Booz Allen’s Joe Rohner: Learning, Leading, and Parenting in San Diego During the COVID-19 Crisis

May 20, 2020 8:00 AM ET
Article

A recent Gallup poll reveals that 62% of Americans have worked remotely during the COVID-19 crisis. Meanwhile, UNESCO estimates that school closures related to the pandemic have forced 1.37 billion students home worldwide.

Like many working parents right now, Joe Rohner in Booz Allen’s San Diego’s office has found himself at the intersection of both of these statistics —and the adjustment has been an ongoing learning experience.

A Data Science Bowl challenge sets the stage

Rohner recently led Booz Allen’s efforts for this year’s Data Science Bowl, an event co-hosted by Booz Allen and online learning platform Kaggle. The challenge for this year’s event, the world’s largest data science competition for social good, was fortuitous: How can data science lead to better-designed educational games for young children?

The initiative exposed Rohner to models from over 4,400 participants worldwide—developed using anonymous gameplay data from the PBS KIDS Measure Up! app.

“Until Data Science Bowl came along, I was aware of these apps, but hadn’t paid much attention,” Rohner said.

Childhood education moves home—and online

As the COVID-19 pandemic moved life online, Rohner and his wife found themselves navigating such e-learning options for their oldest child, a five-year-old scheduled to start kindergarten this fall.

They’ve developed a remote learning plan to ensure their daughter’s development—and adjusted to the new realities of juggling multiple roles at home.

Rohner said he notices “every struggle around co-parenting while working remotely,” such as explaining to his two children “why can’t daddy play right now” during the middle of the afternoon. However other aspects of remote work have been a plus. “I can book an hour at lunch or breakfast to sit with family, moments in the day that didn’t exist before,” he said.

Adapting to a “new normal” on the job, too

As a data scientist and director with Booz Allen in San Diego, Rohner manages a diverse west coast based team delivering data science, artificial intelligence, and analytics solutions for the U.S. Navy and other organizations.  

Employees include specialists in machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision, robotic process automation, and more. Rohner himself has an extensive background in bridging the gaps between technical, mission, and business requirements related to AI and advanced analytics and was named among AFCEA International’s 40 under 40 for 2019.

Yet even these technological experts experienced a learning curve in the transition to full-time remote work, from struggling to unmute themselves to adjusting to video conferencing as a substitute for in-person collaboration.

The experience has created a new level of team connection. From kids waving at the screen to employees taking a call with a dog on their lap, Rohner said, “people are more comfortable to be their true selves in their own home.”

Learn more about the Data Science Bowl and Booz Allen San Diego.