As much as I love meeting long-time IBMers and hearing their perspective on our evolution over the years, it’s a special pleasure to visit with our newer team members and to hear their visions for IBM’s future. You’ll remember my conversations with Martyna Kuhlmann, Ketki Purandare, and Phu Truong.
This time, I’m talking with Mihai Nicolae, a developer working out of our Markham office near Toronto. In just two years with IBM, Mihai has already been transformational on flagship products — Db2, Watson Data Platform, and Data Science Experience. He’s currently trading time between DSX Local, IBM Data Platform, and the new Machine Learning Hub in Toronto.
I hope you’ll take as much inspiration from our conversation as I did.
Where are you from originally?
Romania. I’m very grateful — and always will be — for my parents having the courage to emigrate to Canada in their forties for me to have the opportunity to attend university here.
I bet they’re proud of you.
Oh absolutely, I can’t ever have a doubt about that based on how much they talk about it.
If my son’s first job out of college was at IBM, I’d be proud, too. Tell me about your experience so far.
I’ve been at IBM for two years full-time. Currently, I’m working on DSX Local and IBM Data Platform, which just started in January, after my time on the Db2 team. It’s been an amazing journey, especially GA-ing the product in only 4 months.
First of all, thanks and kudos to you and the team for delivering DSX in such a short amount of time. You’re now diving into machine learning. Did you take ML classes at university?
I took one Intro-to-AI class, but frankly I feared the stats component of the ML course — and that 40% of my performance would depend on a 2-3 hour, stats-intensive exam. At this point, I know that no hard thing is insurmountable if you put in the work.
Where do you see machine learning or data science going from here?
I think it’ll be a vital component of every business. AI is the once-in-a-lifetime technology destined to advance humanity at an unprecedented scale. I think the secrets to defeating cancer, reversing climate change, and managing the global economy lie within the growing body of digital data.
But reaching that potential has to happen with the trust of end-users, trust in security and lack of bias. That’s why I think IBM will be a leader in those efforts: because IBMers really do value trust — I see it in the way we interact with each other day to day, as much as I see it in our interactions with clients. Trustworthiness is not something that can be compartmentalized.
Well said. I know you also work on encryption. Where does that fit in?
When data is the core of everything, encryption is critical — encryption plus everything to do with security, including authentication and authorization. They’re all essential for earning and keeping user trust.
I love your passion for your work. Do you ever leave the office? What are your hobbies?
Ha! I go to the gym, and I recently subscribed to one of those recipe services that delivers ingredients in pre-determined amounts. But traveling is really my fixation: California, Miami, Rhode Island and Massachusetts last year. And this year, I’ve been to the Dominican Republic, and then I head to Nova Scotia this summer.
Nice. Do you have a particular dream destination?
Thailand has a moon festival in April, where you get to have a water fight for three days. It’s the Thai new year. That might be my next big pick.
I travel a lot and I think there can be something really creative about travel, especially with the types of trips you’re talking about. I like asking developers whether they think of themselves as creative people. What’s your thought?
Travel is definitely creative, but you’re making me think of the recipe service. I think of cooking from a card like learning programming from sample code: You get the immediate wow factor from building and running the working product but you don’t necessarily understand how and why the pieces fit so well together, or even what the pieces are. But over time, and with experience, you get understanding and appreciation. I think that’s when innovation and creativity can flourish.
Thanks, Mihai. Thanks for taking the time, thanks for the great work, and thanks for evolving IBM for our customers.
Home Town: Constanta, Romania
Currently Working On: DSX Local, Machine Learning Hub Toronto
Favorite Programming Language: Python
Top 5 Future Travel Destinations:
- Thailand for Songkran
- Australia for scuba diving in Great Barrier Reef and surfing
- Brazil for Rio Carnaval
- Mexico for Mayan ruins and Diez y Seis
- Germany for Oktoberfest and driving on the Autobahn
Dinesh Nirmal – Vice President, IBM Analytics Development
Follow me on Twitter: @dineshknirmal