From LEGO competitions to DeepMind’s robotics lab

At present’s publish is all about Akhil Raju, a software program engineer on the robotics staff. We initially met Akhil in season two of DeepMind: The Podcast, however we needed to get to know him higher and listen to extra about his path to DeepMind.

What sparked your curiosity in synthetic intelligence (AI)?

After I was younger, I thought of AI in the identical means I thought of magic. Sure, I needed to hang around with R2-D2 and Optimus Prime – however I additionally needed to go to Hogwarts. That was till I turned 12 and began collaborating in LEGO robotics competitions. At that second, I discovered that robots weren’t a fantasy or one thing that might solely exist within the far future, however moderately one thing that might be created within the current. Additionally, it seems that enjoying with robots is extremely enjoyable.

What got here subsequent?

So much! From there I continued with robotics competitions, began college at MIT, and spent quite a lot of time finding out laptop science with a deal with robotics. After commencement, I fully pivoted away from the sector and joined a startup in San Francisco for a number of years earlier than transferring to Google.

It was nice however I would all the time needed to reside overseas so I began alternatives exterior the US. At that time, I made a decision to maneuver to London and set my sights on DeepMind. I truly didn’t suppose DeepMind employed folks with out PhDs, however I gave it a shot and it labored out!

As a result of I used to be doing a switch from Google to DeepMind, I used to be capable of apply to a number of groups on the similar time. The robotics staff wasn’t on my radar till my recruiter requested me, “By the best way, you’ve bits of robotics in your resume. Have you considered becoming a member of our robotics staff?” I bit on the alternative. And actually, it’s been superb ever since.

Are you able to stroll us by way of a typical day? What’s your schedule like?

Each morning I head into the workplace for breakfast, the place with out fail, my teammates already are. It’s grow to be part of our every day routine to have breakfast collectively earlier than leaping into our work.

I spend most mornings within the robotics lab, fixing failures from earlier experiments or organising new robots. Even when there’s not a lot to be completed, I get vitality from simply strolling round and seeing our robots at work, listening to the hum of the machines and motors. We’ve grown lots over the previous few years, and you’ll really feel it whereas strolling round our area.

My afternoons are a mixture of conferences, coding and – now that most individuals are again within the workplace – an impromptu chat or two. That’s certainly one of my favorite components of being within the workplace – the random catch-ups and whiteboard classes that assist me study and transfer rapidly. From there I’ll take a fast snack break, and if the climate is sweet, head to the balcony to make amends for a few of my favorite US sports activities podcasts (I nonetheless haven’t made the swap from soccer to soccer). Then I’ll code a short time longer.

What’s it like behind the scenes at DeepMind? 

The tradition at DeepMind is among the finest components of being right here. From my perspective, we’ve discovered a pleasant stability between a college, start-up, and huge firm. Many of the work tradition comes from the primary two.

It’s common to seek out folks brainstorming in entrance of whiteboards with maths scrawled throughout it, or somebody tucked away in a quiet nook studying the newest analysis papers. Just like a start-up, there’s a palpable vitality all through – you’ll be able to really really feel everybody’s pleasure.

It might be cliché, however whenever you love what you do it does not really feel like work. The robotics staff is a miniature model of all of this, with the bonus that many people are shut pals exterior of labor, too. It’s excellent.

How was working from residence through the pandemic? 

Like most individuals, I spent the primary month of the pandemic in disbelief, assuming we’d be again to regular quickly. The vast majority of our conferences and collaborations moved on-line which was an attention-grabbing expertise for our staff particularly.

As soon as the realisation set in that we have been on this for the lengthy haul, I made a decision to spend my new-found free time to raised myself. I attempted a bunch of hobbies – lengthy sufficient in every case to say I’d tried it, however not lengthy sufficient for something to stay. I had my guitar part, a cooking part, and even a puzzle part, however my favorite was the tie-dye part. There have been a number of weeks the place I tie-dyed every part, from shirts to shorts to socks, and now they sit on the backside of my closet (the place they actually belong).

What sort of constructive influence are you hoping AI can have on the world?

I really feel fortunate to be at DeepMind and to have the ability to deal with the work that I do. Robotics – and AI usually – can be a constructive power on the planet, and it’s thrilling to have the ability to assist transfer that ahead.

On the entire, I’m significantly excited about seeing how AI may also help mitigate local weather change – whether or not that’s by discovering methods to make use of vitality extra effectively, or enabling us to provide clear vitality. Researchers at DeepMind are already eager about this, so I’m hopeful that we’ll be capable of transfer the world ahead and make an influence on this area.

Any ideas for aspiring DeepMinders? Or somebody seeking to get into an analogous function?

If you wish to be at DeepMind, go for it. Apply, interview, and simply strive. You may not get it the primary time however that doesn’t imply you’ll be able to’t strive once more. I didn’t suppose I might get a job at DeepMind, and once I acquired the provide, my preliminary thought was – certainly it is a mistake! Everybody doubts themselves – I’ve by no means felt like the neatest individual within the room. I’ve usually felt the other. However I’ve discovered that, regardless of these emotions, I do belong and I do should work at a spot like this. And that journey, for me, began with simply attempting.

Be taught extra about robotics at DeepMind and seek for open roles at present

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