CDH Exit Interview: Nick Budak

Today, we are saying goodbye to our Digital Humanities Developer Nick Budak, who has been with the CDH since 2018. Nick will be moving to California, where he has taken a job with Stanford University Libraries. Nick has been a generous member of the CDH family and a crucial member of our team, serving as technical lead for Startwords, and web developer for the Princeton Prosody Archive, the Shakespeare and Company Project, and the Princeton Geniza Project (among many, many other contributions). He has also played an incredibly important part in improving this very website!

Nick is an outstanding teacher, a collaborator with an inspiring enthusiasm for new and creative ideas, and a friend to all of us.

Last week, CDH staff were invited to submit questions for Nick. Here are a few of his reflections on his time with us in Princeton.

Nick Budak looks at the camera. He wears a blue shirt with a collar.

What accomplishment or contribution to the CDH are you most proud of?

Building a lot of the front end for Startwords and then releasing it during the pandemic was a milestone for me. That project really feels like a unique CDH creation; there’s a little of all of us in it. Around the time we released I was running this Google analysis tool called Lighthouse against the site, trying to find and fix every possible issue, from performance to accessibility to search engine optimization (SEO). Handling all those tricky things on a site that can embed photos, charts, and interactive 3D models felt like a big victory. I think we succeeded in establishing a platform for new kinds of storytelling with data, and I’m really excited to see how the project develops with upcoming issues.

Which project launch made you the happiest?

The Shakespeare and Company Project launch was really special, for a bunch of reasons! The project had so much history and had taken so long to get to that point, it felt like a huge victory just to release something publicly. We had to work really hard to shave off work here and there in order to deliver a truly minimum viable product on time, and I feel like we did a really good job of that. Also, the public engagement with the project was (and continues to be) delightful, with people interacting on Twitter and foreign newspapers and magazines featuring our work. That’s always cool.

​​What is one of the weirdest or most unusual things you worked on during your time here?

Turning data into origami for “Data Beyond Vision” was pretty unusual, I guess. I had had this Tomoko Fuse book on Unit Origami for like...over a decade, which my parents gave me and I took with me when I moved to Princeton. When we were talking about easy ways to physicalize data, something clicked and I remembered that book, so I looked through it for forms I could adapt to representing data. It was really serendipitous that her Cube + Octahedron form almost perfectly fit the Shakespeare and Company borrowers data, but I had to do a bunch of math I’m not good at (calculating volumes and surface area), so that was pretty outside my job description!

Three pieces of origami sit on a table. The front one is made from a blue-green cube and a white octahedron. The octahedron is printed with names.

Data physicalization representing the borrowing activities of the famous and non-famous members of the Shakespeare and Company lending library in Paris. From the inaugural issue of Startwords.

Do you have a favorite color scheme or favorite fonts from one of the projects you worked on?

Xinyi Li, our former UX designer, wrote this really interesting note on the selection of the typefaces for the Shakespeare and Company Project, which I love. Evidently she was searching for something that approximated the Ancien Romain old style typeface used by the printer of the 1922 edition of Joyce’s Ulysses, part of a French family of type inspired by Roman inscriptions discovered at Lyon. We ended up with Louize, from French type foundry 205TF, the display variant of which I think is totally gorgeous. It’s a testament to how much a good typeface can really ignite a project — sometimes they are very much worth the licensing fees. Support your favorite type foundry!

What will you miss most about working at the CDH?

The office culture. Our center strikes the perfect balance between supportive, experimental, and rigorous. We’ve built really cool things together as well as helped each other through really hard times, and that comes through even when we’re working remotely. And the office itself is great, even though you basically have to leave the building to find out what the weather is like outside!

What advice would you give to a new person joining the CDH team?

Believe in yourself. There are a million reasons to be intimidated at Princeton, and it took me years to really think of myself as a humanities researcher in addition to a software developer. It’s especially easy to suffer imposter syndrome in DH because nobody really knows what a lot of things are supposed to look like, so the default assumption is that they’re not good enough. If your messy code helps one graduate student write their dissertation, it’s good enough.

Good luck, Nick! We are so grateful that you were part of our team! 💙

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