Mat Ruíz | Backpropping Through My First Year on AI Outreach

I can still remember the night I applied to join the Outreach team: 11:50pm in a Hedrick Summit lounge, 9 minutes before the application deadline, hesitating whether or not it was even worth the shot. I thought to myself… You Only Look Live Once… so I applied on a limb—a decision I am ever so grateful for…

For the first few months on the team, Sharvani and Arjun went great lengths to help us interns get up to speed on the basics of ML. Their help shouldn’t go unnoticed. They essentially carried us through logistic regression, gradient descent (Arjun’s legendary backprop lecture in The Study will go down in history), and even CNNs in less than a quarter (crazy!). Looking back, it was pretty insane the amount we learned in all that time, and still continue to learn today. I really couldn’t have asked for a better onboarding to ML and AI.

I also couldn’t have asked for a better team of interns. Through the past two quarters, we’ve come to learn to work with each other, respectfully criticize each other’s work, and celebrate each other’s wins. The team dynamic has been near perfect in my opinion. I specifically remember being tasked to learn and then create slides on Bayes Theorem in the matter of weeks, to which Nisha and I pulled through (amidst me being lost in MLE and basic probability). To add on, I remember being sooo nervous the next week presenting those slides to NHHS. But stuttering and uncertainty soon turned into self belief, and now I am fully confident in happily teaching basic ML concepts to others. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do all what I did this year without the help of the other interns and Arjun there to supervise when necessary.

Fast forward to Spring, and our efforts in a virtual setting were to improve and create new slides for the NHHS course. It was during this time I had the most fun making the Supervised Learning slides. This time I was on my own, and given full creative discretion. I didn’t want to hold back. I spent an entire Saturday putting together an educational masterpiece—one of my proudest moments this year. I attribute this Arjun, who allowed us interns to take complete ownership of our work, and helped along when necessary and celebrated what we individually accomplished. That takes so much discipline and trust as a leader, and I think that’s why us interns all love Arjun so so much.

Through the perfectly curated environment that the Outreach team was/is, I think all of us interns have found a special place in AI, whether it was creating funny slides, perfecting our amazing podcast, or even hosting awesome AI events on social issues. Outreach this year has served as the foundation—rather already the beginning—of the eye-opening work that ACM AI has to share with the amazing people of this world. Stay tuned :)

Written on July 18, 2020 by Mat Ruíz