One of the things you will notice when speaking to our team members is that every single person here is a maker at heart. We all have hobbies and projects going on outside of work. Our love for learning and just doing different things is what sets us apart from the rest.
Meet Marco and Ed, two members of the engineering team who are excited to share with us their hobbies and personal side projects.
Some background information about me
If I could describe myself in a few words I’d say I’m adventurous, like learning by doing and I’m curious about everything.
I started working at GoodNotes straight after graduating from uni. I studied pure mathematics. I’ve always loved math, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. Then I had the chance to take some summer courses and I loved the math classes. It really wasn’t clear to me what kind of career path I would take after studying pure math, but I find it’s been really useful for my work here.
My journey from studying mathematics to working at GoodNotes
This was actually my first job out of school. I’ve been working here for three years now. When I graduated from uni I had a few options, but I just clicked with Steven (our founder) right from the beginning. I’ve always thought that the most important thing about work are the people you are with.
At GoodNotes I feel like ideas can float. I think everyone here is a good listener and I can learn a lot from them. I’m definitely not the smartest person in the room. Everyone else is so much smarter than me. And that means that I am constantly learning from others.
Math, Machine Learning and Coding
I’m a Machine Learning engineer at GoodNotes. I think it is less traditional work than what a software engineer would do. Software engineers are usually working on building an app with certain features and then correcting or enhancing them.
Machine Learning is more iterative. It’s like doing chemistry experiments; I try different things to see what works, what doesn’t. I would say that what I do is more scientific than traditional software engineering. And I think that my background in pure math helps a lot.
Machine Learning involves a lot of math as well, a lot of calculus and linear algebra. What’s interesting is what I didn’t really code before starting at GoodNotes. That meant that I had to do a lot of studying by myself when I started here. When I first joined the company, I had the first two weeks off. I took this time to complete online courses, study, research and basically get myself up to speed.
I really enjoyed the fact that I was given a lot of autonomy right from the beginning. No one tells you what to do because everyone is basically their own manager here.
I have a lot of interests
I have a lot of interests and hobbies. Right now, I’m into bodybuilding, bouldering and studying politics, because of the current situation in Hong Kong.
But today I’d like to share about one of the projects I’ve been working on for the longest: building self-driving remote control cars.
How I got into self-driving remote cars
It’s funny how you can get interested in something. I actually got into these robocars through a friend. About two years ago I was organising some deep learning meetups and I met a friend there who was excited about building autonomous cars. He gave a presentation about it and it got me pumped! He obviously gave a very good presentation and by the end of it I was sold.
A few friends and I started working on this soon after that meetup. We would meet up after work and during weekends and also joined hackathon. We went to Guiyang for a hackathon competition this year and had so much fun.
We were so enthusiastic about participating in that competition. We were the only ones who had new robocar parts and experimented with different software approaches. Once we got there though, we realised that things would not be so easy. The conditions at that hackathon were actually pretty harsh. Mainly because the sunlight was shining so brightly on the track that there wasn’t enough of a contrast between the track lines.
So the camera’s view was all white. The car didn’t know what to do! It kept going around in circles. In the end, we solved the issue by using software and we were the only team who managed to figure it out. The other teams — they waited for the sunset.
I won’t get into all the technical details, but if you are interested in finding out more check out this blog post my teammate wrote a few months ago. It goes into all the technical details about how we worked things out in the end.
There’s also a big worldwide community called Donkey Car where you can find help, give help, showcase your work and just share with others who are also building a robocar.
So I really enjoy this side project. It’s one of those things where you can keep improving. There’s a lot of things we can still do. What we are doing right now is imitation learning. What I mean is that right now I drive the car around a certain track around 10 times and then it’ll mimic that behaviour to “learn” how to go around that specific track. So it is not a true self-driving car yet. If I put it on a random track, it won’t learn by itself.
Our aim is for us to be able to put it on any track, and for it to self-learn. We are still not there yet because the computation power on the chip is too low.
Keeping yourself motivated
I’m lucky that I get to share this passion with a couple of my friends. But in the end what keeps me motivated to work on this even though it’s not for a job or money, is because I love to learn.
I started this project because I wanted to learn about hardware stuff and how to apply Machine Learning into something so small. This is so interesting to me. And once it starts working, wow, the reward is amazing.
Trying and failing is better than not doing anything
I like hands-on work. Because what I do here at GoodNotes is for software, I like to spend my time outside of work building hardware. And I guide myself by the first principles approach.
What does this mean? I like doing things from nothing at all and trying to understand everything from the beginning.
I want to explore and study everything single thing. It can be overwhelming when you don’t know anything at the beginning.
I’ve learned though that once you get started, then you can study, research, then test it out. It involves a lot of trial and error, but you get to enjoy the journey.
I’d rather try and fail multiple times than not do anything.
From Russia to Hong Kong
I’m originally from Russia and moved to Hong Kong when I joined GoodNotes about one year and a half ago. It’s not my first time in Asia though. I was previously working remotely as a full stack web developer and lived in Thailand and Vietnam.
At GoodNotes I’m the backend engineer and work on web services and integrating those services with the app.
I’m a self-learner and driven by curiosity
My father is a technician so we had a lot of computers and hardware stuff at home. For as long as I can remember I’ve liked tech, but I didn’t really think about becoming a software engineer because I was always more interested in gaming.
Then in high school I taught myself how to code in C++ and for a couple of years I was trying to create my own game. I never succeeded but that journey cemented my decision to study Computer Science.
I ended up dropping out though. I didn’t really like the system. For example, with lab works you’d often have to wait for a week to be able to meet with the teacher and discuss changes or updates. The whole process was so slow that it often got me frustrated. Studying via online courses is much faster and I can go at my own pace.
I’m also more of a self-learner. I like to look for things myself, read books, learn by trying.
I’m driven by curiosity and I am very excited about technology. At the same time I’m someone who gets easily bored with things. I’ve had many hobbies: I played ping-pong, football, and basketball. I dabbled on so many things, but then got bored. However, there were certain things that I always came back to, like computers.
At GoodNotes, I don’t get bored. The environment feels like a Hackathon that lasts forever. There’s a lot of freedom in the way we work, my project is my responsibility. And we get lots of autonomy. There’s more creative freedom, which is much more interesting than being told what to do everyday.
My latest passion: mechanical keyboards
What I’m into right now are mechanical keyboards. Marco was actually the one who got me into it. We always wanted to collaborate on a hardware project together. He was working on this first and I decided to join him.
The first keyboard I built is fully 3D printed. We ordered the components and did all the soldering ourselves. It’s open source hardware, so you can find all the information you need online. You basically order the parts online and just build it.
I have about 10 keyboards right now. And I have some more orders I still haven’t received. I keep building more keyboards because there is so much room for self-expression. You can choose different casings, switches, buttons — there’s a huge variety of shapes actually.
I try different kinds of keycaps, and think that I’ve found what works for me. I’m looking for creative, special key caps. Right now, I’m waiting for some that were designed after a Soviet Space mission, which is something I feel connected to.
You could say I’m looking for the perfect one. And the only way to find the perfect one is to try different variations.
There’s a huge community of people who are into building mechanical keyboards. There’s a reddit forum where people post pictures of their creations and it makes me want to buy everything. I’ve decided to set myself a budget for how much I can spend on a monthly basis because it was getting hard to control my spending.
Staying motivated is not always easy with side projects, especially when you don’t get an immediate result from them. You can get lazy. I like building keyboards because it’s not difficult and it’s not time consuming. Once you get into it, it can take only a few hours to build.
Several other colleagues started becoming interested in making one, so I even wrote a guide for them.
It’s amazing when you create something that you had only thought of in your imagination. Making it a reality is truly an amazing feeling.