Back to school

“Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad that I’m not a fool. I’ve got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don’t get into a fight.

Well … here goes nothing”

After 13 mostly wonderful years “in industry,” I’m hopping in my own Delorean and will be studying amongst the kids like it’s 1999 ,as I try to dust off my math and computer science skills at the University of Alberta in pursuit of my M.Sc in Computer Science.

I believe it was Daniel Pink who first wrote about the motivation trifecta and the keys to motivation being 3 things – Autonomy, Purpose, and Mastery. This has stuck with me since I read it several years ago. It resonates perfectly. Perhaps because of my involvement in entrepreneurship.  I’m not sure there’s another vocation that can match the autonomy and purpose entrepreneurship provides. But even more likely is that it represents so well what entrepreneurship completely lacks. Mastery. Founders in startups by definition wear multiple hats. You write code. You manage. You raise funds. You talk to investors. You do your own finances. You shop for office space. You interview every employee. You write your own marketing material. You run customer support. That’s amazing. And completely rewarding. But the price you pay for this diversity is becoming good at a lot. But amazing at nothing. Furthermore, there’s no room for intellectual curiosity unless it can be justified by a business case. Time at SRI and later Samsung as an entrepreneur in residence left that intellectual itch even stronger.

For anyone fascinated in reinforcement learning (an area of machine learning / artificial intelligence motivated largely by behavioral psychology), there is quite literally no better place in the world to get training than at the University of Alberta. Rich Sutton literally wrote the text book. He’s there. Jonathan Schaeffer solved checkers. He’s there. Deepmind garnered a lot of press for GoAlpha’s victory over the worlds best Go player.  David Silver. Deepmind’s Chief Scientist did his PHD there. Many of the collaborators still reside there. This doesn’t even mention the other professors I’ve heard good things about, but haven’t yet met.

As someone who’s been amazed with Machine learning and AI, but only been able to dabble, the fact all of this, and an opportunity to become “a master”, is in my backyard of Edmonton still amazes me.

I’m sure University won’t be as fun without the Yukaflux parties! … but I’m incredibly excited for a bit of a diversion from a world of board rooms, brogrammers, apps, and financial models.

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