Posted on: 26 May 2021
Last Friday was my last day at Capital One. I will miss all of the wonderful people that I had the fortune of working with over the past few years. Next week I will be joining the Product team at NVIDIA to focus on Python Developer tools.
When I joined Capital One over two and a half years ago, I was happy to find a few Dask users had managed to deploy clusters on a few of the internal infrastructure systems, however it wasn’t widely adopted. In fact, a few Python model training pipelines were scaled vertically on larger cloud instances. These pipelines would take days to run, but the developers wanted to stick with the PyData stack. This was an opportunity for Dask, so I started a side project to evangelize it at the company. I began advising teams and giving Dask tutorials to educate others on how the library could help them scale their workflows. Eventually, I was managing a team of Dask developers and my side project suddenly became one of my primary duties. We built an internal community of hundreds of Dask users, contributed to the public project, gave public and internal talks about our work, trained hundreds of data scientists, and even built our own libraries on top of Dask.
A few months into my time at Capital One, the Center for Machine Learning formed a partnership with the RAPIDS team at NVIDIA. Our goals were to be early testers, provide feedback, talk about what we learned, and contribute. Again, deployments were a huge challenge, however we managed to usher the suite of conda packages and system level dependencies through the cloud governance policies. Before long we were testing multi-node multi-GPU workflows and felt the bounds of network limitations on the cloud. A nice place to be! Additionally, we were on the front lines as beta users for the incorporation of native Dask support and GPU acceleration into XGBoost. Lack of efficient GPU development environments limited our code contributions to the project and ability to support GPU computing in our internal libraries. My advice is to just build a workstation and throw a GPU card in it, but even that can be a challenge for a financial institution.
I was originally hired to lead the Rubicon team, although back then it had a completely different architecture that was based on gRPC. We went through a few major architectural overhaws and eventually landed on a simplified design that could be open sourced without the need for custom services. At the same time, we realized how making Rubicon a “serverless” library, built on top of fsspec, could dramatically reduce our operational burden. I look forward to seeing how the project evolves and hope it grows in the PyData community.
The last fifteen months of working remotely during the pandemic have had its ups and downs. For one, my home office has had a few major upgrades! I must say that I am so proud of the team for seamlessly transitioning to being remote full time last year. I have often stopped to think about how amazing it was to see so many families pressing on as best as they can during the pandemic. Blurred lines between home and work, and back-to-back Zoom calls all day, have left me feeling burned out on a few occasions. Everyone, please remember to take breaks and go for a quick walk a few times during the day. It is easy to sit at your desk for way too long! This will be an ongoing challenge for me given that I’ll be remote at NVIDIA.
Building engineering teams is a lot of fun! Running them is not always as much fun, but still pretty neat! As a Director at Capital One, I was constantly asked if I was manager or individual contributor (IC). I would say, “both” or “it depends on the day.” As time wore on, I would spend less time thinking about code and more time thinking about people who wrote the code. And that was fine as long as I remained close to the users. Over time, I felt more like a technical product manager than an engineer. When I started talking to the Product team at NVIDIA, it was a natural fit!
Being a Director of Software Engineering was all very interesting and I may do it again someday, but I don’t think the path I was on is the only one for this middle aged programmer. It seems to me that the path I’m about to walk–in the traversal of the tree of life in this profession–should be explored given that there will be even more middle aged programmers in the not too distant future. Perhaps more on this later.
I’m extremely excited to join NVIDIA and help drive the acceleration of the Python/PyData ecosystem. The community is amazing and the work has been very rewarding! I’ll be managing developer products rather than developers. And perhaps some constructive mischief from time to time!