July 09, 2018

Algorithmia Engineering Team Spotlight: James

At Algorithmia we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by group of wildly intelligent, quirky, and fun engineers. We’d love for you to come by and meet them in person, but until then we’ll post a series of interviews introducing you to some of the talented people who are creating the future of AI.

Today, we'd like to introduce you to one of our remote employees, Canada James (not to be confused with Design James and DevOps James - both of which you’ll learn more about soon). James lives and works in Nova Scotia and has been part of the company for about two years as an algorithm engineer.

James, you have a degree in materials engineering, right? How did you wind up as an Algorithm engineer?

Yeah, I definitely took a circuitous route to my current role. I graduated with a degree in materials engineering and thought that I would be able to find a job near home in Nova Scotia. My father was dealing with some major health issues and I didn’t want to leave him alone. Unfortunately, I just ended up bouncing around a few different short time gigs without finding stable work. It became apparent that if I wanted to stay in Nova Scotia I would not be working in material engineering. I needed to figure out a new career path, fast. So, I hunkered down in the library (a library I still work out of regularly) for 8 months straight and taught myself everything I could about coding and algorithms. 

I decided that the best way for me to learn as much as I can, as fast as I can - was to take on a really tough ML heavy project that no one has really solved before. It took a lot of hard work, and many times I felt like giving up - but eventually I completed it, which ended up becoming a very valuable learning experience and great work portfolio piece! You can read more about it here.

I submitted my project and work portfolio to Algorithmia, and a few weeks later they hired me, and I’ve been here ever since.

Wow, that’s quite a turnaround story! Why did you apply to Algorithmia in the first place?

The most important thing was I wasn’t just looking for a job, I wanted a career. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and getting in on the ground floor and growing with a new company that trusted me to make my own decisions / mistakes and learn from them was incredibly motivating. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being given ownership of a major project that can have a real impact on the overall direction and health of the company - it’s something I was unable to find in any of my previous jobs. That level of trust here is hard to find elsewhere.

The second most important thing I’ve found is our level of transparency. In most larger companies, the executive team will usually keep the strategic direction and overall thought processes somewhat hidden from their employees. Here that’s not the case - the executive team provides us with a wealth of information on the health and overall direction of the business. As someone who is curious to a fault, and comes from an entrepreneurial background these insights are invaluable.

The third most important factor for me was a remote first workplace. I knew I wanted to stay in Canada (US work visas can be difficult to obtain, even for us Canadians) and I didn’t want to be the only remote employee. Algorithmia has employees all over and the Seattle employees frequently work away from the office. That means I’m never the only one video conferencing in and everyone communicates on slack.

What has been the highlight of your time at Algorithmia?

I was really blown away when Algorithmia received its series A funding from Google’s AI Venture Fund last year. The company only had about 14 people at the time (now we’re twice the size) and it was crazy to me that I had contributed to that success. To think that I went from studying in a library to actively enabling this company to be the very first investment from the Google AI Venture Fund really validated that I had made the right decision when I pivoted my career.

We hope you enjoyed learning a little more about James. If you want to learn more about life at Algorithmia, check out our careers page, and if this seems like a team you’d want to be part of, apply now!

Don’t forget to check back for our next installment!

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