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Darren Clarke our Chief Engineering Officer talks us through his first 6 months at Eigen

I can’t believe that it was only six months ago I joined Eigen. The time has flown by at lightning speed and it already feels like a second home. So much so that I thought I’d explain my journey to Eigen and why I’m so excited about the future here.

Why Eigen?

Back at the start of the ‘90s, when my career began, AI was interesting from a theoretical point of view. But the real-world applications at the time felt limited, at least to me. The nascent public Internet was what really grabbed my attention, along with the availability of high-speed networks and the new possibilities offered by distributed computing. I spent the subsequent 25 years specialising in the latter, particularly back-end engineering and application/systems architecture.

But about a decade ago, my thoughts on AI started to change. AI, especially ML, had come a long way since I first heard about it in 1990. A new emphasis on mathematical and statistical methods, alongside increases in computing power, had moved the field forward by leaps and bounds. As I watched from the outside, ML began to ingrain itself in everyday life, expanding from online search and recommendations to trend analysis and proactive IT monitoring, right through to the personal assistants inside speakers and mobile devices. As the science and the everyday relevance progressed, I realised that this was where I wanted to be.

Towards the end of last year, I knew it was time. But I was wary of moving to any company that just says it ‘does AI’. I wanted to work for a company that really uses ML at the heart of its tech and business. For me, it was equally important to find a young company with a high bar for engineering excellence and a healthy dose of mutual appreciation between the various functions within the business.

Like so many great opportunities in life, I came across Eigen by accident. In short, I was trying to get rid of a beer fridge during an office move. The people that took the fridge off my hands returned the favour by introducing me to Eigen, a definite win-win!

As the recruitment process unfolded, I became more familiar with the product and underlying tech, as well as the many characters in the Eigen family. The technology was clearly awesome, and Eigen wasn’t just using ML, it was built on it from the ground up. The technologists I met were hugely impressive and the leadership team gave the me the confidence to know this was opportunity I’d been dreaming of.

What Have I Found?

Six months later, I’m beginning to fully understand what a truly amazing opportunity this is, and how much I still need to learn.

What I now realise is that I’ve found a company with a solid product, a book of clients to die for, a highly skilled and passionate engineering team that is valued by the entire business, and a research-led approach to development. Eigen doesn’t just build ML-based products, it has a dedicated team of scientists that work hand-in-hand with the engineers. They specialise in the fundamentals that underpin ML and take our technology to the next level. It’s more than I could have hoped for.

Some of our biggest challenges today are the classic challenges of growth companies. Fortunately my experience from previous roles in navigating these pain points and applying industry best practice to engineering is proving to be useful, and it’s gratifying to feel that I’m contributing back to the business. I’m excited to be bringing my own knowledge and experience along to help take Eigen through the next steps of growth and success.

So, what about the next four months? My to-do list is daunting, but inspiring at the same time:

  1. The culture at Eigen is amazing. We need to keep it that way as we continue to scale, and that takes conscious effort on all our parts. We’re hiring hard in across all of engineering, in both London and New York. (If you’re an engineer reading this and want to join our amazing team, we have some great job openings.) I’m acutely aware of the part I must play in maintaining and strengthening the culture that is critical to our success.
  2. The cycle time for new features could and should be much shorter. Given where we are today, I’ve set myself an aggressive target for where I want us to be 12 months from now. We are already making good progress.
  3. We need to practise what we preach and get better at automation. We know the benefits it brings and where we should be applying it: building on our existing Continuous Integration capabilities and starting in earnest on Infrastructure-as-Code and Continuous Delivery.
  4. We also need to introduce standardisation across our development and release processes. Our shortcomings in this area are typical of companies at our stage--fixing them will enable us to get to the next level.
  5. Communication and collaboration across the team are already good, but I believe we always have room to improve.

One of the things I really like at Eigen is that the culture values learning and development in everyone. My learning and contribution here is only just beginning, and that’s hugely exciting for me. In fact, I haven’t been this excited to get up and come to work every morning for many years. I relish the challenge of taking an already fantastic engineering team to the next level, and beyond. I know it will be worth all the hard work!

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