August 28, 2018

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Visakh Madathil ’21 spent his summer in Washington, D.C. as a data science/software engineering intern with the Chief of Technology Officer and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He talked about his experiences for the SMU Tower Center Scholar Spotlight.

Tell us about your internship.
I worked primarily on the data portfolio with the chief data officer. Using Natural Language Processing, we worked on understanding data needs across the department and how data stewards, analysts and other users access the data so we could ultimately make data sharing more efficient, responsible and secure. I worked on building an internal data-sharing system and was involved in web prototyping, technical data architecture, researching ways innovative technologies, such as machine learning and blockchain, could be used in this platform to facilitate data-sharing.

I worked to increase the use of data across different data silos, not just in the Department of Health and Human Services, but also in the healthcare sector in general.

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
One thing that I really realized is that in government especially, but also in any type of issue that we have – most of these things are people-problems. Technology isn’t going to solve all of our issues. Technology is inherently neutral—it’s not good nor is it bad, but it’s very important to understand the human side and the technology side so you can build innovative technologies that can help people and minimize the harm.

So my biggest takeaway is that the human-side is just as important. To understand people, understand their issues, understand the problems people face, is more important than understanding the underlying technologies that you’re using to solve those issues.

Read more at the SMU Tower Center.