CRAB Welcomes Bree Norlander to the Team

I sat down with Bree Norlander, the new Data Quality Assurance & Analysis Manager at the agency to learn more about her and the world of data.

Bree will be serving as the agency’s primary data compiler of statewide data collection, analyzing a broad range of issues that affect county public works departments, creating dashboards and reporting tools for data-driven decisions, and developing recommendations for policy and program changes. 

Bree Norlander

You have spent a significant amount of time in and around education. What is your educational background? 

I initially earned my Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature from the University of Minnesota and then worked as an academic adviser for high school students studying at the University of Minnesota. After relocating to Washington and being a full-time parent, I found a part-time job at the Bellevue library. This inspired me to pursue further education and in 2014 I began the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Washington. During my first term, I took a research methods class which introduced me to quantitative data analysis and I had a moment where I thought, “wow, I really love this and I want to follow this.” I pivoted my focus in the program and went on to specialize in data science and data curation.  

What was it about data analysis that that appealed to you? 

At the heart of it, solving mysteries. When I see a graph or data set, I want to know more. I enjoy the professional challenge of thinking deeply about questions, investigating patterns and piecing together pipelines. My background has given me an appreciation of the power of data and the impact it has on the lives of real people. 

Can you share more about that?

After graduating with my Masters degree, I became a Research Data Scientist for the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington. One of the first research projects I helped with involved analyzing the usage logs of a mobile app dedicated to increasing free access to digital reading material in underserved communities. The app was primarily used by readers in Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Our research team had access to geolocation data, some demographic data, and the titles and content of the reading material. However, some of the countries in which readers were accessing the app did not have the same freedom of speech laws that exist in the U.S. and certain content was outright illegal. Our research team had many conversations about what data we felt was too risky to report on for both the individual readers and the parent company of the app. This first professional project underscored for me the importance of data privacy, transparency and ethics.

How have you been using data analysis in your career? 

After a few data science and teaching roles at the University of Washington, I joined the King County Library System (KCLS) team in 2021 as their very first data engineer, possibly a first in the country for a library. KCLS is one of the largest library systems in the country and is the third highest digital circulating library in the world. I spent two years building their data pipeline, using reports and dashboards to get a big picture of library services, budgets, and resource usage for in the 50+ library branches within the system.   

What brought you to CRAB?  

After temporarily relocating to Vancouver, BC for my husband’s graduate program, we returned to Washington this year. 

I’ve been drawn to public service since I started working in public libraries. I’ve had the opportunity to project manage a student internship program that created opportunities within public agencies for students to learn about open data publishing. I worked with agencies such as WSDOT, the Seattle Public Library, the OCIO’s (now WaTech) office, and WA State Library to create internship projects around open data. The position at CRAB felt like a natural extension to my interest in public institutions and data. I am new to transportation and local government, but I’ve learned over the years that, while the domain might be different, the exciting challenge of managing data is the same wherever you go. 

You are a few weeks into the job. What has been your first impression? 

I just joined county staff from across the state last week for CRAB’s Office of the County Engineer training to better understand the agency and the counties we work with – it was a firehose of information! I was surprised to learn the breadth of responsibilities our County Engineers oversee. I am impressed with those in the role and it emphasized the importance of the work we do here to support them in managing the county road system effectively.  

We are happy to have you join the team. What are you looking forward to in your new role?  

For what seemed to be a small agency, CRAB has a lot of data! I am eager to begin aggregating it, expanding it and making it available to County Engineers and decision makers in real time, multifaceted ways. For example, one of my first projects is going to be taking the data from the annual Road Almanac, which has been historically published once per year in the annual report, and build it into a dynamic, practical tool with year-over-year and county-specific components that will be useful for making financial and maintenance decisions. I’m just excited to be here and get started.  

Welcome aboard, Bree! 

Jacque Netzer
Jacque Netzer
Communications Director