Advice which made me a better machine learning engineer

Athon was doing a talk. Something about Variational Autoencoders. He got deep. Much of it I didn’t understand. All I know is one-half tries to condense a distribution from a larger one into a smaller one and the other half tries to turn the smaller one into a new version of a larger one as close as possible to the original.

We went for a break.

There were fish sticks, wings, more 10-minute foods. The kind which tastes good for the 10-minutes you’re eating them but make you feel terrible after.

John was there. We’d met before. He was telling me about a hackathon his team won by using Julia (programming language) to denoise images and then used them for image recognition.

He told me how his company got acquired by a larger company. He’d been at the new company a few weeks but preferred smaller companies.

In between bites of fish sticks, I asked John questions.

John had been programming since he was young. I had 18-months under my belt. There were things he was saying I didn’t understand but I kept a constant stream of nods.

John asked me a question.

What do you think your strength is?

I spoke.

Well, I know I’ll never be the best engineer. But…

John interrupted me.

You won’t be with that attitude.

I was going to continue with my regular story. I know I’ll never be the best engineer but I can be the communication bridge between engineers and customers.

But I didn’t. I digested what John said along with chewed fish sticks. I spoke.

You’re right.

John kept talking.

You won’t improve if you think like that. Even if you know you won’t be the best, be careful what words you use, they’ll hold you back.

Every time I’ve run into a problem since and wanted to bang my head against a wall wanted to give up wanted to try something easier instead of doing the hard thing I remember back to what John said.

I say to myself.

I’m the best engineer in the world.