Lijuan (Athena) Ning: “Data is beautiful”

10 Dec, 2021

Senior software engineer Athena Ning spends her days immersed in data, completing the detailed and technical work that underpins the data analytics tools delivered by the Centre for Social Data Analytics.

After gaining a deep understanding of agency systems and data, and of the data analytics tool envisioned by researchers and data scientists at CSDA, it is her job to forge a solid connection between the two. The work is a great match for Athena’s deep expertise in programming, database management and data visualisation and her affinity with data, which she describes as ‘beautiful’.

“I am a bit like a bridge between the data scientists at CSDA and their visions of what they would like to build, and our agency partners, with their existing data and systems, which always present unique limitations and opportunities. Bringing a project to life means constantly shuttling between those two elements, until eventually we have a working tool that does the best possible job.”

For the last three years, Athena has played this key role in the development and deployment of a range of CSDA models and tools for child welfare applications, including child welfare screening tools and supervision models. She says working with international research teams to make ambitious projects into a reality and overcoming a range of technical obstacles along the way, has been a highlight.

A long software engineering career, including plenty of time on commercial projects, has given Athena the ability to see commonalities and create a useful ‘frames’ through which she considers new data projects. One of her long-term goals at CSDA is to turn this informal approach into a more general set of frameworks for the standardised and smooth development, deployment, and delivery of data analytics projects.

“Working at CSDA has been a big change from my previous, more commercial, engineering roles,” says Athena. “One thing I really like about this work is being across the data for a project from the very beginning until deployment rather than playing a small and limited role within a massive project! It is also rewarding to be doing work that is all about creating better outcomes for children and communities, with a team of like-minded colleagues.”