I'm Nick Sawhney.

I'm a New York based software engineer, data scientist and researcher passionate about making data intuitive, interactive, and accessible. Start scrolling and learn more about me.

  • Scroll Down

    About Me

    I'm a 22 year-old grad student at NYU pursuing an MS in computer science. I like biking in the city, playing the piano, and drinking cold brew. Early in college, I discovered that I have a passion for studying the city through big data, which introduced me to the wide world of data science and software engineering. Since then, I've become experienced building data pipelines, classical ML models, geographic data visualizations, financial simulations, neural networks, and language models with clean, flexible code. I am looking for a fast-paced, challenging, collaborative, and friendly work environment where I can learn new tools constantly while feeling like I'm making a difference.


    Contact Details

    Nick Sawhney
    nicksawhney@nyu.edu

    A Few Of My Latest Creations

    Fare Evasion

    For my undergraduate thesis, I researched changes in fare evasion arrests in New York City's subway system as a result of new enforcement policies from the Manhattan District Attorney. For accessibility, I made an interactive map you can use to explore the data set I created for the paper. Feel free to click around! Read the paper here.

    NYC Air Pollution

    I noticed that I would cough a lot more during my commute when pollutant levels were high, so I did a brief survey of air quality in the city and its health impacts. This was one of my first projects about the city, and introduced me to the complexities of dealing with different types of map projections and geographic data. It's also a great example of how easy it is to turn around a project from NYC Open Data. Check out the jupyter notebook

    Interview on Viralily and Other Projects

    This interview was originally conducted by OpenSource.com, but was not published due to the potential political content. I decided to publish it here instead! Thanks to Allie Delyanis for the help!

    1) Tell me about the process of creating Bernie Sits. How did the idea come to you, and how long did it take you to get the site live?

    The idea came to me basically out of nowhere, though definitely inspired by the light silly attitude I saw all over Twitter on inauguration day. It definitely feels like there was a much-needed reset that day, across social media. It took me about an hour of building and half an hour of testing before I felt comfortable putting the site up. I'm glad I took the half hour to test -- it meant that when traffic started picking up later that night I was able to focus on new scale-specific problems.

    2) Your background includes expertise in geographic data visualizations. How did you incorporate Google Street View into the site?

    Thanks for mentioning this! I'm a huge nerd for everything geospatial and really want to do more rigorous work with it in the future. I figured that there would be an API to let me access Google Maps and there was! Incorporating google maps was dead simple at first -- I used the `requests` library to make a `GET` request to the API with the location from the form on the frontend and got returned a jpeg. When the site started getting more traffic, I quickly blew through my free api credits and people started getting error messages. Incredibly amusing to me was that the error message was still returned as a jpeg, so the site was just plopping bernie into an infinite white void with an "X" in the middle. To get around this, I had to implement a signing/authentication module (mostly taken directly from the google cloud documentation) on the fly. The cool part was I was able to get direct feedback on whether the site was working or not throughout the development process because people were constantly retweeting with their own images, I just had to check to make sure I had those instead of comments about how the site was broken!

    3) I think the site's simple UI is a key reason why it took off. Which tech stack did you use to build Bernie Sits?

    Dead simple tech stack. Flask app calling functions to get the image from google and add bernie to them. Deployed on heroku with as many concurrent gunicorn workers as possible. The image manipulation is done with `cv2`. Normally, I would've used `Pillow`, but I've been wanting to get into `cv2` for use with practicing making CNNs and GANs. Since I had no idea the site would get popular at all, I went with cv2 just to learn the library a bit more, having only used it to help a friend with her homework one time.

    4) How long did it take for Bernie Sits to go viral, and at which point did you realize your site was at risk of crashing?

    It took me about half an hour after posting to start completely freaking out. At that point, I bit the bullet and started increasing the tiers of machine and scaling as I saw fit but still trying to save costs wherever possible. Eventually, I got scaling help from some really cool people at Heroku. This also led me to open the crowdfunding page, which became very useful once I started getting charged for API calls as well.

    I was definitely hyperbolizing a bit there (I was very sleep deprived during this interview) but I think what I meant was that my overall approach was a scrappy just build and release kind of vibe. This does make sense if you're looking for a simple couple-hour project just to put online for fun. That being said, I've got a couple takeaways. First, test as much as you can. It'll save your life. Write test suites if you can, and think a bit more critically about the balance between release time/scaling prep if it's something like this where the timing is everything.

    6) You also told WIRED that Google charges you a fee to return the correct images users ask for. What's your long-term plan to keep Bernie Sits online?

    People keep messaging me on twitter/email/linkedin asking why I don't just put ads on the thing to support it. I don't like ads. I don't want to make a site with ads. I don't think I would have crowdfunded as much if there were ads. Finally, it just doesn't seem to be in the spirit of the meme to put ads on it, crowdfunding feels much more grassroots! Luckily, the higher total volume the lower the cost per use, so moving forward I expect the financial burden to keep the site to be much lower. So, I plan on crowdfunding again! I do not expect the popularity to be as high this time around so hopefully costs and donations are more manageable. I'm going to be working on some open-source tools to monitor the api usage vs crowdfunding, and automate pulling of the core api-using functionality when funds dip below the required threshold. Also, I'm going to be putting up some content on YouTube and potentially looking into more longer-term regular crowdfunding i.e. to support the site, and maybe even my future work! For now, my page at Buy Me A Coffee is still open.

    7) The code for Bernie Sits is now open source! Where can readers go to learn more and contribute to the project?

    Please feel free to visit the github to contribute! While the meme site is cool, what I really really would love help on is developing those open source tools I mentioned above. It would be so awesome if the next time someone goes viral like this, they don't have to spend the time worrying about costs, worrying if they should go to sleep because they might wake up with a credit card overcharge, etc. Instead, they might have the tools to just enjoy the ride! Not to sound ungrateful of course, the multi-faceted stress/exhilaration I felt during the site's lifetime was the most intense period of rapid learning I have ever undergone.

    Thanks so much for having me and asking such insightful questions! Hope to hear more from y'all soon.


    Press

    Wired BuzzFeed Ade Onibada

    It seems inevitable that a 22-year-old grad student would create the ultimate site to make the meme game much more accessible to anyone who isn’t a whiz with Photoshop.

    Nick Sawhney built the site Bernie Sits in the midst of the meme storm. He told BuzzFeed News that it has been all systems go ever since it went live.

    “It was very frantic," he said. "I felt like my apartment was on fire. I was, like, scaling up the website, going on Twitter and trying to raise money to keep paying for it so it wouldn't just shut down. It was really just a nonstop kind of night.”

    While he doesn't know the full metrics just yet, Sawhney said the site was averaging between 20–30 requests per second the day after the inauguration and has continued to grow as more publications linked out to him.

    Wired Wired Brian Barrett

    "BY 9 PM ET last night, Nick Sawhney knew he was in trouble.

    Just a half hour earlier, still steeped in the afterglow of Joe Biden’s inauguration, Sawhney had pushed live a website that lets you put a viral image of Bernie Sanders—seated, mittened, alone—atop any Google Street View image. The meme had already reached a fever pitch, with the Photoshop faithful placing the senator from Vermont in everything from Mortal Kombat to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. But Sawhney’s creation, born out of a group chat with friends, added layers of personalization, ease of use, and absurdity; because it fixes Sanders in the same coordinates regardless of his location, he occasionally looks as though he’s floating, or sitting on a car, or in an otherwise unlikely orientation."

    Insider Insider Max Kalnitz

    "A photo of Sen. Bernie Sanders at President Joe Biden's inauguration immediately caught the attention of the internet on Wednesday, and a website now allows users to place the photo anywhere in the world.

    The website, created by Nick Sawhney, a master's student at NYU studying computer science, asks for a zipcode or address and then puts Sanders in that neighborhood using Google Maps.

    People quickly sent Sanders on a global tour everywhere from the Eiffel Tower to the streets of Dublin and their own front doors. One Twitter user sent Sanders to Ireland's Great Blasket Island. "

    NYTimes NYTimes Mike Ives and Daniel Victor

    "Nick Sawhney, a software engineer in New York, created a tool that allows you to insert Mr. Sanders into any street address in Google Maps street view."

    Education

    New York University, Tandon School of Engineering

    M.S. Computer Science c.o. 2022

    I am currently pursuing the AI/Machine Learning track of the Computer Science masters program at Tandon. I'm following my minor in CS, applied experience at Skopos Labs, and senior undergraduate thesis, excited to formally dive into predictive modeling, big data, and their applications to the tech industry. I also have an interest in the intersection between Computer Science and Social Sciences.

    New York University, Arts & Sciences

    B.A. International Relations with a minor in Computer Science GPA: 3.87 c.o. 2020

    During my undergraduate career, I studied politics, game theory, international relations, and data science. This culminated in my thesis, a quantitative analysis of the role of policing in the NYC subway system. Beyond academics, I had the great pleasure of serving as General Manager of WNYU Radio 89.1 FM, where I hosted Weekly Refresh, a technology news talk show.

    Say Hello

    I'd love to talk about anything! Feel free to reach out :)