Golab leads machine learning operations at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and is currently architecting the building of one of the largest AI computing clusters dedicated to nonprofit life sciences research in the world.
Headshot of Alden Golab
Alden Golab

Alden Golab, MSCAPP’17, said their journey to the Harris School of Public Policy’s Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program began with a deep interest in data science. 

“I had been a marketing researcher for an ad agency in Chicago for about five years, working on large data sets for companies that looked at people’s app and purchasing behavior,” Golab said. “That research spurred me to think about my motivations—such as honoring my grandparents, who came to the US in the 1950s as Dutch-Indonesian refugees, and my own queer identity—and I recognized I wanted to use my data science skills to uplift marginalized communities.

“I began looking into graduate programs, and the MSCAPP was the only place that combined computer science and public policy. Plus, UChicago’s incredibly rich history of rigorously interrogating truth is a unique brand of critical thought.”

Having taken coursework towards a post-graduate Certificate in Quantitative Methods from UChicago in 2014, Golab said, “The more time I’d spent away from UChicago, the more I came to appreciate the school’s unique academic community and environment, which is why I decided UChicago was where I wanted to pursue my master’s.”

Golab said one of the most valuable experiences they had at Harris was their time in Policy Labs, a program that allows students to work with organizations that emphasize social impact for course credit. “We collaborated with the Data Science for Social Good Foundation, which explored intervention strategies to prevent recidivism. This was the first time I had a fully featured data science project with some public policy aim—and an opportunity to really influence the direction of a department. This experience drove home the importance and impact of data science initiatives for local governments.” Golab said Policy Labs also underlined a core principle of the MSCAPP program: “When it comes to using tech for the public good, it’s important to create partnerships between tech experts and policy experts and collaborate on the solution. Tech is a tool, but people save the world.”

After graduating, Golab explored career opportunities in data engineering and data privacy before securing their current role at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, “At the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we work primarily around three north stars: (1) cure and manage all diseases before the end of the century, (2) a future for every child through educational opportunities, and (3) build resilient communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. In my role, I lead machine learning operations by building tools and systems for engineers and researchers using AI.” 

Harris’ rigorous approach to policy and critical thought, Golab said, has been instrumental in providing them with technology, communication, and analysis skills to shape their career. “Coming out of Harris, I knew I had a wealth of skills. For example, writing a technical analysis of a policy paper—and producing readable summaries that aren’t full of statistical jargon—is a skill you learn at Harris. Being able to translate between practitioners and non-practitioners is crucial to success as an engineer.”

For prospective Harris students, Golab said, “Invest in your time at Harris—like, really milk it. Do the internships, talk to professors, and build relationships and friendships. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself—or afraid of the challenge—and don’t be afraid to fail.”

Looking ahead, Golab aims to continue leveraging their tech, AI, and machine learning expertise for public benefit. “As I continue my path towards becoming a principal engineer, I know the tools I gained at Harris will continue to be invaluable.”