In this employee spotlight, we sit down with Humphrey Obuobi, product manager at Recidiviz. From his food obsession to his perspective on designing technology for positive human impact, get to know our fantastic teammate through this quick Q&A.
Coffee or tea?
I’m a tea person, for sure. I have a specific routine:
I steep each kind for the recommended amount of time, and I drink it straight – no milk, sugar or honey.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
I’m still pretty young, but I often remind myself to listen to my authentic self. One of the most important things to do is think about what’s true to you, and not just fall in line with what others expect of you.
And the second thing is…spend more time with my parents.
Tell us about what you do at Recidiviz.
I’m a product manager whose main job is guiding our public data efforts and making data within the criminal justice system available, accessible, and insightful for communities and policymakers.
I lead our work on Justice Counts, a federally funded initiative to make more data available nationwide.
I also lead our work on Spotlight, our public dashboard tool. North Dakota was interested in deploying a dashboard that would give the public a solid understanding of prison, parole, and probation data, and highlight racial disparities in their system. Since we’ve unveiled Spotlight, Pennsylvania also launched a public dashboard and we’re working to bring these kinds of readily available insights to more states.
What person, event, experience, or values have most shaped your desire to improve the criminal justice system?
As a product manager in the public sector, I believe that any system that interacts with people – whether defined by technology or policy – should be built to maximize positive impact on those people and their communities. That requires building the correct incentives, values, and levers to produce those outcomes reliably.
The unifying theme of my work is supporting a more robust and equitable democracy, and addressing the failures of our criminal justice system is core to my personal mission. I’ve learned a lot (and seen a lot of progress) in the past few years. Still, it’s evident that the criminal justice system in our country consistently fails to produce positive outcomes and disenfranchises already vulnerable folks, especially Black and brown people, in the process. When that’s the case, I don’t know how we can expect to create a society that genuinely works for everyone. But I am hopeful we can prioritize compassion and fairness for all and we can thoughtfully design systems that cement those values.
I believe our work at Recidiviz reveals areas of the criminal justice system that need repair and highlights opportunities to strengthen our communities and ensure equal opportunity.
What’s a highlight or two from your work at Recidiviz so far?
Justice Counts is a project that immediately stands out for me. The federal government funds it with the very ambitious goal of having every criminal justice agency in the US report specific metrics around elements like prison and probation admissions, probation revocation, etc.
For us, that meant starting with a data scan of every prison and supervision system in the country to understand what data they were reporting and at what frequency. We had to identify all these sources and collect fragmented data from online dashboards, Excel spreadsheets, and even PDFs. But ultimately, we were able to gather it all and create a novel, web-based application to display and make it usable across all 50 states. Developing this public resource was a big win in ensuring criminal justice data is available to anyone, and it laid the groundwork for much of the work we’re doing now to expand data accessibility to every sector of the criminal justice system.
What’s something we don’t know about you?
I used to document every bowl of ramen I ate, down to detailed ratings by noodles, broth, toppings…I could go on but I’ll stop there. I ate 30 unique bowls of ramen in 2019.
Last show you binged?
Never Have I Ever! It’s a silly Netflix drama about an Indian-American high school student dealing with the sudden death of her father and learning about herself in the process.
A book that changed you?
Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre. It’s an MIT Essential Knowledge Series book about the post-truth era, examining the plight of misinformation in modern society and its profound connection to the loss of trust in social and civic institutions. McIntyre goes deep into the role of technology (social media, SEO, etc.) in eroding trust. Thinking about technology’s role in supporting a healthy and well-functioning democracy ultimately became my motivating factor for doing this work.
If you could eat one food exclusively forever, what would it be?
No surprises here: ramen! Specifically, a great bowl of tonkotsu.
Would you like to join the Recidiviz team? Check out our current job opportunities.