NCDC Insider: Meet Scientific Programmer, Phil Jones
With vast amounts of data coming into NCDC on a regular basis, the Center has an entire team dedicated to ensuring those data are accurately archived and follow certain standards for long-term preservation, and Scientific Programmer, Phil Jones, a contractor with STG Inc., is a member of that team of digital archive and metadata specialists. On a daily basis, Phil works closely with NCDC’s data providers along with the Center’s ingest and archive team members to ensure that all of the data, including those from NOAA satellite programs, land-based stations, computer models, and aircraft, are properly archived.
Part of Phil’s job is to ensure that the datasets are understandable and usable “independent of producer assistance,” in other words, without any help from the folks who created them. To accomplish this, Phil reviews datasets while they are in development and ensures that they comply with a specific set of standards before production and submission to the archive. Phil also works with the data providers to define project requirements and develop data submission agreements, negotiating the technical specifications of the data transfer and management at NCDC. These agreements identify the datasets and their supporting information, such as documentation and computer code, which the provider submits. They also help establish an operational baseline for archiving the data at NCDC. In order to formally catalog the archived data, he develops and maintains documentation based on international standards.
Phil is currently working on several projects involving new data archives, metadata (or information about data), and process improvement. One particular project he is working on involves collaborating with the two other NOAA data centers and the Technology, Planning, and Integration for Observation team to issue Digital Object Identifiers or DOIs for several datasets. These persistent identifiers will provide a way for users to uniquely and reliably reference NCDC datasets. Working with the team, Phil has already helped ensure a few DOIs have been minted for the Center’s datasets and many more are on the way. The work Phil and the archive team are doing is improving the quality of NCDC’s data archive both now and well into the future.
So, how did Phil get interested in all things data? “It’s been a journey with a career that seemed to find me instead of me looking for it,” said Phil. He first received a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology with a minor in mathematics from the University of South Alabama. As his interest in environmental science grew, he continued into graduate school, obtaining a Master of Science in atmospheric science from University of Alabama in Huntsville. While obtaining his graduate degree, Phil spent a lot of time looking for and working with data in non-standard formats from various sources for his research. “This challenging experience using various scientific datasets gave me a key user perspective and still drives me to help meet the needs of NCDC’s end users,” said Phil.
Outside of his career, Phil is married to a talented writer, and together they have two daughters. He spends most of his free time just keeping up with his girls and the family’s playful border collie, Lucy. Phil also enjoys getting outside with his family, cycling, hiking, fly fishing, taking photographs, observing the night sky, or engaging in any other fun activities he can find in the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Asheville, North Carolina.
Stay tuned for the next edition of NCDC Insider to meet more of the Center’s dedicated staff.