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Alumni Interview: Varun Adibhatla

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Varun_AdibhatlaInterviewPicVarun is a CUSP graduate from the Class of 2015. He is also a co-founder of ARGO (Advanced Research in Government Operations) Labs, which has recently achieved LLC status. Varun took some time to share the experience of studying at CUSP, and the work done here, for Urban Science and Informatics.

Go back to your first week at CUSP – what excited you the most about joining the program?
Applying my experiences in data and technology to real city problems.

Which course made the biggest impact on you during your time as a CUSP student?
Urban Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

Which skill acquired during your time at CUSP has proved most valuable in the workplace?
A hard skill, Geographic Information System. I didn’t know much about it before, but I’ve had to get to grips with it and own it. As a soft skill, being OK with messiness because perfection and nice results don’t always happen

Where was your favorite place in New York City for study breaks?
Pierrepont Plaza, or the 5th floor of NYU’s Bobst Library (the Data Services are a really good resource, with people around to help you).

Change comes in many shapes and sizes — how are you changing the world after CUSP?
As one of the three founders that started ARGO Labs, my world has been busy! ARGO has recently become an LLC, and we work towards rapid prototyping for solving city problems. Currently, we have 3 projects: SCUBA, a Californian water usage data project aimed at water conservation; Learnr, an education volunteerism app; and our ‘flagship’ product, SQUID, a street surface quality data collection and imaging device. And we are still working with CUSP, working with Julia Lane to put together the Data Facility.

What did you wish people knew about NYC? Have you gained any unique perspectives on NYC?
The fact that there are people who run this city every day. There are so many city workers, and the fact that we don’t necessarily feel it all the time is important. It’s a thankless job.

Favorite current city project?
The Municipal Data Network is meant to bring together Data Officers to discuss and share standards for data.

New York’s biggest challenge?
Better preparing the government for a digital century.

Where was the best place to think during your time at CUSP?
Borough hall. I pretty much have my breakfast sandwich there every day. It’s like being in the shadow of the city agency. It’s where people gather and where many problems surface as well.

Favorite piece of data science wisdom?
If it doesn’t work, keep hacking.

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