More-or-Less biding my time in Columbia, MD

January 19, 2011
by Davin Taddeo (davin)

Well, I’d like to say that I’ve been doing cooler things than I have been.  But so much effort has been towards paying the bills and so I’ve been doing that.   I work as a Systems Engineer for FINRA (link here).  I’m bringing them into the modern age of pre-built virtualization solutions and introducing them to Linux, as they still seem to have a major crush on Sun here.  It’s not that interesting, but it’s a nice 3×13 night shift that gives me 4 days off a week to work on my own things.

What I work on in my other time when I’m able to get around to it is learning, and trying to slowly code together a scalable social media site based on three-dimensional social graphs.  Once I have something interesting there I’ll post more.  But mostly it involves in taking my background in systems engineering and trying to mold it into being a coder.  I’m slowly trying to build the programming knowledge and experience that I wish I had built my curricula around at college.  It’s been slow going, but fun.  In the whole process I’ve also managed to also pick up a lot of skills with web design and such and have started building a pretty strong portfolio as a web developer.

In a while, I may be able to stop the day-job stuff and work full time as a developer/designer freelancing and whatnot.  That would be nice, I’m a bit tired of trying to help companies understand that virtualization isn’t some magical way to get around needing to have a physical environment to compute on…

Once I have anything neat, I’ll post it up here.  It is nice to see some familiar names out there.  Glad to see you folks doing some interesting stuff.

~Davin Taddeo

Hi from London

January 2, 2011
by Philip Kwok (ppkwok)

Hi All,

My name is Philip Kwok and I graduated from Hampshire in 2000. After Hampshire, I was very excited to start working at Sun Microsystems Laboratories (their research lab), where I was building speech engines, like text-to-speech systems and speech recognizers. One of our ‘products’, the Java version of the CMU Sphinx speech recognizer (v4), is still widely used by a lot of practitioners and researchers. To this day, it is still the most interesting project I’ve ever worked on (I’m really hoping something will surpass it in the future).

After years at Sun, I began wondering what a real world production environment is like. I was also intrigued by finance, so I moved to London and took up a job at Goldman Sachs. Life there was havoc, as you’ll be fixing bugs at trader’s desks everyday, or trying to figure why some trade didn’t price correctly under extreme time constraints. I went from research where there are no production deadlines, to trading where the deadline can be the next hour.

I decided that banking is just not for me, it pays but its unrewarding. This past September, I started an MSc in Machine Learning at University College London (UCL). Its the most difficult area in computer science I’ve encountered (imagine algorithms + statistics + linear algebra), and they go at lightning pace (its a 1-year program). I’m really enjoying it, and I’m hoping to work in this area afterwards. I’ll try to keep you posted!


Types as specifications, Hampshire curriculum etc.

January 1, 2011
by Nikhil Swamy (nswamy)

Greetings from Auckland, NZ where I have five hours to kill awaiting a long flight back home to Seattle—seems like a great time to respond to Lee Spector’s request that I post something to this web site. Excuse the ramble.

I graduated from Hampshire in 2000 (F96) with a Div II that was a bit of a grab bag of topics in math, physics and computer science and a Div III on resolution-based automated theorem provers. I ended up taking a lot of courses at UMass, Smith and even one at Mt. Holyoke, but many of my most stimulating classes were at Hampshire. The ones I remember best were a first-year class taught by Lee that introduced me to functional programming in Lisp and also C programming at roughly the same time; a course by David Kelly in the School of Natural Science that gave me a taste of programming in basic, matlab, and mathematica; and several courses/independent studies with Herb Bernstein and Lee on quantum computing. These classes set me off on a career in computer science research that has, so far, been a lot of fun.

I now work at Microsoft Research (MSR), a lab of about 350 full-time researchers in Redmond, and about the same number at various other sites around the world. I came to MSR from the University of Maryland, College Park where I received my Ph.D. in 2008 from the Department of Computer Science. Broadly, I research ways to develop software systems more reliably, usually in a style that provides proofs that programs meet their formal specifications.

For a flavor of some of this work, recall that many programming languages allow programmers to state lightweight specifications using types, and tools often check these specifications before compiling your program. For example, most C compilers complain that the statement (int x = “hello”) violates the specification that x always holds an integer. A lot of my work looks at how more advanced type systems can be can be used to state and prove much more precise program properties, e.g., we could define a type nat to be {x:int | x >= 0}, the type of natural numbers; the type prime could be something like {x:nat | forall y. x mod y = 0 implies y=x \/ y=1}, the type of prime numbers; or even types like {f:file | Alice CanRead f}, for the type of file handles f on which the user Alice holds the CanRead privilege. When tools can automatically check these richer specifications, programs can be accompanied by proofs that they never crash, never corrupt files, never release sensitive information on a network connection, and even that they always terminate after some finite number of steps. Of course, such program properties are undecidable in general, but many common programs do not exhibit the pathological behavior for undecidability to be an obstacle.

You can read more about some of my work at and play around with one of my programming languages on the web at I’m always on the look out for talented students and interns. So, get in touch if you’re interested.

I look back on my time at Hampshire with slightly mixed feelings. I certainly found the close interaction with the faculty to be very stimulating and good preparation for many aspects of a career in research. I took several semesters of 2 and 3-person classes where the topic each semester was chosen by the students. Hampshire’s free-form classes got me interested and let me explore various parts of math and CS at my own pace. While teaching undergraduate classes elsewhere, I have often thought that I would never have enjoyed the structured programming assignments that I was required to give out, and that I would probably have chosen another discipline if I was to have been subject to such a curriculum. So, in this regard, Hampshire was great!

However, it has also become clear to me that to gain from Hampshire, one had to be self-motivated to an extent that is probably unreasonable for many undergraduates. While I had fantastic interactions with many of the faculty and the students, I’m saddened by the disproportionate number of unproductive interactions that I had while there. I met too many distracted people, too many who seemed to exploit the Hampshire’s freedom to get by while doing very little actual work, too many for whom the Div III was an undeserved luxury.

Even for those who were self-driven enough to direct their own studies, I wonder if spending an entire year exclusively on a single Div III project is a worthwhile use of an undergraduate’s time. I spent my year on an obscure corner of resolution-based theorem proving, and despite well-intentioned advice from my mentors, this was a year spent on a rather barren bit of research. I think I would have have gained much more by spending just a couple of months on a senior-year project, while still taking a full coarse load. In other words, while I realize that this is probably blasphemous in Hampshire circles that cherish the Div III, I think most students would be much better served if Hampshire were to adopt a more traditional model of an honors thesis, available to those that have completed 2/3 of their Div II with some level of distinction.

Anyway, so there you go. Happy 2011 to all of you!


West Coast, The Saga Continues

December 31, 2010
by Gabriel Tarasuk-Levin (gt04)

Like a growing number of other Hampshire grads, I ended up in Palo Alto.  After completing my Div III, a compiler/distribution system allowing legacy C code to leverage cluster resources, I moved to UMass for a little bit.  An internship with VMware distracted me from pursuing my masters/PhD program, though.

I’ve always had a passion for both low level systems issues and higher level distributed systems challenges – VMware has really let me explore both.  I’m one of the leads working on their vMotion feature, a technique for migrating a running virtual machine from one host in a cluster to a different physical host without VM downtime. I end up bouncing between ESX kernel and VMM (virtual machine monitor) development up to Virtual Center/DRS (distributed resource scheduler) work, playing with every layer of the virtualization stack.  Definitely rewarding stuff.

As much as I enjoy my work here on the west coast, I still find that I miss MA.  I’ve wandered back to Hampshire a few times since leaving, visiting friends and enjoying some real weather.  I’ll probably head back to that area sooner or later.

In the mean time, though, if anyone is looking for some fun systems work, please do get in touch with me.  I work with a variety of teams at VMware, most of which are hiring.  We are also constantly on the lookout for interns.

Now, back to enjoying my brief vacation!  Enjoy the New Year!

Greetings from Holden, MA

December 29, 2010
by Adam Schwartz (aschwartz)

Hi all,

I’m pleased to be able to write a short introductory post about myself and what I’ve been up to.  Where to begin?  My Div III was on Path Planning for Mobile Robotics.  After graduating, I became a software consultant for a number of years.  I made the move to management at TJX Companies and stayed on that path to my current employer, Fidelity Investments.

Being a Hampshire student, it’s not surprising that I feel a little out of place in the world of large, conservative corporations, but I’ve managed to find myself a very happy home.  I gave up managing large teams about 3 years ago and am now something of a corporate academic.  My role for the organization is to research and drive improvements in our software development processes.  That includes following industry trends, doing primary research within our organization, heavy involvement with statistics and regularly teaching classes on software measurement concepts, data presentation, etc.  Some of our research has proven interesting enough that I’m looking to publish it, so perhaps someday soon I’ll be back here writing about that.

In conjunction with software engineering, I’ve studied process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma and LEAN.  I blog regularly on the topic (shameless plug warning) of improving software processes by combining the two areas at my own little side business.

On a personal note, I married my best friend who I met at Hampshire all the way back in 1995.  We’ve been married about 6 years now and have two kids, a four year old and a 6 month old.  We still live close enough to the Pioneer Valley to make fairly regular trips out that way just to walk around Northampton and from time to time stop by and ring the Div III bell just because we can.  I love seeing how much campus has (and has not) changed since we were students there.


December 9, 2010
by Kyle Harrington (kharrington)

Hello i3ci readers,

I am currently working out of MA at Hampshire, Umass, and Brandeis.

At Hampshire I am working with Lee’s group on the Clojure implementation of Push, Clojush. Thus far that involves the zip stack (see Zippers, trees), example problems, and some meta-GP/autoconstruction.

At UMass I am a visting student with the BINDS lab. My research at BINDS is on emotion, vision, and analog memory. The most recent work being on the emergent behavior and properties of agents that communicate emotional state.

I’m actually enrolled as a PhD student at Brandeis. I work with Jordan Pollack in the DEMO lab (BIG). My research includes neuronal imaging analysis, chemical computation, and evolutionary robotics. The neuronal imaging analysis is a collaboration with Yuhua Shang, Pengyu Hong, and Michael Rosbash. We are working on using the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction as a substrate for computation (simulation and experimental) with Michael Heymann, and Seth Fraden. Finally, I am using breve to evolve constructable robots (and then construct them).


Sentences from the West Coast

December 9, 2010
by Vibhu Norby (vnorby)

I, like DIllon below and several other Hampshire alumni, live in Palo Alto. After completing my Div III on Solving Email Overload in May 2009, I came out here to work for startups. I ended up at a 3-person startup called Threadbox as the second engineer. In July, 2010, we sold the company to Myspace, where I continue to work to this day on a secret product with the same team.

I have a lot of other projects that I’m working on in my own time. One of them is a real-time CRM system called In my near future, I’ll probably be working on this idea or another one full time. If you’re interested in web analytics, CRM, small business software, or computer vision, and you’re an amazing web developer, please contact me.

Lastly, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a programmer with entrepreneurial thoughts (I know you have them), you need to be here in Silicon Valley. Don’t be scared to make the move and work for a startup (or a big company for maybe a year, max) – everyone is hiring right now. This is still the place to be for technologists. Don’t go to Boston. If you need help finding a job out here, contact me and I can help you with that.


Hey From DC!

December 5, 2010
by Bradford Barr (bbarr)

Hello all.

Lee asked me to share a bit about what I’m doing on this new alum blog. So here goes.

I’m currently a research scientist on contract to NIST. I work with speaker and language recognition software. More specifically we design experiments and run technology evaluations that test other peoples systems. We also develop standards for biometric data.

I’m also a member of a hacker space in DC (HacDC). I helped start a study group there for NLP and AI called NARG. I’ve given a lot of talks on AI (many stolen from Lee’s AI courses), but right now NARG is currently working on setting up a sensor network in our hacker space.

When I start new interesting projects I’ll be sure and post them up here, but for now I’m done. If there are any Hampshire hackers are in the DC area, look me up.


Words from the west coast

December 3, 2010
by Dillon Compton (dcc06)

This is Dillon Compton, writing at you from the west coast. Lee asked me about a month ago if I would like to author the first alumni post, and I’ve finally remembered at the same time as having the time and energy to write something.  I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to think of something to write about, and have not had much luck. I apologize for the rambling below, but hope that it serves as an introduction to me. I’ll also share a few thoughts at a very high level about how Hampshire students (or at least me) have mapped our skills from Hampshire to the real world of corporate technology.

I graduated from Hampshire in Spring 2010 – my Div II was focused on Computer Science and Evolutionary Biology, and my Div III focused on tech entrepreneurship and smartphone software development. I’m intensely interested in how you can change the world with technology, and think that the newest era of ‘smartphones’ represent a strikingly new method of data consumption, and more importantly democratizes the production and dissemination of information.

I’m currently living in Palo Alto, CA and working at Intuit – the makers of TurboTax, Quicken, Quickbooks, Quickbooks Online, Homestead, Mint, etc… The job is good, usually interesting, and surprisingly engaging, but still leaves the ‘Hampshire Student’ in me mostly unfulfilled.

The longer I live in Palo Alto, the more connections to the Hampshire community I discover within this silicon-valley small-world of technology. Marketers, Engineers, Designers, and CEOs for tech companies large and small are all represented in the growing Silicon Valley Hampshire community. This was a surprise at first because I did not expect many Hampshire students to graduate, leave the pioneer valley, and head to the silicon valley to make it big in the world of tech corporations… but we are here, and most of us seem to be enjoying it. There is a culture out here that encourages people to always drive for something new – new technology, new ideas, new processes – that I think appeals to the Hampshire in me. It’s not about innovation for the sake of innovation, it seems like everyone I talk to wants to change the world in their own way.

Within my day job I find that the inherent interdisciplinary nature of a Hampshire education has prepared me for corporate america in many unexpected ways. Creating and delivering compelling presentations, drawing connections between apparently disparate subjects or points, negotiating workloads and expectations, establishing subject expertise, self-educating, and crafting well-written emails and proposals are just a few of the skills that I acquired at Hampshire and have used at Intuit so far. I’ve also found that the drive Hampshire fostered in me, to create new, applicable ‘things’  has served me incredibly well so far. Mostly due to this drive I’ve been handed the reigns on several side projects, and am in my “10% Unstructured time” (like google’s 20% flex time) running project and product management for a mobile time-tracking product with 10,000 customers.

I’ve got to sign off for now, but will try to post again in the near future with some details on a few side projects that I am pursuing. Much like my days at Hampshire, it seems that in the real world doing the ‘expected’ work is not sufficient to keep me engaged and I keep several side projects in progress at any given time.