This GitHub engineer built a free project that helps people easily see how fast coronavirus cases are spreading, and researchers and doctors are already finding it useful
- GitHub staff machine learning engineer Hamel Husain built an open source project called the COVID-19 Dashboards, which shares up-to-date graphs about coronavirus cases worldwide.
- Now, GitHub is maintaining the project as it's grown in popularity among data scientists, medical researchers, doctors, and epidemiologists.
- Husain work with the artificial intelligence organization fasti.ai to build this project, and he says many people have also contributed code and suggestions to improve the project.
- Husain says that the coronavirus pandemic hasn't affected his working style at GitHub because it's a remote-first company.
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With coronavirus news breaking around the clock, GitHub machine learning engineer Hamel Husain says it can be difficult to find out the latest infection counts.
That's why he decided to build a dashboard to make it easy for people to track the number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. In about two days, he got the database up and running.
This project, simply called the COVID-19 Dashboards, shares real-time information and graphs about coronavirus, such as how many cases of infection there are worldwide and comparing growth rates in different countries. It's also open source, meaning it's free for anyone to use, examine the code, and modify.
People can also contribute code and suggestions to improve the project, as well as submit corrections.
"It's helpful for people to see how the visualizations are made, where the data is being sourced from and how it's being used," Husain told Business Insider. "People have told us time and time again it's useful."
Since Husain launched the project earlier this month, it has grown in popularity. And although Husain started these dashboards as a side project, he says GitHub, which is now owned by Microsoft and is the center for much of open source software development, has supported him in building it. Originally Husain himself was maintaining the project, but now GitHub will be doing so as well to support information efforts about coronavirus.
Husain says so far, he has seen positive reception, not only from data scientists like himself, but also medical researchers, doctors, and epidemiologists.
"We've seen people contribute and people fixing mistakes," Husain said. "It's a new way of sharing information with the border public and the community."
'I hope it illuminates how easily people can share information'
Husain says that with other dashboards he's seen online or on news sites, it can be difficult to see where the data comes from and what the assumptions are. In addition, people may find it difficult to submit corrections and suggestions.
"As a data scientist and researcher, it's kind of hard to share information in an accessible way," Husain said. "I wanted to make something that makes it easy to collaborate on the sharing of information, especially visual information."
While building these dashboards, Husain reached out to other data scientists he knew to help with building it, and it took off from there.
For example, Husain partnered with fast.ai, an organization that does research and builds tools in AI, to build this project. It created fastpages, which is responsible for making the dashboards update quickly and consistently. It also allowed him to build the project faster - Husain only put together the dashboards in about two days.
The dashboards also update every hour thanks to data from John Hopkins University and GitHub Actions, a feature in GitHub that allows users to build, share and execute code directly on the site.
"I know it sounds like a miracle but it really wasn't because we already built fastpages before this," Husain said. "It basically rescued that."
In addition, as more people worldwide are being required to work from home, this project being open source makes it completely possible for many people to work on remotely.
Husain says the coronavirus crisis has not changed his own working style because GitHub is a remote-first company. Although GitHub has an office in San Francisco, much of the company works remotely.
"Specifically at GitHub we're sort of built to handle it," Husain said. "It's kind of business as usual in terms of working from home because it's something we're more used to."
Now, the dashboard is a stable site, so Husain is just focused on maintaining the project. In other words, he manages people's code contributions and suggestions.
He hopes the project will be useful in sharing information about coronavirus. But most importantly, he hopes it shows the power of collaboration.
"I hope it illuminates how easily people can share information," Husain said. "That's what I hope people can take away from it and see it as a way to communicate in a very open way."
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