Never forget where you came from

Here is kind of a cheezy advice for a new manager, but one that I found quite useful as I got more leadership responsibilities a few years ago:

Never forget where you came from.

Some people get promoted and all of a sudden they think they are a big shot. They stop looking at their friends the same way, or hanging with those folks that "stayed behind." They change the way they talk, behave, and the circles they spend time in.

They fail to realize they are still the same person they were before the promotion. Their inability to act like the person who they are speaks about their stupidity and lack of humility. They forgot why they were promoted in the first place: for being who they were.

If you are promoted, go back and do more of all the shit that made you the person you are today. We need more of that, not less. Remember you aren't unique, and most important, without those people that supported you in the first place you aren't anyone.

Don't turn your back to the rest of us.

Mixed feelings

After four weeks of working full time with AWS, I have mixed feelings about the current state of cloud development. This is a great time to develop enterprise applications in the cloud: AWS (and Azure, and GCP) makes so many things possible — things that were complex before. You can quickly stitch together services and create a sophisticated, integrated system with much less effort than before.

This is great.

But I also feel that there's so much more than can and needs to be done. Over the past month, I estimate that we have spent 90% of our time worrying about infrastructure and only 10% working on the actual code of the application. Sure, at the end this might be for the greater good, but a lot of things have become too cumbersome and time-consuming. Things that are supposed to be much simpler.

Developers can't just be developers anymore; they have to learn a ton of stuff that wasn't part of their jobs before. Or maybe, this is just what being a modern "developer" means.

I'm looking forward to a time where coding your application becomes the main focus again, and the infrastructure piece "just works." We've made a lot of progress, but we haven't arrived yet.

Importing related files from an Amazon S3 bucket using an AWS Lambda function

There's an Amazon S3 bucket that we need to monitor to process files copied into it. Doing this is pretty straightforward by invoking a lambda function whenever the s3:ObjectCreated:* event is triggered by S3.

The Internet is plastered with examples on how to set up this process. You should be able to get everything up and running after a few minutes following one of those tutorials.

But here is a different twist to this problem: we are going to be receiving files in pairs that need to be processed together. Specifically, we will be receiving an image file (let's assume a .PNG file for simplicity) along with related information (metadata) stored in a .JSON file with the same name. For example, we will be getting a file named image1.png and image1.json copied into the bucket, and we need to make sure they are processed together.

Let's define our problem a little bit more formally:

  • Files will come in pairs, a .PNG file and a .JSON file with the same name.

  • Files might be copied at different times into the S3 bucket. We might get the images first, then the corresponding metadata files at a later date, or vice versa.

  • We need to process the files as a unit. We can't handle the image nor the metadata until we have access to both files.

AWS triggers an event for each object created in the S3 bucket, so for each pair of files, we will be getting two separate lambda invocations. We can't make assumptions about the order of the invocations, or how long until both files are ready, so we need to build some synchronization plumbing to take care of this.

The idea behind the solution

I'm sure there are multiple ways to tackle this problem, but we wanted to make things as simple as possible, so we decided to have our lambda collect the files as they show up, and only trigger the processing step whenever we have the pair together.

We can't keep the files in the original S3 bucket because we aren't sure how long it will take for the pair to be ready, and the original files might be removed before we have a chance to collect both of them. This means that we need to copy the files to a separate S3 bucket as soon as we get access to them, and hold them there until we get access to the second file of the pair and have a chance to process them.

To keep track of which file we have and which one we are missing, we can use a DynamoDB table to keep track of where we are. Whenever the lambda function is invoked, we can check the DynamoDB table to determine whether we have both files of the pair, and only move to the processing step when we do.

The radiography of the lambda function

Here is a high-level description of what our lambda function looks like. Remember this function is invoked with every s3:ObjectCreated:* event triggered by the source S3 bucket:

  1. Copy the file from source S3 bucket into the target S3 bucket — this target bucket is our temporal space until we are ready to process the pair of files.

  2. Get from DynamoDB table the record corresponding to the file — we can do this using the name of the file as its identifier.

  3. If a record doesn't exist, create a new one with a status of loading — if a record doesn't exist, it means that this is the first file corresponding to the pair, so we just need to create a new record and do nothing else.

  4. If a record does exist, we can update its status to ready and invoke the processing step.

The code that makes things happen

The gist above shows the Python implementation for this lambda function. Notice that the code makes the following assumptions:

  • Files will be copied in a source S3 bucket that's connected to this lambda function. You can do this by following any of the available samples published as part of AWS' documentation.

  • The lambda function will copy the files to a bucket named temp-bucket. Make sure you change this reference in the code to the name of your own bucket.

  • There's a DynamoDB table created with the name dynamodb-table.

  • There's a (mysterious) invoke_processing_step function that I'm leaving outside of the code. This function receives the name of the file and takes care of processing the pair.

It could be a little bit more complicated

There might be more than two files that we need to process together. In that case, the DynamoDB table will have to store a little bit more information: which files have been read and which ones are missing. Extending the code to support this scenario shouldn't be much more complicated, so I'm leaving that to the reader.

You might also want to remove the records from the DynamoDB table as soon as you finish processing them. I'm assuming this is outside of the scope of this lambda function —or at least, it's not part of the main thread that I tried to follow with this post—, but keep that in mind.

It came out pretty good

In the end, the code came out pretty clean, and the process seems to be holding up pretty well. I'm curious about the results when we stress-test it by bombarding all sort of files into the bucket, but I'm confident things will go as expected.

I'd love to hear about other ways to solve this same problem or any considerations that we might have missed when designing this solution. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have any comments.

Looking past the surface

This one took me a long time to learn.

People applying for an open position at your company are much more than what their resumes say. They are more than their education and experience. They are more than their ability to answer questions under pressure or make a first good impression.

They are people. Unpredictable human beings full of surprises.

Sometimes one has to look past the surface and evaluate candidates based on the impact they can make on your team. Instead of only focusing on them as individuals, think about the whole picture. What could improve if this person starts working with us? How is this person going to change things around here?

A lot of good things can happen when people are giving the opportunity to work under the right conditions around equally motivated individuals. These things are hard to quantify and they usually don't come up in 60-minute interviews, let alone in 500-word resumes.

OpenAI Gym's LunarLander-v2 Implementation

If you are into Reinforcement Learning, it's very likely that you've heard about OpenAI Gym. It's an amazing platform that you should check out in case you haven't heard about it.

This post is specifically about the LunarLander-v2 environment and my implementation to solve it. This environment consists of a lander that, by learning how to control 4 different actions, has to land safely on a landing pad with both legs touching the ground.

This was my first exciting Reinforcement Learning problem and I'm very proud of the work I did and everything I learned in the process. Here are some cool things I got to use while working on this project:

  • Deep Q-Network (DQN)
  • Deep Neural Networks (DNN)
  • Experience Replay

Most than anything, this project got me to love Reinforcement Learning and helped me understand the power of it.

Here is the link to the GitHub repo with my solution that also includes the full analysis.

Focus your resume in the value you can provide, not the tools you can use

We all do the same thing: plaster our resumes with every single detail we know or ever heard mentioned. From the most critical technology stack to the smallest recondite tool, we always focus too much on the tools we can handle and forget something much more important.

Our resumes should be more about the value we can provide and much less about the things we will use to achieve that value.

Often, people making hiring decisions do not understand how to solve their problems in the first place, so it's tough for them to make the connection between your list of skills and their needs. I've been on the hiring side enough times to understand this.

Companies have problems, and they are looking for candidates that can solve them. During my interviews, I spend most of my time trying to find a good fit for the candidate in front of me — I'm making the necessary connections in my mind, doing the translation from the list of skills to the value that those skills can afford me. This works when I know what I'm talking about, but it's tough when I'm trying to hire people that know how to do things that are entirely above my head.

You should consider selling yourself better.

Stop focusing on your skills; those are the tools that you can use to provide value, and they are great, and fancy, and buzzwordy, but knowing them is a feeble measure of whether you'll be able to solve any problems. I bet you've never hired a contractor because they told you they had a chainsaw and a hammer, right? You hired them because they showed you they knew how to solve your problem. You can apply the same logic here.

This is how you can do better:

  1. Look at your resume and make sure you are not focusing too much on the tools. If you have more than four or five skills listed there, you are probably giving too many unnecessary details. Try to shrink down the list by removing everything that's not relevant. As an example, I've read too many resumes for a Senior Engineering position listing things like "XML," "JSON," and "Visual Studio .NET."

  2. After the first pass, you can try and consolidate the list even further by abstracting your specific skills to what matters to the client. For example, instead of listing "HTML," "CSS," and "JavaScript," you can say "Web development," or instead of listing "Objective C" and "Swift," you can say "Mobile development."

  3. Your resume should be tailored as much as possible to the position you are seeking, and your experience should reflect what you've been able to accomplish working under similar responsibilities. How were you able to provide value as a "Mobile Developer" in your last company? Did you do something out of the ordinary? Were you able to reduce timelines, or cut budgets, or come up with a novel solution to a problem?

  4. Finally, whenever you can, make your application as much about the company as possible. This might be hard if you are applying to small, lesser-known firms, but sometimes you can find a lot of information online. Identify different areas in the company that you can improve, and use your pitch about how to solve those problems as the introduction to your resume — A cover letter is a perfect way to do this. Tell people how, thanks to your experience, you can provide incredible value to their operation.

Even if you do a little bit of the above, you'll stand above the legion of people that stubbornly keep sending resumes meant for search engines and not hiring managers.

A little bit of salesmanship is something that we can all use to our benefit.

What motivates me?

Yesterday Nelson asked me what exactly motivates me to do what I do every day. A loaded question that made me think for a bit.

I gave him what in retrospect seems like a 75%-complete answer. I also realize that I've never asked myself this same question, or at least, I've never really thought about what the actual answer is.

It seems like a great exercise, and I plan to do a couple of things from now on:

  1. Ask myself this question on a regular basis. I want to make sure I'm spending my time appropriately, and my motives make me feel proud of who I am and what I do.

  2. Ask the people around me this question and learn from what makes them wake up every day.

And with a little bit more time to think about it, here is what I think it is a complete answer to what motivates me:

First, I'm doing what I love: I'm helping push the industry forward by making computers do what seems magical for a lot of people that use them. Here "magical" doesn't necessarily mean extraordinary, but instead delightful and extremely useful. I enjoy telling people how my work affects their life. It makes me proud, and all those hours, and work, and sweat seem worth every penny.

Second, my contributions are squarely focused on what I enjoy the most: solving hard problems. Things that you can't simply find by searching the web or reading a book, things that stretch me to enormous lengths, things that make me extraordinarily uncomfortable. Overcoming these challenges is a powerful motivator.

Finally, I get to provide for my family by doing what I love. They say happiness is finding what you love and doing it every day. If on top of that, you also find somebody that's willing to pay you generously for this, even better.

I think this is it. I'll review this back from time to time.

By the way, what motivates you?

Yet another article about your Machine Learning career

This is what I wish I read before starting.

This article is supposed to be different from the one I posted a few days ago: A quick guide to get started on Machine Learning and Computer Vision. That one is more of a collection of resources that focus mostly on getting up to speed on Machine Learning and Computer Vision, but it lacks the story part. You know, when you don't know where to start, sometimes you need somebody that guides you step by step from the beginning and doesn't throw you in the middle of a shitton of resources.

That article was about throwing you in the dumpster. This one tries to be helpful for those who want to start doing this for real.

This "guide" (or however you want to call it) is more or less what worked for me (and exactly how I'm still doing it, because this is a lifelong learning experience, buddy).

First, let's get the bad news out of the way

If you want to dedicate your life to Machine Learning, there will be math involved. Calculus, linear algebra, statistics, and probabilities. Do you have to be an expert? Of course not, but you'll have to make peace with the idea of moonlighting while reading math concepts that you forgot ten years ago. If you like math, then this won't be a problem, and if you don't, well, it is not the end of the world, but it will have to be part of your life.

A lot of people recommend starting with a math refresher before anything else, but that would never work for me. There's a lot of math out there, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't overcomplicating my life with things that were not relevant. I began with Machine Learning theory and only looked at the specific math concepts as they got in front of me; so that's what I'd recommend you do as well.

Here you have a list of free online resources from the MIT Open Courseware that cover everything you need (and if you haven't seen the MIT Open Courseware site, consider this your End-Of-2018 gift): Mathematics for Computer Science Linear Algebra Introduction to Probability and Statistics Single Variable Calculus * Multivariable Calculus

If you are like me, then you'd like to grab a book or two to put on a shelf and never read. But you know, at least you have it just in case you are bored some day. Here are the books that I'd recommend (some of these I own, some are recommendations from other people, and most of them I haven't read):

You need the theory

Alright, so putting the math aside, like with anything else in life, you'll need some Machine Learning theory to know what you are doing. Of course, you can start messing with things directly and skip the lectures, but this would be like trying to fly a plane without going to pilot school first (except the crashing part).

A lot of people will try to send you to graduate school, and although this is a way, it's not necessary. Today, there's a lot of online coursework that you can take. For a couple of examples, check Udacity and Coursera. For a little bit more specific advice, check A quick guide to get started on Machine Learning and Computer Vision; I added some specifics there.

I had the blessing to go to graduate school. I wasn't thinking about doing Machine Learning, but once inside, I decided to specialize in it. This works, of course, but I know smarter people that didn't pay a ton of money or spent a ton of time slaving in college. Yesterday, companies cared a lot about your credentials, but right now, they are taking anyone with the necessary skills: companies need people that care, like the field, and know how to get stuff done. And you can do all of this without going to school.

So start taking courses and reading papers. Free or paid, doesn't matter. Just start learning. You can also read books, of course, but the papers will keep you on top of what's new, and hot, and buzzwordy. Papers will be harder to read, but a great exercise to get smarter (yes, you'll get smarter) and get a headache from time to time.

Pick a language

Controversial topic, for sure, but I honestly don't care: I picked Python because, by the time Machine Learning became a thing for me, I already had experience with Python. And also, because I believe Python is the best.

There, I said it.

But you can also do R and be perfectly fine with it. I know somebody (yes, a single person) that does R. But he also does Python whenever TensorFlow is involved, so, as I said, do Python.

Here are a few more books that you can add to your collection and never read: Introduction to Machine Learning with Python Python Machine Learning By Example * Machine Learning with Python Cookbook

And if you are a software developer, expect a whole lot fewer lines of code to get cool things to happen here. You are probably used to count your lines of code by the thousand —or heck, even by the million—, but here it will be different. The focus is on the data and not in the code, and you'll learn that the hard way like everyone else. Just a heads up that here you'll find average programmers achieving amazing things. Emulate them.

Then, make things happen

This is the fun part, and unfortunately, the part that some people forget: start doing things. Whenever you apply to a job, this is what companies want to see from you: shit that works. Who cares how many papers you've read and how many fancy words you can spell? Show me things that run and work, and you are getting to the next level!

Your coursework will give you a ton of exercises, so make sure you create your GitHub account and upload all your solutions there (you can set them private if the school doesn't like you to share them). Make sure you write a report or some explanation together with the code. If you have nothing else to show, this will be your Plan B.

But if you have time, and you don't have kids that ruin your nights, you can download a dataset from anywhere and do something with it. I don't care what it is, but make it interesting. Just play with the data, and select some algorithms to do something with it. Document your findings, your struggles, and push it to your GitHub account. Repeat three times, and you'll get more from it than from reading all the theory books ever written.

If you are lucky to participate in some real-world project as part of your school or company, then great! You are all set, and headed down the right path. If you are not, another option is to participate in an open-source project (everyone says this, so I'm repeating it, but open-source projects are more intimidating than what people tend to make others believe). I'd recommend asking around (StackOverflow or Quora may help) and finding a good place that allows you to follow along —and who knows— you may be able to contribute here and there.

Doing is the way you'll learn the most, so make it happen.

Expect this to be your job

First, you'll spend a lot of your time dealing with data: getting it, cleaning it, making sense out of it, cleaning it some more, and playing with it in every imaginable way.

The data will be your everything.

Then, you'll pick an algorithm —or two—, and you'll run your data through it. Sounds easier than it is, but this is pretty much a good summary. It is unlikely that you'll be inventing new algorithms, but instead, you'll be using everything that others have already put together for you. And don't let people minimize this step: as I said, this is tricky stuff. Knowing what to pick and how to apply it is an art that you'll need to master.

Then, you'll communicate your results. This is very important: unless you can get people to understand what you did, your work has no value. Here you'll learn how to talk, write, and visualize your data. You'll need to master the art of making people that know nothing about math, statistics, and probabilities understand what you need them to know.

Finally, you'll look at your work, decide that is not that good after all, and go back to the first step to iterate and make it better. Rinse and repeat, my friend. You'll do this until it's good enough —or you run out of budget, whatever comes first.

Final remarks

Be ready to suck at this for a long time. I've been doing it for some time, and I'm still horrible at it. I have hope, and I'm certainly better than what I was last week, but this is a forever thing, and only practice and time will help you get there.

And of course, don't let this to discourage you. Nobody can expect to show up in training camp and beat those who have been playing for five straight years. But if you get your sorry ass out of the comfort zone and start dedicating some time to this, you'll make it just like everyone else.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New 2019!

Is Machine Learning changing Software Development? Should you be worried about this?

Jeff Dean, the lead of, Google's AI division mentioned that Google was able to replace 500,000 lines of code from Google Translate with only 500 lines of TensorFlow.

Let that sink in for a second: that’s 1000:1 ratio. And of course, this is anecdotical evidence, but Machine Learning has that sort of power: to completely change software development the way we know it today.

That being said, we need to make sure we aren’t caving into the non-sense hype. Software development has pretty much been the same for the last few decades, and even though Machine Learning is threatening the status quo, we should expect changes along the same line that has gotten us where we are today. In short: computers will not be writing code for us anytime soon.

But if your life revolves around building software like mine is, then you definitely want to take note, because this is a train that’s moving fast and will have a significant impact in what we do today.

I like to remember a few years back (actually, more than a few) when everyone was writing console applications. That’s all there was until the GUI came along and people had to learn a new thing: how to develop desktop applications. I know a bunch of people (probably me, as well) that thought that we were going to write this sort of programs for the rest of our lives.

But then the Web showed up, and of course, a lot of people didn’t care enough, until they had to. How many people do you know today that are still writing desktop applications and had the luxury to ignore web applications completely? I bet a few. But something similar happened with mobile apps: a lot of developers had to adapt to learn an entirely new platform to avoid staying behind.

And of course, I’m sure not everyone had to do this, and I’m sure a lot of people are doing perfectly fine still developing console applications. But those are the exception; most of us have had to constantly evolve together with technology.

Something similar is happening right now: Machine Learning is a new thing that’s changing the way we develop software. Companies are pushing really, really hard to invest as much as they can, and developers have to get on board or face a grim future.

But there’s something new in all of this: Machine Learning is not just a new platform; it is a new way of thinking, a new way to create value using software. Machine Learning is the first serious challenge to conventional software development, where the way to make computers achieve our goals moves from humans building logical blocks of code, to humans collecting information and letting computers extract knowledge and figure out the answers.

And this is a fantastic accomplishment. With Machine Learning developers have access to offer solutions for a whole set of problems that were very difficult or near impossible before. Just look around, and you’ll be able to see a bunch of examples that have changed our lives in just the past few years.

And I hope that you aren’t feeling bad about all of this because Machine Learning is not an elite club reserved for someone else: we all need to make this happen. And if you are a software developer today and feeling pretty good about it, let me tell you a secret: adding some knowledge about Machine Learning to your tool-belt, anything, it’s like getting a super-power.

People will line to give you work and will want to pay you whatever you ask. You aren’t not just going to be another statistician, or mathematician, or whoever-else-that-doesn’t-know-software-like-you-do. You’ll have the ability to build software, and on top of that, you’ll be able to use Machine Learning to make that software much better.

You are in the best position to completely take over this industry.

And if you need any help getting started, I just posted an article with some resources that can help you get off the ground. Go, start working on this, and break a leg out there.

And before closing, Happy Christmas and Happy 2019 for everyone reading! I wish you the world for this coming year!

A quick guide to get started on Machine Learning and Computer Vision

Assuming you are starting from scratch, here is a short list of resources that will get you started. They are organized by level of complexity, and they cover both the general aspects of Machine Learning, Computer Vision, as well as more deep technical concepts and algorithms.



  • Machine Learning Clash Course — 25 lessons that expand 15 hours. 40+ exercises, lectures from Google researchers, real-world case studies, and interactive visualizations of algorithms in action. Recommended if you want an end-to-end course covering Machine Learning at a deeper level.

  • Data Preparation and Feature Engineering in ML — Recommended for intermediate technical people that want to focus on the data preparation and feature engineer side of Machine Learning. This course assumes that you completed the Machine Learning Clash Course.

  • Deep Learning Specialization — This Coursera course is taught by Andrew Ng. You will learn the foundations of Deep Learning, understand how to build neural networks, and learn how to lead successful machine learning projects. You will master not only the theory, but also see how it is applied in industry.

  • Data Scientist Nanodegree — This Udacity Nanodegree covers building effective machine learning models, running data pipelines, building recommendation systems, and deploying solutions to the cloud with industry-aligned projects.

  • Deep Learning Nanodegree — In this Udacity Nanodegree you will study cutting-edge topics such as neural, convolutional, recurrent neural, and generative adversarial networks, as well as sentiment analysis model deployment.


  • Image Classification — Learn how Google developed the state-of-the-art image classification model powering search in Google Photos. Get a crash course on convolutional neural networks, and then build your own image classifier to distinguish cat photos from dog photos. Programming experience is required.

  • Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition — This is Standford's CS231n course, published free in YouTube, and covering the state-of-the-art Computer Vision theory.

  • Computer Vision Nanodegree — In this Udacity Nanodegree you will learn cutting-edge computer vision and deep learning techniques, from basic image processing, to building and customizing convolutional neural networks. You will apply these concepts to vision tasks such as automatic image captioning and object tracking, and build a robust portfolio of computer vision projects.



  • Data Skeptic — Weekly podcast featuring short mini-episodes explaining high level concepts in data science, and longer interview segments with researchers and practitioners.
  • Data Science Imposters — Weekly podcast covering data science, analytics, big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence topics.
  • Linear Digressions - Technical weekly podcast covering data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

People to Follow

  • Andrew Ng - Co-Founder of Coursera; Stanford CS adjunct faculty. Former head of Baidu AI Group/Google Brain.
  • Fei-Fei Li - Stanford CS Professor, Co-Director of the Stanford Human-Centered AI Institute, Co-Founder/chair @ai4allorg, researcher of Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, and Machine Learning.
  • Andrej Karpathy - Director of AI at Tesla. Previously a Research Scientist at OpenAI, and CS PhD student at Stanford.
  • Ian Goodfellow — Google Brain research scientist leading a team studying adversarial techniques in AI. Lead author of
  • François Chollet — Deep learning at Google. Creator of Keras, neural networks library. Author of "Deep Learning with Python".
  • Russ Salakhutdinov — Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Director of AI Research at Apple.
  • Charles Isbell — Professor and Executive Associate Dean College of Computing Georgia Tech.
  • Michael Littman — Professor at Brown University. Works mainly in Reinforcement Learning.
  • Oriol Vinyals - Research Scientist, Machine Learning/Deep Learning/AI, Google DeepMind. Previously worked on Google Brain.
  • Soumith Chintala — Works at Facebook AI Research. Created PyTorch. Co-authored WGAN and DCGAN research papers.