I’m a data scientist living in Munich, Germany, with my gorgeous wife Katie, an artist and art historian, and our shy but extremely sweet tortie kitten, River. Educated at Oxford and Cardiff, I had a false start as a lawyer, followed by a career in data science that has been an incredible journey of personal and intellectual growth and I am grateful every single day that I actually get paid to do what I love. My principal interests are what I call the Analytics of Things, a fusion between embedded engineering and data science.
Beyond work, I love spending time with my wife, reading (mainly biographies recently, true to Churchill’s advice), cycling and enjoy the occasional chance to do watercolours. I am also devoting a considerable part of my free time to Enabl3d, a project to create open source 3D printable occupational aids for persons with disabilities. Enabl3d was born from my personal experience of disability and while it is still in its earliest stages, I have high hopes that it will be able to change the face of occupational therapy and self-re-enablement one day.
I’m a (very fallible) Catholic, trying to live out a vocation of holiness through work and family. Unlike my wife, a convert, I am a cradle Catholic who ‘came back’ to the church in his late teens – a sort of Catholic baal teshuvah. I don’t know as much about the theological foundations of my faith as I ought to, but I’m spending quite some time trying to redress this in my free time.
I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1986, and have lived all over Europe over the almost three decades of my life. At the risk of sounding more hipster than I am, I haven’t felt an inherent connection to any place until my early 20s, when I settled down for a few years (albeit travelling frequently) in Oxford, England.
I spent my school years in Germany and, subsequently, Hungary. Much of my early youth was quite solitary – I had a tough time understanding people (it wasn’t until my late teens that I taught myself enough social skills to work around this limitation and became a veritable social butterfly!), but got along with machines pretty darn well. Logo in 1992 and QuickBASIC in 1994 were the gateway drugs to what must by now be an almost daily coding habit of two and a half decades. Heavier drugs like PHP, Python and C followed as I grew more interested in what back then was just called computational statistics. That my mother was doing a social sciences PhD at the same time and I had access to SPSS, which I mastered in weeks better than her class did in months, was definitely helpful.
On the whole described as a hard-working but not particularly clever student, I was a generalist – I had good grades in all subjects except, perhaps, arts, which was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it meant I had the opportunity to do anything – I could have gotten into university to do any subject. At the same time, I had no idea what to do and did not quite know what I was passionate about. While I have spent most of my childhood in front of a computer screen, , I was so set in looking at computing as something inherently autodidactically acquired that I was not seriously considering a computer science degree. My alternatives were down to law or medicine, the subjects ‘socially acceptable’ for someone from my background. I went with law – I can’t handle suffering I cannot alleviate, and thus I knew medicine was not for me.
A false start
I went up to Oxford University in 2005, studying jurisprudence (that’s a pretentious way to say ‘law degree’). I was one of the fortunate few who had the chance to be tutored by some of the greatest minds of Oxford at the time – John Finnis, John Gardner and Simon Gardner were some of my tutors, and I will always think back fondly of the time I spent with them (even if they occasionally involved heated debate!).
I loved, loved, loved everything about Oxford. It was a kingdom of nerds, a place where outcasts became royalty and everyone could find a small niche in the myriad of student organisations. When not in the college law library (which I would soon turn into my own personal haven and assume formal control of it as volunteer law librarian), I would be at the rifle range or on the water. Rowing and target rifle shooting were a great counter-position of power and strength on one hand (as Six in a VIII, I was primarily rated for the ability to inject sheer raw power into the boat from its centre of gravity to keep it stable and steady) and concentration and focus on the other. Following a year studying forensics in Leiden, Netherlands, I returned to Oxford for my final year. To everybody’s surprise, I graduated with the top 1st in my year and a bucket full of major prizes. Curiously, one of them was for EU law, my least favourite subject.
I moved to Cardiff for law school by day, custody mental health work at night and sleep on the bus, while also completing another postgraduate degree in arbitration. A move back to Oxford followed, for the oddly-named Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL), which is neither a bachelor’s nor of civil law, but rather a sort of Top Gun for lawyers. I competed, and was shortlisted, for the Prize Fellowship at All Souls but was weighed, measured and found too supportive of some heretical ideas (viz. ‘free markets occasionally work’ and ‘life is sacred and it’s law’s duty to enshrine this’ – I know, I’m a total rebel).
I moved to London and joined the City firm Dechert LLP, practising mainly in the areas of white collar crime and litigation. A couple of years in practice were enough for me to know this was not what I wanted my life to be about. As a problem solver, I was always hunting for best solutions, not the easiest or least costly. That, to say the least, was not acceptable to the way law is/was practiced in those years. At the same time, it was a time of blessings: I’ve learned something new every day, and I had the opportunity to have a peek into the behind-the-doors worlds of some of Britain’s largest companies and work on some of the ‘lawsuits of the decade’. While ultimately practice was not what I desired from life and not where I was called to serve, I will forever be grateful for the chance to live and witness a world hardly known to most.
Darkness and light
My years in legal practice were also marred by another unpleasantness, one which would become a constant feature of my life. In 2011, I came down with a serious but virtually unknown autoimmune illness, haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (what a mouthful!). HLH kills almost 80% of people – with treatment. To this day, I credit my survival, and the ability to survive without requiring a bone marrow transplant, to my physical fitness from half a decade of rowing. I have not, since then, had the chance to be on water, but I know I’ll be back someday.
A long time of treatment and recuperation followed, with various unpleasantnesses. After the end of a six-month course of gruelling chemotherapy, most of which I spent praying to the Great Porcelain God, my oncologist encouraged me to ‘do something crazy’. I did. I asked out a colleague I had some interest in, only to understand that what I was looking for was right in front of my eyes: the clever, witty, hilarious yet deeply sensitive and caring girl whose Twitter messages have kept me going through nights spent in pain and vomiting, through doubts and fears. Months later, when she crossed the Atlantic to visit me, I proposed to her in the Fellows’ Garden of my old Oxford college. That same winter, she moved over to England to train at Sotheby’s and live with me. We were civilly married in 2013 and married in the Church in 2014 in the chapel of her alma mater, Marian College in Indianapolis, IN. I can safely say she’s the best thing ever to have happened to me.
A new beginning
After leaving law, I moved back to my ‘safe place’, Oxford, to devote myself full-time to a consultancy a friend and I started a few years before. A number of interesting commissions followed, including working for several governments and public bodies with cutting-edge predictive analytics. But at the same time, I felt that as a developer and data scientist working alone, I did not have the growth opportunities I needed.
I joined the nascent UK presence of a Swiss start-up specialising in an unstructured data solution, where I would eventually be the chief solutions engineer for the UK/Ireland area. During this time, I had the chance to work with some of the leading financial services institutions in the UK, and a top notch delivery team. It was truly an amazing time. I was ‘poached’ by a small consultancy, working for the same clientele but with a wider range of solutions. Eventually, I joined RB plc, a FTSE100 FMCG company, as Chief Data Scientist, with a mission to build up a centralised data capability that would enable enterprise level data science applications. I enjoyed working at RB, in a relaxed and fostering atmosphere that was quite keen on building up this capability, but sadly our visions for data in an enterprise began to reveal increasing divergence with every day.
In early 2015, I was experiencing some unusual symptoms: blurry vision, numbness, balance issues. An MRI scan and further investigations revealed that I have been suffering from multiple sclerosis, quite probably brought on as a sequelae of my brush with HLH years earlier. It was a life-changing diagnosis, and it took me quite some time to process it.
By then, I have been living in the UK for a decade (with tiny interruptions). I have been in all sorts of positions in data science, got patents and articles to my name, and so on.
By late Spring, it was clear I needed a change. I made the tough decision not to renew my contract with RB, and we have parted ways in mid-2015, when the specialist data science outfit of a large automotive company made me a once-in-a-lifetime offer.
In less than a month, we packed up all our existence in neatly barcoded boxes, hastily obtained a passport for our kitten, made a bid on a house sight-unseen and flew to Munich. To both of us, this was a fairly big adventure.
In many ways, I have come home. I have come full circle, for I have grown into a young man in this country. I have arrived at the most intellectually stimulating workplace I’ve ever seen – perhaps akin only to Bletchley Park in its heyday or Los Alamos without the nukes.
As a senior data scientist, I work mainly in the field of natural language processing applications and IoT applications. I contribute an understanding of embedded applications and sensorics to create a fusion of cutting edge analytics technologies with data science approaches premised on an understanding of where the data comes from – both the process monitored and the equipment we use to monitor it.
Much of my free time is swallowed up by writing my book, Beginning Julia, about the Julia programming language (you can read more about it here), to be published later this year by Manning. In my free time, I enjoy tabletop games, building fun stuff with my 3D printer and shepherding my nascent project, Enabl3d, which seeks to create open source assistive technology to persons with fine motor disabilities. I regularly speak at conferences, mentor other young developers and give talks – ping me if you’d like me to talk at your event.