Know This Nerd? Meet Zach Aaberg



Programmer Zach Aaberg is a student of data science, geospacial data, artificial intelligence and healthcare analytics.

He is among hundreds of local freelancers for hire.

What initially sparked your interest in technology?

Classic video games like Duck Hunter, Super Mario, and Sonic were the likely culprits for my initial interest in technology. I also remember having PC games that would occasionally get hung up and I’d go into the game’s files to find a way to make it to the next level.

What was the first programming language you learned?

The first programming language I learned was Python. I built an ArcGIS tool that calculated the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation(RUSLE) so I could estimate the amount of soil that was eroding into local area lakes. The calculation was based on factors like average rainfall, soil type, slope, and others.

I learned how to use other bits of code here and there prior to that
project, but never embraced the opportunity to learn more than the basics.

What do you do now?

I’m a graduate student of Data Science at the University of Saint Thomas. I’m also completing two Graduate Certificates; one in Artificial Intelligence(AI) and another in Healthcare Analytics. I thought it was the ideal way to increase my knowledge and skills at working with big data, software engineering, and AI.

I hold a day job at a geospatial data company in Minnetonka. Here, I’ve worked with advanced technologies like satellite-based remote sensing, cloud systems, and machine learning. I’ve built custom datasets that span entire countries and subsequently, completed a couple of unique projects. One of the most complex tasks was monitoring the Floor Space Index(FSI) over Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for a duration of 6-months. Currently, I’m assisting in the data processing and organizational tasks for an ETL of the company’s central data stores.

How did you develop the skillsets to get to where you are today?

I did a lot of self-learning to get where I am today in programming. Overall, I obtained an undergraduate degree, with a major in Geography and a minor in Geographic Information Systems(GIS), from Saint Cloud State University. Lifelong learning has become a major key to my success in the technology sector.

What tools do you use on a daily basis?

This varies quite drastically from project to project but there are some common threads like Python, GIS tools (ArcGIS or QGIS, PostGIS), PostgreSQL, Docker, Git, and JavaScript. I often use many other tools but you’ll find these in nearly all of my projects.


What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy taking the science that you’d normally only find in research journals and apply it to real world situations. By doing so, we can monitor a city’s growth without ever stepping foot on the same continent or identify illegal fishing to notify the proper authorities without being anywhere near the ocean.

What is your biggest programming pet peeve?

I should probably pick my battles wisely on this one. I’m thinking if you don’t use source control, that would be my biggest pet peeve. If you’re not using something like Git, odds are pretty good that you’re getting on a coworker’s nerves.

Any advice for people considering a career in programming?

The biggest hurdle is starting and it can be intimidating. The best thing to do is jump in and get your hands dirty. A lot of the concepts won’t start to make sense until you see them in action. I would recommend reaching out to the local tech community as well. Minnesota has a great network of people and someone is always willing to help.

Where do you think technology will be as it relates to you in five years?

That’s the big question, right? I think we’ll continue to see embedded sensors in more and more applications. We’ll continue to have growing pains from the effects of incorporating more sensors and analytics into our lives. I see more unintended results coming from the use of big data, much like the intelligence communities’ concern with applications like Strava’s Heatmap.

What was the coolest, but most useless bit of programming you’ve seen lately?

The coolest, but most useless bit of programming that I’ve seen lately might be some of the answers for code golf. It’s interesting to see what people come up with and it’s a fun challenge, but it’s also provides pretty good examples of overly complex code and/or abstract languages.

What are some things you’re into outside of tech?

With so much screen time, getting outdoors is key. I make an annual pilgrimage to go snowboarding in the mountains and I also try to make it out on at least a couple camping trips. Spending time with my dog and girlfriend make the highlight reel, too.