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Carlos Guestrin

Carlos Guestrin wants to bring big data and machine learning to the masses.

Guestrin, the CEO and co-founder of GraphLab, is the Amazon Professor of Machine Learning in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. He’s a leader in the field of machine learning, who was named one of the 2008 “Brilliant 10” by Popular Science Magazine, received the 2009 IJCAI Computers and Thought Award for his contributions to Artificial Intelligence, and was awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What do you do, and why do you do it? I truly believe that big data will revolutionize industries and enhance our lives in ways never imaginable. Data science is a fast-growing field and I want to make it easier for people to use their data in new and creative ways, and to equip them with the tools needed to take their ideas from inspiration to production. My goal is to democratize machine learning and I co-founded GraphLab in this spirit.

I am also the Amazon Professor of Machine Learning at the University of Washington. GraphLab was born out of academia and I love the role that I get to play in both the academic and corporate world.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Over the past decade, machine learning has manifested into applications that enable self-driving cars, predict where crime may occur, or recommend products we’re likely to buy. Machine learning has the power to transform our businesses and our lives.

Where do you find your inspiration? My inspiration comes from innovative technologies. More specifically, uncovering what it would take to build the next big breakthrough. Let’s say someone wanted to build a cool new phone app that would combine a calendar, applications and photos? I think backwards from there to understand the kind of data needed, what kind of system it would take and so on.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? I love podcasts and streaming audio on my phone. It allows me to learn things about what’s happening in the world and understand different histories. Plus, it’s all available on the go.

carlos-officeWhat’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My workspace has a sit/stand desk and is located at the center of GraphLab’s open office, surrounded by my team. However, I’m constantly shifting my workspace to a conference room, a coffee shop or riding my bike back and forth between meetings. I am not that great at using one specific space for an extended period of time. Variety helps me be creative.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) My best tip or trick has changed over time. For a while, I was using the “get things done” methodology – finding the best ways to manage my tasks and time. But now, the best thing that I can do is empower the smart people on my team to take action and make decisions. Working as a coordinated team and propelling others. It’s how we scale.

Mac, Windows or Linux? I’m a Mac user. It’s a Linux machine with a better user interface. A lot of the work I do is on the terminal using a Linux machine with the usability of OS on top.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Sisko. Deep Space Nine was the best. It’s not the traditional good vs. evil, it’s a lot more complex.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? I’m a curious person by nature and for that reason I’d have to say time machine. I want to know where we are going to be in a million years. And I’m curious about the past too. I wonder what life was like a million years ago. I think having this knowledge would enable me to help impact things for the better.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I’m doing it. :-)

I once waited in line for … In Ballard, there is a dispute between the best French bakery – Besalu or Honore. I once waited (what seemed like hours) in an early-morning line at Honore for a pastry called Kougin Amann. It’s like a brick of butter covered in sugar. It was worth the wait.

Your role models: From the individual to the mega-scale, I admire people who focus on transformation. This includes my father who moved us to look for a better life for his family. My Ph.D. advisor, Daphne Koller, who left Stanford to start Coursera for a new way to think about education. And Steve Jobs, who thought about the computer industry in a new way through cool technology.

Greatest Game in History When I was young, my father took me to Maracanã, the biggest stadium in Rio, Brazil to watch a match between my team, Flamengo, and our rival, Fluminense. There were 120,000 people in the stadium and no assigned seats, everyone sat on bleachers. It was so packed that I had to sit on my dad’s lap. There was such incredible energy and excitement, it represents everything that soccer can be.

Best Gadget Ever: The smartphone has really transformed my life. The first smartphone I really got excited about was the Palm Trio. It may not have been the best gadget but it was a transformative experience to have access to information at my fingertips.

First Computer: When I was a kid, I remember my dad teaching me how to program in BASIC on the Z80. It was a really fun experience because you didn’t have to type that much. You’d press the letter P which would spell out the whole command Print, L was Let, and so on. It was designed for programming and I could build things with it, but it never worked properly.

Current Phone: iPhone 5S

Favorite App: Podcasts

Favorite Cause: I believe in spreading love. One organization I care a lot for is Families of SMA (spinal muscular atrophy).

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: The most exciting thing about being a geek is creativity. Tinker with something, build something new, innovate, and transform the world in interesting ways – small or large.

Site: GraphLab

Twitter: @guestrin

LinkedIn: Carlos Guestrin

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