Cathy Richards, Co-founder of Pueblo CoLab
“Stay open — to new ideas, friendships, opportunities, and conversations.”
Meet Cathy Richards. Cathy describes herself as a technology translator who is most comfortable finding synergies between data, technology and humanity, and how they can make each other better. She has been a data analyst for GitLab, is the co-founder of Pueblo CoLab – a collaborative which provides technology advisory services to social good orgs — and volunteers for Data for Democracy. Cathy has enjoyed working on a range of projects across the world, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Kenya, Zimbabwe, India and South Africa. She (obviously) enjoys travel, salsa dancing – with a partner at her skill level – hiking, and capoeira. You can reach Cathy via email , Slack, and follow her on Twitter.
What Does She Do?
“I find solutions. You’ll usually see me by the printer playing with Python or R.”
Cathy’s self-description has been evolving of late. “I was just talking with (Civic Hall member) Taylor Ourete and her frame of “technology advisor” really made sense to me. Consultants would ask me to explain terms like “API.” I understand the tech and can translate it to non-tech folks. After I explained blockchain to Dad, I thought, “This might be my thing.”’
Since Cathy has returned to Civic Hall she has been collaborating with a number of members. With Ray Shah of ThinkDesign, she is working on a new website for City Tech. She’s also working on a project based on an international literature dataset.
How Did She Get Into This Work?
“I was born in Costa Rica. We came over when I was 7 years old, arriving one Sunday at 11:30 p.m. at JFK. At 7:30 a.m. the next morning I found myself at school. I hated every moment of that first day. I cried because I didn’t know the language.”
While Cathy’s now been here for over twenty-five years — and was naturalized at seventeen — Costa Rica looms large in her telling. Seventy years ago, following a bloody Civil War, the country de-militarized, re-allocating those monies towards health, fighting poverty and, especially, education. Today, the country consistently scores high on the Global Peace Index, as well as the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. Within Costa Rica is one of the world’s “Blue Zones” — one of the five hot spots known for extreme health and centennial life expectancies.
Costa Rica’s ethos has defined Cathy: “I come from privilege; this peaceful country. Mom has always been a caretaker. I got my love of people from her. Dad was a traveling salesman and a history buff. I got my knowledge of the world from him.”
Cathy has two much older siblings. Every weekend during her pre-adolescence her brother Rafael brought home an Apple iie. Instead of declaring it off-limits to her, he invited her to the monitor. Cathy’s first memory was of creating a portrait of Garfield’s Odie with a paint program. “He lugged that thing home; so I credit him. It was never, “you’re a girl, so…” In fact, all three siblings were quite strong in math.
At Boston University, Cathy initially studied biochemical engineering, but then switched to international affairs. She then spent a few years doing program management in the aid sector, fell in love with the data analysis tech advisory work she was doing, and continues doing this work today.
What project is she working on?
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
You wouldn’t have any idea looking at Cathy today, but her health once threatened to preempt the calm and happiness that is her signature. Just as she enrolled at B.U., she was diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed Depakote. The drug has been described as a “chemical lobotomy,” and for Cathy, the next nine years saw her battling its side effects before her health finally returned. Every October 1st since she was able to discontinue her meds she both celebrates her health and chooses a new, ambitious project to pursue.
One year it was capoeira; over the past two years, she’s embarked on a “DNA Journey” to trace her family genealogy. She’s christened the project Pangea’s Box. Her website – which sprawls across all social media – is a glorious record of her travels seeking out the past, despite foreknowledge that aspects of it may be traumatic:
“Some of my ancestors were on a boat somewhere shackled. How could they have imagined me traveling the world and doing so many magical things.”
Cathy at the summit of Namibia’s Sossusvlei.
How Did She Come To Civic Hall?
“When I started working for Keystone Accountability, David Bonbright immediately said that while I could work from home I should be around like-minded people. We came to Civic Hall’s opening day event (yes, it’s been that long) and I fell in love with the space.”
Yep. Cathy is an OG of Civic Hall. That said, she took time off for work and travel, only to return earlier this year.
“[Former Civic Hall Director of Community] Jenn Shaw is a huge part of why I returned. She was a huge catalyst. She and I were sitting in the café and [Civic Hall co-founder] Andrew Rasiej passed by and said, “It’s a reunion!” Since I’ve been back it’s heads up and open; so many magical things have happened.”
What is She Reading?
Cathy’s DNA Journey has inspired her to read The West Indians of Costa Rica for background.
She’s also recently begun Captivating Tech: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life. “While it’s about the use of technology in the carceral system, it’s far deeper than that – chapter one alone is about the Tuskegee Experiment.” (The infamous public health experiment that exploited its African-American male participants – failing to secure informed consent or treat their syphilis.)
What is her ask for Civic Hall?
Ask: “Stay open — to new ideas, friendships, opportunities, and conversations.”