Eleven Years in America

A little over eleven years ago my wife and I got on a flight from Manchester airport bound for JFK, and then took an internal flight to get to Pittsburgh, PA. A couple of years later we moved to upstate New York where I took a position with a small company called Kitware. I have been with Kitware for nine years today (the earliest date a H-1B visa holder can take up a position in the year their visa is issued). I have now been with Kitware for nine years, first as an R&D Engineer, and as a Technical Leader for over six years now.

Way back in 2002 I was an undergraduate, and had the opportunity to spend some time in America. I had never been before, and I fell in love with what I thought was America. More specifically it was the Bay Area in Northern California where I made some friends we are still in touch with ocasionally, and where my view of the world changed significantly. I had never considered that we could move so far, nor had I appreciated how much of the world’s science and technology was developed in America.

The view of the clouds from a recent flight across the continent

I won’t go over the entire story here, but in 2007 as I finished up my PhD I took a postdoctoral position with Geoff Hutchison at the University of Pittburgh. A couple of years later as my two year term was coming up I was offered a position with Kitware. I moved through different visas before obtaining a green card, and earlier this year naturalizing. We have built our family here, and I have built a career in open scientific software.

I am enormously grateful to so many people who helped me along with way, and the opportunities I had the good fortune to find. I have worked through the night and over weekends at times to build a career in an area that wasn’t even necessarily a career path when I started out. I started out as an R&D Engineer nine years ago, and have been a Technical Leader for over six years. During that time I have brought in over $5 million in Federal funding, and numerous smaller commercial projects. I have also built a number of open source projects, and played key roles in others.

A big turning point for me was the Google Summer of Code program where I took part as a student in 2007. I have since served as a mentor and organization administrator in most subsequent years. I gained a formal education in Physics, getting both a BSc and a PhD, but open source is what gave me so many opportunities to learn about software. Combining the two has been a huge driver for me since graduating in both my postdoctoral work, and my work at Kitware. It became clear to me working in a lab that the software driving science was important, and needed to be improved.

I now lead projects, and actively develop open source code to address gaps I saw as a researcher. These include Avogadro, Tomviz, VTK, ParaView, and others. I also continue to search for the most sustainable ways to do this sustainably, and have the privilege of working with great people both within my company as well as collaborators in the wider community. I travel a lot for work, and am grateful to my wife for supporting me in keeping up what can be quite a hectic schedule at times. I have given talks where I have been told this open source thing won’t work, and I have attended talks where open source was clearly the standard.

In that time my wife and I have built a family, bought a home, and built lives in our adopted country. We both miss our country of birth, our families, and the friends we left behind. She has always been amazingly supportive of pursuing my dream in America, and has taken such great care of our children. One was born in Pittsburgh, PA just before we left, and the other right here in upstate New York. This November will be the first time we can vote in an election too.

I don’t know what the next eleven years hold in store, but I am encouraged by the successes of the last eleven. Open source and open science have both moved from fringe movements to the mainstream. We are seeing huge increases in the size and complexity of scientific data, and I hope to continue playing a part in developing innovative solutions. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are everywhere, it is clear that they will play increasingly large roles in future projects.

As I reflect on my time in America, at Kitware, and previous roles I am proud of what I have accomplished. I can’t take all of the credit, and wouldn’t ever want to as I have also worked with some of the best people in a number of fields. Science is hard, software is increasingly at the center of scientific discoveries, and we need to create scalable, open projects in unison with researchers. I still haven’t found my way back to California full time, but I have a number of collaborations that take me over there frequently.

I count myself very lucky to work on projects I am passionate about, and I am still being pushed to learn new things pretty much everyday. There are some very stressful days, and things certainly don’t always go smoothly or as planned don’t get me wrong… Keeping my fingers crossed that the next eleven years are as challenging and rewarding wherever we might end up.

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