IT Core Spotlight: Alex Jokela

Alex Jokela - Lead TerraPop Developer, beekeeper, photographer, chicken raiser. The IT Core Spotlight visits with the Core's renaissance man.

Name: Alex C. Jokela Project: Terra Populus Favorite Dev Tool: Regular Expressions Fun Fact: I’m pretty sure I know how to order Two Coffees…in Japanese.

What brought you to your current professional field and to the MPC?

I became interested in computer programming when I participated in an after-school program at the age of 11. The after-school program dealt with mathematics, science, basic engineering, and computer programming (on Apple IIe computers). After my freshman year of high school, I had really settled on computer science as the field I’d like to study.

I left my hometown after a couple years at the local community college in the very early 2000s. I headed to Duluth, MN. I worked for the University of Minnesota Duluth for quite some time. In 2010, the Minnesota Population Center showed up on my radar as a potentially cool place to work. I interviewed, and was offered a developer position at that time, but because of a health issue that had just presented itself, the thought of dealing with a new job as well as moving all seemed too much for me at that time.

In 2012, I saw that the MPC had an opening. I had kept in contact with the then director of IT; after a bit of thought and conversation with the director, I applied… and I have been at the Population Center for nearly three years.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to work on at the MPC?

It’s not the most impactful thing for Terra Populus, but I really enjoyed writing a parenthetical expression parser for a piece of software we call a tabulator. The tabulator is basically a way to produce aggregate values from census microdata based on certain rules. Researchers needed the ability to write more complicated rules which included being able to write rules which included blocks separated by “OR”.

Otherwise, the second coolest thing I worked on was a bit of code that allows foreign-key relationships to be expressed in more-human-readable terms in data. This is written in Ruby, makes heavy use of Arel (relational algebra) as well as Ruby’s metaprogramming abilities. The code can be found on -

When you’re not wrangling data at the MPC, what other things keep you busy?

I hike, snowshoe (assuming there is snow), and travel now and again. I also tend to my honeybees; my wife and I were keepers of ten hives last year, and we’re likely to add a couple more hives this year. I’m also assistant overlord to a small flock of chickens. I’m also marginally obsessed with alternative energy. I recently installed a set of solar panels on the roof of our chicken coop to provide electricity for the chickens’ heated waterer and such.

I am also an avid follower of financial markets.

How do you get to work?

Automobile fueled by petroleum distillate. It’s a Volkswagen.

What was the last thing you presented on / wrote about?

The last thing that I had published (and not in the academic sense of publishing) was an article in American Beekeeper. The article was about a trip I took to Japan to visit beekeepers who use traditional methods as well as using native bees (Apis cerana japonica as opposed to the Apis mellifera that are used in the US).

What new skill(s) are your currently trying to learn?

Outside of the daily grind, I have been playing with candle making. With ten+ honeybee hives, there is a considerable amount of wax produced. The process of making candles is part art (the look and feel aspect; the label) and part science (what sort of candle do you get when you combine other lipids). More closely aligned with the daily grind, I have been getting to participate in an Emerging Leaders in IT program the University is sponsoring.

Dialogue & Discussion