PJMF Spotlight: Data Solutions Architect Hazem Mahmoud
Hazem Mahmoud has had a passion for technology and engineering since childhood, an interest cultivated by his father, also an engineer with several patents under his belt. Whether it was actively participating in his high school’s astronomy club or helping the rocket club build the ignition system to launch the school’s model rocket, he always looked for opportunities to learn and feed his technical interests.
In the electrical engineering program at the University of Michigan, he was able to take his passion for technology and engineering from the rocket building explorations of his childhood to a new level. In college, advanced probability and statistics, linear algebra, programming, and circuit design are some of the courses he studied to help take him deeper and gave him the foundation to explore further realms.
Shortly after graduating, Mahmoud spent a few years in the finance industry working in various DevOps and systems administration roles. The Minnesota cold proved too much however, and Mahmoud and his family decided to move to California in 2006. From there, he spent a few more years working in the advertising industry, where he got his first exposure to big data. Recognizing the power of big data, in 2014, he joined Cloudera – one of the leaders in big data technologies at the time – to pursue a deeper career in data and data analytics. Through his job roles as a support engineer and later as a solutions architect, he was exposed to some of the most complex uses of data that the company’s customers were involved in, while working side-by-side with some of the leading experts in the big data ecosystem.
The opportunity allowed Hazem to explore the possibilities and responsibilities that data and data analytics can have on our society – ideas that guide his work today as a data solutions architect on the Data and Society team at the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.
“Data, like technology, can be used as a means to better humanity, further equity and justice,” Mahmoud said, “but if not used responsibly it can cause harm. We are making sure that organizations doing good in the world can use these powerful tools to support their work.”
These ideas were foremost for Mahmoud when, in 2018, he decided to take his skills into the philanthropic sector, joining the newly formed Cloudera Foundation, which would enable him to use his technical skills and expertise to advance causes important to humanity and our planet. In 2021, the Cloudera Foundation merged with the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, an initiative that will enable the nonprofit sector to leverage the transformative potential of data science and AI for impact through direct technical services provided by Mahmoud and his colleagues at the Data and Society technical team.
In his role, Mahmoud helps non-profit organizations with their data strategies and challenges. He works closely with the Foundation grantees to ensure that they are able to navigate the technical challenges they encounter on their data platforms. Assisting with building data pipelines, best practices for deploying production environments, and cloud infrastructure management are some of the areas that he advises grantees on.
For Mahmoud, the greatest reward comes from working with the Foundation grant partners on some of the most interesting data use cases in the social sector. For instance, one grant partner, Mapping for Environmental Justice (MEJ), is using satellite imagery to create the first dataset of factory farms in the American Southwest. “They’re looking at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) using satellite imagery, to see where these operations are located so they can ask more questions about their impact on water contamination and the health of people living in nearby towns,” Mahmoud said.
In his free time, Mahmoud is an amateur homesteader who breeds lambs and chickens on his 2.5 acre farm in San Jose. As such, the work MEJ is performing personally resonates with him.
Many nonprofits face the same data challenges, and Mahmoud and his colleagues are working on how those obstacles can be overcome. The team is also building ways to capture and share the learnings with the nonprofit community.
“As we develop the use of data for good, we have to encourage others to do the same,” he says. “We have to keep pushing the boundaries of what can be done.”