How did you end up at Google?
I decided to pursue my Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) upon graduation. I spent a year at Georgia Tech taking the introductory courses and getting to know my way around their Computer Science program. That summer, I participated in a study abroad program in Barcelona, Spain that the university offered where professors and students from Georgia Tech would travel together and spend the summer abroad. I got to know one of the professors that was teaching my course, Dr. Irfan Essa, and he invited me to come research for his laboratory once we returned to Georgia Tech in the Fall. I followed through on that offer and eventually he recommended I apply for a summer internship program at Google that summer. I got accepted to the program and proceeded to intern there on most of my summers throughout my PhD. I have now accepted a full-time position there as I finish up my PhD at Georgia Tech.
What inspires you in your work?
This is a fairly difficult / extensive question for me but i'll try to keep it succinct. More than anything, an undying curiosity to learn. There are few greater things that I value in my life than realizing that there is something that I currently do not understand but with enough discipline and effort could become an expert in. That fascinates me and continues to motivate me when I come into work every day. I am often inspired by the human inability to tire, no matter what field. I find myself watching highlight reels from the greats, no matter what discipline (i'll go from Bill Gates to Stephen Curry to Messi or Ronaldo in one sitting) simply because their level of dedication is simply breathtaking. That's what inspires me on a very high level, on a more research-specific level I constantly read new research papers in search of new ideas that I could potentially apply to my work -- its an endless source of inspiration. Oh and lastly, none of this would be possible without copious amounts of coffee.
How did ISP help prepare you for your education at Georgia Tech and later your work at Google?
Cultural sensitivity and understanding. The level of empathy that I developed from having friends from around the world at ISP was by far the most rewarding experience of my high school years -- keeping in mind that I admire our academic curriculum tremendously. This worldly environment inspired a desire in me to travel the world and better understand other cultures and it helped me collaborate with people of all backgrounds with little to no trouble. I cherish the level of empathy I developed at ISP because it was an environment of growth, you rose together with your peers, not at the expense of their failure. In addition to this, I developed a tremendous work ethic and level of discipline at ISP through its top-tier IB curriculum that would prepare me for the incredibly arduous academic courses at Georgia Tech. A very specific example came from my Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course taught by Mrs. Rosalee Pang. In this course, we would have to write various practice essays in preparation for the final TOK essay for our diploma. I distinctly remember Mrs. Pang warning us in advance that we should expect to fail our first essay -- a statement which I seem to have taken as a life challenge. It burst my bubble of belief that I would excel with just a moderate amount of effort. It helped me push my own boundaries of what I thought I could do and helped me grow every week I was in that class. For the record, I got a C in that first essay -- I'll never forget that since I didn't fail.
We are now starting an innovation certificate at ISP and increasing our focus on science engineering technology and math. What of your experience would you use to give advice to students?
Persevere through those who do not believe you are capable of succeeding in the things that you love. Welcome any and all discouragement or disbelief as motivation for your success. When I graduated ISP my technological ability was largely self-taught. I learned everything through the wonders of the Internet and the accessibility of information. I came into a program at Georgia Tech where some of my peers had taken computer science courses before at their schools -- I didn't have that benefit. However, I find myself working for arguably the best tech company in the world. It was all because of the belief that I was just as capable as anyone else, and I was willing to put in the work. It won't be easy, but it certainly won't be impossible. Lastly, don't take the fact that you have access to any and all information for granted. You could literally teach yourself anything you wanted at any instant. Take advantage of this every day of your life.
Here is what I have worked on at Google so far:
- Video Stabilization: The premise of this is simple, take a video that is shaky, and make it look stable. The way we do it is by building a model that predicts the shake of your camera, so we know in what directions it was moving to produce that shake. After that we crop the video to be smaller, and just move that crop window in the same motion as your camera shake (thus eliminating the shake). This was a huge team effort in which I was fortunate to help with as an undergraduate student back in like 2011.
- Egocentric Vacation Video: This idea came up after my friend went on vacation and decided to wear a camera on his head for the entirety of the trip. He would turn it on whenever it wasn't recharging, and was able to capture a total of 26 hours of video. From there, he had no way of actually enjoying what he captured on that vacation, so we built an algorithm that went through all the videos and was able to produce a ~1 minute summary of it for him to watch. The algorithm looked at a number of things, including GPS information (in order to see if the video was recorded in a "good location" by viewing Google Maps + Yelp reviews of the area), the color vibrancy, composition and symmetry of the scene. From there we use those metrics to pick the best K moments (however many you want) of your vacation. We ran some studies asking people what they thought of the images we picked compared to randomly sampled ones and it seemed the top 20 were really good and the quality of the algorithm degraded down to about 50% saying yes vs no after the top 100.
- Potrait Mode for the camera of the Pixel 2: During the summer of 2017, I worked on the team behind Portrait Mode for the Google camera app. It was incredibly rewarding to have some of the work I was doing be shipped out into a product and to see the great reviews that the camera received after it was released into the public.
What has your career experience taught you?
The biggest thing I have learned in industry is that you should tell everyone what you don't know and what you don't understand immediately. It is often intimidating in a class to ask a question for fear of sounding incompetent. You don't want to be that person. However, it is that person who learns the most. Never stop asking questions no matter how stupid you may think they are. I say this because my career experience has taught me that once you are in industry, the quicker you ask the stupid questions the quicker you get things done and that is what actually matters. It's not about trying to be smarter than your coworkers, it's about getting things done as quickly as possible with them.
What would your message be to a student interested in pursuing the type of work you do?
There are a lot of people in the field (I assume this is the case of other fields too) who will glorify the things they have done and make them sound tremendously complicated, they will make it sound as if it's something you could never do. Ignore their boastfulness and remember to always be modest about what you know. I always value being the dumbest person in the room because it means I have the most opportunity to experience and learn. On that note, continue to surround yourself with those who you think are brilliant (and ideally equally modest about it). These are the people who will happily answer your silly questions and help you continue to grow -- and soon enough you'll find yourself teaching others in the same type of role. It's always wonderful when I'm sitting in a room meeting with peers and someone uses an acronym that obviously no one knows, and not a single person says anything for fear that they should know. In short, be modest, ask stupid questions, and never stop learning.
ONCE A DOLPHIN ALWAYS A DOLPHIN