Three excellent reasons you should apply to join Security Force Monitor as our Senior Developer

Image: Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations, Geneva (Switzerland), by Ludovic Courtès.

Security Force Monitor investigates the command chains of military and police forces implicated in human rights violations and war crimes. We’re looking for a Senior Developer to join our team.

I’d like to tell you a bit more about why this post is a key hire for us, our ambition for this role, and why I think it’s a great opportunity for a curious and creative developer. By the bottom of this post, I hope to have persuaded you to apply!

About us and the job

We’re a small team running a project based at the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School in New York, where we’ve been since 2016. Through our work, we aim to show the bigger picture of how security forces are organized, staffed and deployed – we want to show the behaviour of a complete institution.

We apply a novel and rigorous research methodology to organising information from a huge number of different public sources to create data showing who was in command of a specific police or military unit, when and where they were deployed, and what historical abuses have already been linked to them. We give investigators the information they need to push towards securing accountability for violations.

The job description gives a full rundown of the sort of work you’d be doing, which involves:

  • Identifying appropriate and robust technical solutions to common data management and analysis challenge experienced by the investigation team.
  • Building a range of tooling – from one-off scripts, through simple server-side applications to longer term infrastructure – for the effective management, analysis and visualization of a large and detailed graph-structured dataset with geographical and temporal elements.
  • Technical management of Security Force Monitor’s existing online assets and open source software, including the “WhoWasInCommand” application.
  • Contributing to the definition and implementation of work with external technical partners and consultants.

The salary for this is approximately $90,000, depending on experience. The role is open to people eligible to work in the US, and you will be able to work remotely or from our offices in Columbia Law School in NY. We will keep our call for applications open until we’ve found the right person.

Reason 1: You can have an impact

Our information is a small but critical part of the process of fighting impunity in security forces and getting redress for their victims. Nobody else does what we do in quite the same way, with our ambition to use data to link violations to specific units and commanders. We are a place where you can use your skill and knowledge to realize your commitment to justice and human rights.

Part of the impact of our work is measured by how we aided our human rights partners, such as Syrian Archive and MNEMONIC, La Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Amnesty International, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. We have also supported investigative reporting teams with our data, for example The New York Times, The Atlantic and The New Humanitarian.

Our partners really value the sort of high quality research we do, delivered in a modern digital way – you can help us meet this need. To do this, you’ll be analyzing data, building tools, designing infrastructure, and directly helping a diverse, international group of people achieve their goals. 

Reason 2: We’re ready for you

A key goal of our work is to create high quality datasets that capture all the research we do. From data we can create a range of different visual and narrative products, including online resources like our WhoWasInCommand platform, public reports, and blog posts. But all of our work comes from and can be traced back to the data.

In making data creation and analysis central to our mission, we take inspiration about how to work and organize ourselves from a different set of organizations than the traditional nonprofit or human rights group: digital forensic teams, data journalism, open source intelligence networks, open source software projects, public benefit and civic technology technology platform makers, and government digital services. These are places where developers have reframed how investigative work can be done, or forged new types of teams to carry the investigative tradition into the future.

We have taken some important steps that make us a good place for a Senior Developer to contribute effectively. Our data is already modeled as a geocoded and time-coded directed graph around which we’ve built a practical data creation and analysis workflow – it’s good for developers to work with. We’ve publicly stated our data model and research method (though as with all documentation this could be improved), made a good case for this approach by applying it to over 30 different countries. We also run some public projects including open source software for searching and visualizing our data and a less-than-perfect scraper project for getting at military data sadly locked in US government PDFs. We even have a fledgling NLP project that uses a neural net to extract biographical data on security force officials (the training data is here – academic paper to be released shortly).

These projects have all taught us a lot, and we have done well with our current skill level, but we’re now ready for you to help us go further. We need to develop our data collection and capture infrastructure, improve and speed up our analysis and reporting capabilities, and provide practical technical help and advice to our partners.

Reason 3: Creative autonomy in small, highly productive team

In technical terms we have very little that cannot be reimagined and redeveloped, and you’ll have the freedom to do so! The most important thing we have in hand are interesting, well defined and clearly encapsulated problem sets and use cases, all of which have many potential solutions. To date, we have tried to meet these in the simplest way we could with our current skillset, and are well aware of our limitations in this respect. You’ll have eager users (us!) who are experienced in giving fast, specific feedback on the tools we use in our daily work. This presents a huge opportunity for you to work creatively, imagining and engineering new approaches to existing challenges with little to no baggage. 

I hope I’ve made a good case for why you should apply to join us: it’ll be a high impact role, with creative autonomy, in a human rights organization that is prepared for you. 

Sound good? … head to the Columbia University careers website and send us your application!

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