Working at yWorks on custom visualization solutions with yFiles. In this project, Sebastian is working on a prototype application for conveniently browsing the network of Covid19-related papers and publications.
What is your professional background?
I'm a software architect and programmer by heart. I am the technical lead at "yWorks - the diagramming experts" where I have been in charge of our software libraries for the visualization of graphs, diagrams, and networks. I've been working in the field of graph visualization for more than 20 years, now, and I still can't get enough of it!
What are you currently doing, what experience do you bring along?
I enjoy creating software architecture and reusable software components. For the CovidGraph project I created a template application that can be reused by others as a foundation to build their own interactive diagramming apps for the web. I started my journey as a professional programmer writing Java code in the late 1990s; after doing a lot of C# programming for desktop applications, I fell in love with web app development. The web is a powerful platform and a perfect fit for this kind of applications.
Do you have a special hobby, passion - what do you like to do most in your free time?
In my spare time, I spend a lot of time with my wife and kids. I used to say we like travelling a lot, but during these pandemic times, we found that cycling and hiking close to our hometown can be really enjoyable, too. Our favorite in-door activity at the moment is doing escape rooms and escape room games. Solving riddles is part of my daily job, and obviously I cannot get enough of this!
Why did you join the project - what motivated you and still inspires you today?
I saw the call for contribution by the White House and I thought that our technology would be a perfect match to help with this. I don't understand much about the contents in the data, but I have seen a great number of knowledge graph applications created by our customers. I wanted to "eat our own dog-food" and create such an application myself, while at the same time doing my part to possibly help researchers around the world fight the pandemic. We are still improving our apps so I hope that more research groups will find it useful. The feedback that we are getting feedback from end-users helps us learn about end-user requirements and improve the application bit by bit.
Have there been any “uh-huh moments” or surprises during the last months (since the project started)?
This project is the first one that I mostly work on my own with a team that I have never met before (there is actually one exception, Claudia!). And for most of the projects I did in the past, I was actually leading them. Working together on a side-project like this as a software developer with others really gave me some interesting insights. I hope this will help me with future projects, too!
What are the challenges of the project for you?
For the covidgraph project, we get our hands on a huge and ever-growing pile of data. What's difficult for me is that I don't really understand the business domain or the questions end-users have when looking at the data. I strongly believe that in order to create perfect user-experiences, we have to cover the use-cases of the end-users. We need to understand what kind of questions they are asking and where the answers to them hide in the data. Only then I can come up with a good user-interface and a great visualization that helps them get their work done and their questions answered, quickly. So the challenge is to find more users that can provide us with valuable feedback. This will allow us to create the most amazing tools and visualizations; and hopefully make a significant contribution in the fight against the pandemic.