From LEGO competitions to DeepMind’s robotics lab

From LEGO competitions to DeepMind’s robotics lab

As we speak’s put up is all about Akhil Raju, a software program engineer on

As we speak’s put up is all about Akhil Raju, a software program engineer on the robotics workforce. We initially met Akhil in season two of DeepMind: The Podcast, however we wished to get to know him higher and listen to extra about his path to DeepMind.

What sparked your curiosity in synthetic intelligence (AI)?

Once I was younger, I thought of AI in the identical means I thought of magic. Sure, I wished to hang around with R2-D2 and Optimus Prime – however I additionally wished to go to Hogwarts. That was till I turned 12 and began collaborating in LEGO robotics competitions. At that second, I realized that robots weren’t a fantasy or one thing that might solely exist within the far future, however slightly one thing that may very well 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 pc science with a deal with robotics. After commencement, I fully pivoted away from the sector and joined a startup in San Francisco for just a few years earlier than transferring to Google.

It was nice however I might at all times wished to stay overseas so I began alternatives outdoors the US. At that time, I made a decision to maneuver to London and set my sights on DeepMind. I really didn’t assume DeepMind employed individuals 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 identical time. The robotics workforce wasn’t on my radar till my recruiter requested me, “By the best way, you could have bits of robotics in your resume. Have you considered becoming a member of our robotics workforce?” I bit on the alternative. And truthfully, it’s been wonderful ever since.

Are you able to stroll us via 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 change into part of our each 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 establishing new robots. Even when there’s not a lot to be achieved, 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 quite a bit 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 periods that assist me be taught and transfer shortly. From there I’ll take a fast snack break, and if the climate is good, head to the balcony to atone 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 while 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 steadiness between a college, start-up, and enormous firm. Many of the work tradition comes from the primary two.

It’s common to seek out individuals 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 may really really feel everybody’s pleasure.

It could be cliché, however whenever you love what you do it would not really feel like work. The robotics workforce is a miniature model of all of this, with the bonus that many people are shut associates outdoors of labor, too. It’s excellent.

How was working from dwelling 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 fascinating expertise for our workforce specifically.

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 just a few weeks the place I tie-dyed every little thing, from shirts to shorts to socks, and now they sit on the backside of my closet (the place they truthfully belong).

What sort of optimistic 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 basically – shall be a optimistic power on the earth, and it’s thrilling to have the ability to assist transfer that ahead.

On the entire, I’m notably concerned 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 supply clear vitality. Researchers at DeepMind are already interested by this, so I’m hopeful that we’ll be capable to transfer the world ahead and make an influence on this area.

Any ideas for aspiring DeepMinders? Or somebody trying to get into an identical function?

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