About Me

I’m the husband to an incredible wife, the proud father of three kids (a son plus younger boy/girl twins), and have an English Shepherd named Dixie who’s too smart for her own good. We live just outside of Washington, DC in Rockville, MD. To support that family I work as the Chief Analytics Officer of Envelop Risk (I assess and quantify companies’ cyber risk), and to support my ability to do that day job with a clear mind I run, bike, and hike.

My family in our prized backyard (a rare find in the area)

Before ultras or triathlons

I grew up exploring the dense mountains and forests around my family’s rural home in Morgan County, TN, constantly trying to keep up with my older brother and cousins. My background is a good parallel to my current mix of interests: one of my grandfathers got an 8th grade education before working to help support his family as a coal miner and prison guard, and the other got a PhD in nuclear physics from MIT working with an advisor who would become a nobel prize winner. I’m equally proud of both.

Chimney Top
My family at the top of Chimney Top in Frozen Head when I was 4.

I’ve been running most of my life. In high school I was a good, but not great runner. During college and grad school I essentially took a full decade off from the sport. My physical activity consisted primarily of intramural softball and shoveling snow, and while writing my dissertation I weighed a solid 20% more than I do now.

Anchoring the 4 x 800 relay at the state track meet my senior year. Don’t worry, that guy behind me definitely runs me down.
The Gigahurts softball team, a bunch of electrical and computer engineers at CMU. We were actually pretty good.

How I got started in endurance sports

After grad school I rediscovered my love of the mountains on a road trip out west that included hiking the John Muir Trail with my aforementioned incredible wife Jessi. She finished (and loved) that hike despite having never camped a single night in the backcountry in her life. Part of that trip can still be found on her old pre-kids blog. After that trip, I decided I wanted to physically challenge myself and see what I was capable of while I was still capable of it.

My wife and I on Mt. Whitney at the end of the JMT. Yup, that’s the best facial hair I could manage after weeks in the wilderness (my greatest shame as an ultrarunner).

I ended up running the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon, and it was an absolute disaster. It was my first race in 10 years, my longest race by 20 miles, and my training had been horribly insufficient. Of course immediately after that I said, “I think I can do better” and signed up for another.

A year later I had the Boston Qualifier I had originally been aiming for, but it was a year and a half before I could actually run Boston. I needed something to keep me in shape and challenge me until then. So I decided to give ultras a shot, because I loved trail running. Then I decided to give triathlons a shot, because I loved running and biking and figured I “only” needed to learn how to swim.

I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of joy, strength, and perspective out of both ultrarunning and triathlon. I’ve encountered many of my limits, both physical and mental, and then discovered that I could push them further than I ever thought possible. I still consider myself a trail runner at heart and feel most at home in the ultrarunning community, but I do love the unique challenges that triathlon brings and the wonderful people it gives me the opportunity to meet. I’m not sure exactly what my long term plans are for either sport, but for now I’ll be continuing with triathlons in summer and ultras in the winter. Through this blog I hope to be able share my experiences in those sports with others and motivate them to get out there and enjoy their own adventures.

 

How I became a data scientist

I’ve always been a math and computer person who enjoys finding patterns and automating complex processes. I was introduced to machine learning while doing my MS at NC State, and then really started to dive into it for my my PhD at Carneie Mellon. My research there was on brain-computer interfaces, and I primarily worked on translating the raw neural signals into usable control signals for computer cursors, robotic arms, and other assistive devices. My work was essentially a two part process: developing digital signal processing algorithms to remove noise from the neural data, and then applying machine learning algorithms to map the clean data to user intent. It was incredible to be a part of that research and it’s still hard to imagine doing work that’s more fulfilling or interesting (Paralyzed man moves robotic arm with his thoughts).

After grad school I joined Lockheed Martin, which is what originally brought us to the DC area. I expanded my work in data science and got to experience firsthand the breadth of domains and applications that machine learning can be applied to. I was essentially an internal machine learning consultant and became the Technical Lead for Corporate Data Analytics. I was exposed to incredible technologies and was able to work on some highly rewarding projects, but in the end the corporate lifestyle wasn’t for me.

Corporate John

An opportunity at a startup, where there was less bureaucracy and I would have more influence over research and applications, was something I couldn’t walk away from. In the summer of 2015, around the same time that I got serious about ultrarunning and triathlons, I made the jump to become the Director of Analytics at QxBranch, a data analytics startup in downtown DC. I greatly enjoyed my time there and got to help grow the company from just five people to over 30 and beyond a Series A fundraise, and had the opportunity to see (and in most cases do) everything that’s needed to run a company. Despite the heavy workload and unpredictable hours of being at an early stage startup, it actually helped my training tremendously. The schedule flexibility allowed me to take care of family responsibilities and fit training in whenever I could, and I even had a very nice route through Rock Creek Park that I could run or bike as my commute. Most importantly, no one cared if I showed up to the office covered in sweat, rain, or mud after a long run!

Malcolm Turnbull meeting with QxBranch

One of the projects I led at QxBranch was a system to quantify companies’ cyber risk to more effectively price insurance for that risk. We partnered with a company in the UK to create another startup, Envelop Risk, that could better deliver that product to customers and insurance partners. I am now the Chief Analytics Officer of Envelop, leading the continued development of our technology.