Henrique Andrade

Gretl Team member

August 2020

Henrique makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from August 05 to 12. Thank you, Henrique!

Tell us about yourself

My name is Carlos Henrique Coêlho de Andrade (yes, here in Brazil we have large names). But Henrique Andrade is the one I use on the internet. I was born in one of the poorest places in my country, a region that suffers mainly from water scarcity.

During my life, I moved to other cities to study (Thanks for this, Mom!). And now I have a Ph.D. in Economics and live in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, with my wife Michelle, my beautiful baby girl Clara, and my puppy Frida.

I truly appreciate my work and I believe I can help to transform the society through it. I love to share my knowledge and I know this is the best way to keep learning and to contribute to better shape the future for everyone.

I love tech and retro gaming (Mega Drive/Genesis). And I love music too. I like to discover new styles from all over the world, but I especially fan of Brazilian music. By the way, one thing I’m sad about is the lack of Apple’s GarageBand alternative on Linux (I have a lot of compositions that I only can edit on a Mac).

What are you working on right now?

I work at the Brazilian Ministry of Finance inside the Economic Modeling Coordination, a very very technical area. My main activities are related to modeling/predicting time-series data (i.e. data that evolves trough time) using econometrics.

Econometrics is a field of Economics that combines Economics+Statistics+Math, putting in simple terms. But nowadays we can expand this definition by including Computer Science as new techniques demand a lot of programming and a lot of algorithmic challenges.

Outside the Ministry, I’m part of the Gretl Team. Gretl, an acronym for GNU Regression and Time-Series Library, is a well-established econometric software created by Allin Cottrell and Riccardo “Jack” Luchetti, professors at Wake Forest University (USA) and Università Politecnica delle Marche (Italy), respectively, and maintained by themselves and a team of econometricians acting as contributors around the world.

My next missions are related to Ministry and Gretl. The first related to my day job is to enhance our forecasting process for inflation and economic activity. To achieve this goal, I’ll need to write a lot of code: Download all necessary data in an automatic way (God save the APIs!), organize and clean them (Thanks for this R!), make the estimations (Long live for you, Gretl!) and report the results (I really love you, Markdown!). If everything runs ok and my team accepts my results, I will plug this process to our “production line”.

The second one is to expand Gretl’s capabilities to automatically download data from some Brazilian institutions (like the Central Bank) and finish my new algorithm called AutoMod (it does automatic model estimation and selection).

What is most interesting about that?

On every work we develop we need to combine at least three aspects:

  1. Choose the economic technique/theory to face the problem

  2. Find the best algorithm to solve the problem

  3. Pick the language/tool that fits better to implement the algorithm

So, we are constantly thinking about Economics and programming. Additionally (and fortunately too) we have a very strong team whose members have a very diverse skillset and, because of that, we are so much complementary.

It’s exciting to work in projects like these because we can use a lot of FOSS (MySQL, R, Gretl, Markdown, etc.) and everything talks to each other using code.

How did you first discover FOSS?

During my Ph.D. course, I bought a Mac and started facing a very common problem: the majority of software used by the university was not available for Mac. So, I started digging around the internet to find alternatives. The main software used by my teachers at that time was EViews, a very specialized econometrics program exclusive for Windows and very expensive, but fortunately I found Gretl, a free and open-source alternative.

During my activities on Gretl project, I started to note a lot of members did use Linux, so my interest in the OS began. Some years late I needed to replace my Mac for a custom PC build (yes, I love to build PCs!) and decided to run elementaryOS on it. I never came back to macOS or Windows, and I really can’t imagine a day I’ll stop using Linux.

What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?

When I first installed Gretl on my Mac it, surprisingly, came in Brazilian Portuguese (something very uncommon among commercial alternatives). But soon I realized the translation/localization had some problems: untranslated strings and a lot of expressions in European Portuguese. So, I emailed the member of the team in charge of the pt-BR translation, a very kind and generous Portuguese guy called Hélio Guilherme, reporting some of the issues. He invited me to join the team and so my FOSS-history had a true start. Thanks, Hélio!

Also, and most importantly, because I had studied at public universities (UFPE, UFPB and UFRGS) for free and because I spent my childhood in a region that faces a lot of difficulties (water shortage, deficient educational system and strong social inequality) I felt I had a moral obligation to give something back to my country, to my community, mainly to the people who did not have the educational opportunities I had.

Why should others get involved with FOSS?

Simply because FOSS it’s a plethora of opportunities. At first, you can learn every aspect of the software you want and can develop your own programs based on them. So, it can give you a lot of technical knowledge free of charge.

Another advantage is the opportunity to work with very diverse teams, with people from all over the world. Your collaboration skills can really improve.

Last, but not least, you can give back. Yes! It’s a very amazing sensation when you do a commit on Git with something you know can help people that certainly you even don’t know.

How should they get started?

I think it’s very simple and maybe straightforward: Use FOSS. Tell your friends what alternatives you are using and help them during the transition if they decide to migrate to open source alternatives too. After some time, you will get enough confidence to start reporting bugs, making suggestions, fixing translations and finally contributing with code.

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

Lack of developers and money to pay full-time developers. It would be great if we could have as many paid developers as we have in the commercial front. Everyone needs and deserves an income to live. This applies to FOSS developers too.

Another difficulty that I realized inside the Economics and Finance fields is the lack of confidence in some FOSS (between economists it isn’t common to believe someone can offer a solution for free).

How can they be solved?

I think we can go in two directions:

  1. Partnerships between commercial companies and FOSS developers, as we can see today, like Fedora/Lenovo, elementaryOS/Star Labs/Laptop With Linux, Ubuntu/Dell.

  2. A change in mentality among users who believe FOSS developers don’t need to be paid in any way.

Where do you see difficulties in contributing?

I am not a programmer in the most traditional sense of the word. That’s because the vast majority of my codes aim to solve economic issues. (But for this reason this year I decided to change and started to learn to develop GUIs, and I hope I’ll be able to show some finished projects in the coming months.)

Because of that, the use of different programming languages across the projects I would like to help make this a relatively tough task to me. But I don’t give up! If I can’t write code, I do translations!

Another difficulty is the lack of available time. The workload inside my job is very exhausting, and now I have a newborn at home (my baby girl is less than two months old) which demands a lot of my time.

Last, and more subjectively, most of the time I feel alone and out of place working in FOSS. I would like to have more partners with whom I could talk here in my city about the projects that I follow and those that I would like to develop.

What does a perfect day off look like?

To answer that question I need to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock:

It’s a clear horizon with nothing to worry about, only with things that are constructive and nothing destructive.

I can achieve this scenario when I’m with my family at home, listening to the songs I and my wife love, looking to our baby girl growing up, and playing with our puppy.

Do you want to tell us something else we didn’t ask?

I’m anxious about my daughter’s education. I would like to teach her programming, math and literature. Also, I would love to see my little baby using a Linux based OS (I’ll do my best trying to create a new elementaryOS user, I promise!). Ok, I must admit that I’m creating expectations.