About Neil Traft

Neil Traft on a good hair day
Hi there! I'm a scientist trapped in an engineer's body.

I am a PhD student at the Complex Systems Center at University of Vermont, advised by Prof. Nick Cheney. I'm currently working on meta-learning and neural architecture search, with broader interests in machine learning, artificial life, and self-organizing systems. But that's only my list for today; ask me again tomorrow!

Starting my PhD is a transition that has been a long, long time in the making. I've wanted to be a scientist since at least 3rd grade when I said I wanted to be an astronomer (not an astronaut, like other kids); or middle school when I would turn on the T.V. every day after school to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Magic School Bus.

But for the past 15 years I've been a software engineer—though often also a researcher—in areas ranging from user interfaces to robotics to machine learning. I hold an MSc in computer science from the University of British Columbia, where I studied robotic planning under uncertainty under Ian Mitchell. I've spent a lot of my career working on autonomous vehicles, mostly at Uber ATG (now part of Aurora Innovation).

Here are some other things about me:

  • For work, I do research and program computers.
  • In my free time, I like to do research and program computers.
  • In another life, I might've been an explorer. I think I'd be good at it. But nowadays most of the exploring is already done.
  • In this life, you can usually find me in the office or at the coffee shop, programming computers.
  • To satiate my explorer instinct, I like to travel and go hiking, camping, and backpacking.
  • I have no trouble traveling alone. Sometimes I will program computers while alone.
  • Despite this, I also find pair programming to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
  • My main field of interest is computational intelligence, which includes machine learning, simulated agents, and bio-inspired algorithms.
  • I am deeply interested in the interactions between computation and biology, and how these two fields might inspire and feed off of each other through the broader principles of complexity science. I'm hoping to one day contribute to ecological modeling in this way.

    Backpacking Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas

    Backpacking Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas with my partner Kat and our dog Molly.

  • I enjoy thinking about things like software architecture and software craftsmanship.
  • My hobbies include programming computers.
  • My hobbies also include running and weightlifting. I believe it's important to stay strong if I am to satisfy my explorer tendencies.
  • Sometimes I yell at computers instead of programming them. Someday in the future, we will program computers primarily by yelling at them.

To connect with me, have a look at the "Being Social" section in the sidebar. And while there's not much there, you can also see some of the code I've written in my GitHub and Bitbucket accounts.


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