An update: Factual, Drake, and… hello, startup world!

startupIt’s been ages since I posted anything on this blog. And even though it was never supposed to be my personal platform, I decided to post an update on what I’ve been up to, and what’s next.

I spent over 6 years at Google, and these were the best years of my professional life. I learned volumes from my brilliant colleagues, got appropriately humbled and was lucky enough to interact and sometimes closely work with such champions of the industry as Jeff Dean, Peter Norvig, Amit Patel, Marissa Mayer and the like. I also got to experience the incredible rush of releasing the newborn Google Trends to judgment of millions of users and the press.

But all good things come to an end, and in April 2011 I left Google to join a little known data startup called Factual. Headquartered in Los Angeles, they wanted to expand their presence in the Bay Area, I loved their mission and I knew the founder, Gil Elbaz, personally from the times where he was heading Google’s Santa Monica office after it acquired Applied Semantics, which he also had founded. It was a great opportunity to learn the ropes before starting my own company, and Gil and I agreed I might not be staying for too long.

The very first thing I learned at Factual is that the startup wilderness is nothing like Google. The Google’s technology stack is amazing. Not only it’s highly advanced, but also well documented, well supported and constantly improving. In contrast, out there we rely on open source projects and 3rd party services, and to my surprise it turned out that quite a number of things I used to take for granted are either impossible or quite complicated to do. And often there’s no support to speak of.

But this only makes things more interesting, and I had a great time at Factual – it definitely has its share of fascinating people. At Factual, I got to lead the creation of Factual’s first product database. And there was a lot to learn, too: I had a quite unique experience of immersing myself in Clojure – a JVM-based Lisp. I had never coded practically and extensively in Lisp, and now I know that it really is true that Lisp rewires your brain.  I can confidently say that it made me a better engineer.

drakeWithout doubt, the most rewarding project at Factual was the workflow management tool Drake, which we just recently released to open source. Drake allows to organize and automate off-line data processing pipelines by specifying steps and their dependencies, in a similar way make automates building software. There are quite a few features which makes Drake stand out, such as multiple outputs, HDFS support or precise control over step execution. I really wish I had a tool like Drake when I was working on Google’s QueryCount service back at 2004. Instead I had to write a lot of Python code to automate my data workflow and I hated it. Based on the response we’ve been getting so far, it seems like we hit a nerve – and it’s exciting to watch our small Drake community grow. Needless to say, Drake is written in Clojure.

But as it happens, I never got over consumer products. My true passion has always been making something millions of people would use. So, about a month ago, I quit Factual to found a new company in the consumer space, based on the idea I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now. I’d love to tell you what it is but then I’d have to kill you. And I’m pretty sure I need you alive because I myself am dead set on building a small team of world-class engineers and doing all I can to make it happen.

If you’re an engineer or a UI designer looking for an exiting project that has the potential to change the way we do certain things, let me know! My email is aboytsov@gmail.com, and I would love to hear from you. And of course, if you’re an angel investor or a VC searching for opportunities, I’d be more than happy to get together.

I was told it won’t be easy but I’m braced for the ride. Wish me luck.

Artem.

TED: Secrets of success in 8 words, 3 minutes by Richard St. John

Richard St. John spent more than a decade interviewing 500 people he defines as successful, and presents his distilled version of his book in just 8 words, and 3 minutes time.

Of course, to be scientifically correct, Richard should have interviewed at least as many people that have not become successful, to avoid what statisticians call selection bias. Nassim Taleb in his famous “Black Swan” came up with his own name for the same thing – he calls it “the silent evidence” (by the way, the book is a good read and definitely deserves a post on itself).

I guess, we’ll never know how many people exerted the same 8 traits and never got successful. Based on Richard’s “scientific” approach, we can come to a conclusion that brushing one’s teeth is an important road to success, since all(?) successful people undoubtedly do so. Of course, that wouldn’t fly, so we can presume interviewees were asked to identify behaviors they practice, but others don’t, or the questions were implicitly perceived as such. In any case, that’s not very scientific – why guess when you can actually ask the less fortunate? I’d bet it wouldn’t be nor that fascinating, not that inspiring once done. My hypothesis that it could all be distilled in 1 word, 1 second, and no book – there’s only one secret of big success, and it’s called LUCK.

Selection bias is an insidious beast. Please forgive me, as I cannot back the following story up with links or references, but I have once read of a study which confirmed “beginner’s luck” phenomena – casino players were indeed more lucky when they were just starting. The reason? Simple – those beginners who blew all their money away tend to never return to a casino, while the lucky ones tend to become the very “casino players” that got interviewed in this research.

Anyhow, I don’t want to dismiss John’s findings whatsoever, as I am sure they’re all very applicable to success in life, albeit maybe you shouldn’t really count on becoming the next Thomas Edison or Bill Gates by following them. Since you’ve probably spent more than 3 minutes reading my thoughts on it, why not spend another 3 minutes listening to a much more educated man:

Original video on TED.com (might be better quality).

The Man from Earth (2007) – movie

man-from-earth

What if a Cro-Magnon caveman, a homo anatomically identical to a modern man, were to survive 14,000 years until present time? What would he tell us? Would his story be interesting to listen to? This independent, low budget feature film has won numerous awards including Best Screenplay and first place for Best Feature at the Rhode Island Film Festival. The script was written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Richard Schenkman. I haven’t seen a better movie in a long, long time. 

The movie is shot pretty much completely indoors and constitutes a continuous dialog, but I couldn’t get my eyes off the screen. The acting is superb. The budget of the movie was just $200,000.

It is available on DVD, but since its producer Erik Wilkinson publicly thanked pirates for stealing and distributing it, I thought it would be appropriate to post a link to the online version: http://www.megavideo.com/?v=JK99DJU5. Maybe you’ll watch it and go ahead and buy a DVD. It is also currently available for watching on-line on Netflix.com (better hurry, as far as I’ve noticed, Netflix constantly rotates movies available for “instant watching”).

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About this Blog

Why blogging?

We’re living in very interesting and exciting times. Never before the number of competing memes was so large, and the competition itself so dynamic and involved such great number of people. The Internet revolutionized communications, and provided millions of people with an efficient medium for debate, persuation, and often times outright propaganda.

The Internet contributes to about 95% of news and opinions I personally consume, in forms of Blogs, videos, RSS feeds, et cetera. I am hungry for information – espeically on controversial topics, and over the last several years, I’ve watched hundreds of Youtube videos, read hundreds of articles on the Internet and dozens of paper book. And every time I learn something new I have a desire to share it with other people, especially my friends and acquaintances, and hear comments from them. I’ve also been collecting these “links to information”, and I need a nice way to organize them. A blogging platform seems to be a good technical solution. And once I have that – why not make it public?

I know how exciting it can be to come across a Blog which matches closely my personal topics of interest and personal values. I subscribe to it right away. News travel fast, and with a good likelihood somebody will post a link to this insightful Youtube video, or an academical talk, or some amazing stats which will give me great pleasure as well. So, in starting this Blog, I hope to bring the same pleasure to other people like me, and to some extent save them the labor to fish the stuff of our mutual interest from the Great Ocean of Internet.

So, this is not a personal Blog

I’m not going to describe my breakfast ingredients here. Neither is it a professional one. Instead:

  • I will use it as a library of links, videos, books and articles on topics that concern me
  • I will use it as a communication tool to send new interesting stuff to my friends (please see Subscribe to this Blog)
  • I will hope that some other person I do not know but who shares my general interest will find this growing collection useful

Okey, so what concerns me?
And who am I?

I am a software engineer. I was born in Russia, and relocated to the United States in 2004. Currently I live in Bay Area, California and work for Google. I am an rationalist and an atheist, with a broad set of (purely amateurish) interests, that include:

  • Science, especially Physics, Biology (Theory of Evolution, Ethology) and Psychology
  • Fighting irrationality and stupidity, especially creationism, homeotherapy, pseudoscience, “magic” and similar nonsense (yes, it does include religion!)
  • Politics
  • Macroeconomy
  • Investing and financial planning
  • Our future

The list could probably go on, but hopefully you get the overall picture. Please feel free to comment in my Blog, and if you want to contact me, email me at aboytsovblog@gmail.com. Especially, if you have something interesting to share! 🙂