” Thorp says in National Geographic of how he started his career visualizing data. He was formerly the data artist in residence at The New York Times and is now pouring over data at The Office for Creative Research, which he co-created. Part of working in the big data industry means accepting failure, he explains. Because “if we all just do safe things all the time, we’re going to succeed a lot more but those successes aren’t going to be as interesting,” he argues.

In the National Geographic profile piece, Thorp recalls how he became a data artist and shares advice for others looking to break into the field. What does he suggest? First of all, he says drawing is a powerful tool for making sense of complex data. And further, you should continuously be thinking of new questions—even when you think you've arrived at an answer. Finally, he urges you to "understand that this fake boundary that we’ve erected between the sciences and the arts doesn’t need to be there." The two disciplines are intertwined—and those who succeed can harness the potential from each. In his talks, Thorp shares some of the stunning data visualizations he has constructed. He explains why mapping big data matters, and how it can help us to better understand who we are as people.