Kona Farry is a self-described transit geek and student at the University of Washington who set out to solve a simple problem. In his words, he “just wanted to see all the buses on a map … and got a little carried away.”
Farry didn’t have experience coding but he didn’t let that stop him from developing the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker, an interactive map of the Seattle region’s buses, trains, ferries, and other modes of public transportation. He used publicly available data and mapping tools to create the tracker.
Thanks to media coverage, the map has been getting a lot more attention than your average school project. The site has had tens of thousands of visitors since launching March 25.
“I built this with more of a geeky audience in mind, so to see this widespread level of interest has been incredible,” Farry said. “I’ve heard from riders, transit employees (ranging from planners to mechanics to operations managers), and all kinds of others that have found a use for the site.”
Farry is a junior at UW studying Community, Environment, and Planning. He also works as an AV technician and event assistant for the Parks and Rec department in his hometown, Marysville, Wash.
“When I’m not working on my website or homework, I also enjoy specialty coffee, podcasts, and taking rides on new bus routes,” he said.
We caught up with Farry for this Geek of the Week, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for our Q&A.
What do you do, and why do you do it? In an effort to learn more about transit data and scheduling, I recently developed a live map of almost every bus, train, streetcar, and ferry for eight agencies in greater Puget Sound, which I call the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker. I also went into it with almost no serious coding experience, so I’ve learned a lot along the way! While it started as a personal project, it quickly became something oriented towards transit geeks who want to see lots of data at once. Since then, I’ve realized its potential as something everyone can benefit from when taking transit: It can be helpful to see things like what buses are around you, where buses are getting stuck, and how the system overall is doing right now.
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Compared to cars, mass transit is cheaper, more sustainable, and can get more people to their destination faster. However in Seattle, half of commuters get to downtown via transit, but enjoy only a fraction of dedicated land use. To keep our earth a safe place to live and to keep people moving, we need to reduce car dependency and increase transit utilization. The first step is making real investments to infrastructure to reduce dependency on cars.
Where do you find your inspiration? I just love to learn and to make the world a better place to be in. I know, it’s cheesy, but we all have to live together — it’s best if we all try to make the human experience as enjoyable as we can.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? I almost hate to say it, but my phone is just so integrated in my day-to-day life. Whether it’s keeping in touch professionally or socially, listening to music and podcasts, or figuring out what bus to get on, phones have become an important connection. I prefaced this the way I did, though, because this connection has plenty of downsides, and it’s important for one to manage their relationship with technology that’s always on them.
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I like to work in a lot of different places. Coffee shops, libraries, empty classrooms. My desk is usually just full of clutter. Here’s a photo from Gould Hall at UW, where my major is housed.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I’m not going to claim I’m good at this, but life is all about priorities. Always take care of things that are urgent and important, then prioritize according to relative urgency and importance. Be critical when making this evaluation — you’ll often find that something that appears important really isn’t. And don’t forget that making time for yourself or your social life is important!
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac, no question.
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Rey.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Definitely a time machine, I never have enough time in my day.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would: This is tough, but I’d probably put it towards one of two things according to my main interests: One, improving suburban mobility. There’s a lot of focus on getting around in cities, with things like public transit and the recent privately-operated bike and scooter shares. Suburbs, being sprawled out, are harder to serve by these modes, so we need to find different solutions. This may include services that make real-time transit data more accessible or two, redesigning public education to be more student-centered. This means removing focus on standardized testing and grades in favor of encouraging learning and growth. Classrooms shouldn’t be places with power hierarchies, and schools shouldn’t be places that anyone has to fear.
I once waited in line for: The grand re-opening of the Bellevue Square Apple Store, back when they still gave out T-shirts. (It doesn’t fit).
Your role models: I’ve always found this to be a tough question. Today, the people closest to me that inspire much of what I do and believe include everyone in my student-centered education group, my peers in my major, my closest friends, and of course, family. Beyond people I know personally, I also look up to Jane Jacobs, Buzz Aldrin, and Simon Sinek.
Best gadget ever: I love the versatility of my iPad Pro. It can’t do everything, but it certainly fills a lot of needs I have, which is pretty incredible for a piece of glass and metal.
First computer: An HP running Windows ME, circa 2009, which was donated to me by a teacher to encourage my interest in technology.
Current phone: iPhone X.
Favorite app: Tweetbot.
Favorite cause: Democratizing education.
Most important technology of 2019: It’s looking like this will be the year of streaming media services. Any Upstream listeners out there?
Most important technology of 2021: Hopefully, something climate-related. We certainly need that, yesterday.
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Knowing how to learn is the greatest skill you can have. It’s important to have a goal in mind with a plan to get there, to be working constantly towards it, and to not be afraid to change your goal or path if you need to. However, it’s essential that you know how to learn to be able to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances, regardless of whether this change is chosen by you. The best way to learn how to learn is to never stop learning!
LinkedIn: Kona Farry