Life


Growing up in South Bend, Indiana, I always enjoyed math. I initially focused my time on sports, but once I realized that I had more talent and fun with math, I leaned into it hard. In high school I self-studied MIT's undergraduate math/physics curricula, completed two research projects at local IUSB and Notre Dame physics labs that improved acoustic and optical data transmission in particle detectors, worked as a Mathnasium instructor on evenings and weekends, and derived a nasty closed-form expression for decomposing a general rational expression into partial fractions.

College

In 2014, I attended Notre Dame on a full-ride Lilly Scholarship and majored in math. For the first year and a half, I took a pretty intense courseload and joined an interdisciplinary physics lab where I worked on a self-directed project that involved involved modeling the human brain as a dynamic weighted graph. My initial approach was to abstract from first principles: I wanted to understand how the topology of biological neural networks with spike-timing dependent plasticity could be shaped by periodic stimulation. While this led to an interesting toy problem that permitted computational simulations and was mathematically solvable in a simple case, I later realized that bringing models of the brain to terms with reality would require even more experimental wet-lab work than modeling work (which did not appeal to me). I pivoted to a top-down approach and interned with the synthetic cognition group at Los Alamos National Lab the summer after my freshman year, attempting to create an emergent phenomenon of brain oscillations by implementing spiking neurons in a deep learning model. But training a spiking neural network turned out to be an incredibly difficult task and, beyond implementing the spiking neurons themselves, the project wasn't very fruitful (HN comments here and here are relatable).

During my sophomore year I interned as a data scientist at Aunalytics, and during my junior and senior years I worked full time while simultaneously finishing up my degree. This was all so coincidental that it was almost funny: I came across Aunalytics one day while randomly Googling to see if there were any math jobs in South Bend besides teaching/tutoring, so I sent a resume, got invited to intern during the spring and summer, and impressed the executives to the point that they gave me a full-time position during my junior year. My main projects focused on churn prediction and exploratory analyses in financial services, digital news, and general subscription services, plus a side project evaluating the potential of topological data analysis (which turned out to be elegant in theory but not so useful in practice).

I gradually realized that quantitative modeling was far more valuable when paired with domain expertise, and although I was grateful to have broken into data science so early, I wasn't excited by any of the fields that were conventionally paired with data science. Instead, I was interested in math education and music production. I had more talent and passion for math education, evidenced by the fact that even while working full time in data science and finishing my degree, I simultaneously continued to work at Mathnasium on evenings and weekends just for the fun of it. So after graduating from Notre Dame in 2018, I left Aunalytics to throw myself fully into math education and gain more domain expertise. I also enrolled in Georgia Tech's online master's in computer science (simply because I expected the ROI to dwarf the $7k tuition) and moved to California to accompany my girlfriend Sanjana who was attending Caltech (we met while both working at Mathnasium in South Bend before she left for college).

Math Academy

Upon arriving in Pasadena, California, I took on scattered freelance work in math education: tutoring for many different agencies, developing content for several online learning platforms, and teaching high school and weekend test prep. I also wrote several textbooks for fun. Gradually, all my tutoring/teaching and content development converged at the same organization, Math Academy, a highly accelerated 6-12th grade math program where 8th graders take AP Calculus BC and high schoolers study a full undergradute math curriculum. Math Academy ran on top of educational software built by the founder, Jason Roberts, a serial entrepreneur who, after developing much of Uber's foundational technology, wanted to create and commercialize the ultimate online math learning system.

I got involved at the core of Math Academy's product during the summer of 2019, when Jason asked me to develop an algorithm that would automatically create personalized assignments while leveraging effective learning techniques like spaced repetition and interleaving. By the end of the summer the project was a success, upgrading the software from a teaching tool to a fully automated and personalized learning system that could effectively support independent learners (without any teacher). Over the following year I became more and more involved in all things Math Academy, and soon enough I was building sweat equity while spending every waking hour involved in all aspects of the school program and commercial product. My primary responsibilities involved developing algorithms and encoding domain-expert knowledge so that the system could behave like an experienced tutor, as well as teaching classes and developing a special applied math/CS sequence from scratch as a testing/brainstorming ground for the product and its future directions.

And this is where I am now. We're currently beta testing!

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Thank you to the following people who have significantly impacted my life:
  • My parents - for always encouraging and wishing the best for me
  • Ken Andrzejewski and Douglas Sisk - for teaching me how to put myself out there, find research opportunities, and compete in science fairs during high school
  • Ilan Levine - for advising my first high school physics research project
  • Cari Ingram - for hiring me as a Mathnasium instructor during high school and letting me have so much fun goofing around with the kids
  • Dave Cieslak - for hiring me as a data scientist during college and sending interesting projects my way
  • Jason Roberts - for helping me find my niche after college and providing a constant stream of challenge, mentorship, and laughter