Blog #2: Unexpected News

Almost half-way there! It’s crazy how time passes. Like the first two weeks at PingThings, a lot has happened, so let’s just jump right into it!


My third week at PingThings started off quite normal. As usual, each morning we had our daily standups where each team member discussed what they were working on. On Wednesday we had our weekly “Lunch and Learn” with Allen Leis, one of the infrastructure developers. During the “Lunch and Learn,” Allen spoke to us about how he got into PingThings and told us about his åcademic background. I found this conversation super interesting. Allen started working in computer science in the army where he worked as a front-end developer. As time went by, he explored different avenues. For a time, he worked independently on whichever projects people would offer him. He also switched into data science for some time after getting tired of doing so much front-end. What surprised me most was that Allen started working in computer science even though he studied economics as an undergrad. This really resonated with me, since I am also pursuing a simultaneous degree in economics. Having the opportunity to talk to someone who had experience in both of these fields is not something one sees too often, so I took the opportunity to ask him some of my questions. My first question was how he thought these two fields could be combined and what areas are at the frontier of both fields. Allen told us he believed that the next big thing would be the intersection of computer science and behavioral economics. Even with my limited economics knowledge, I think he is completely right. Until recently, our economic theories prioritized mathematical simplicity over actual truth. This made sense in an age without computers, but now with the commonplace of computers, we must revise our theories and make them as truthful as possible. As we reached the end of our chat, Allen gave us some helpful advice about grad school. During our call, he also told us that Ben, the lead of the data science team at PingThings, had decided to leave for a more research-oriented job. This came as quite a shock, since I am working as a machine learning intern under the data science team.


The next day, the unfortunate news that Ben had left was confirmed. At the time I became worried about the direction of my internship over the summer. Ben was supposed to be our supervisor for the internship, but now he was gone. Who was going to replace him? How long would it take? Fortunately, Sean, the CEO of the company, quickly took control. He promptly set up a meeting the following week to discuss the direction of the data science team.


The following Monday, we had our data science reboot. Sean took the opportunity to inform the whole data science team of the direction we were going to be taking for the next couple of months. This meeting was super helpful for me because it gave me a strong overall picture of our tasks, the company, and our direction. The following day, we had our Tuesday/Thursday data science OH. During the office hours, Brice Kamgne showed the project he had been working on: Red Hawk. Red Hawk is a tool which will be used to classify the PMU data streams. In each PMU data stream, we need to label whether there was a drop in voltage or rise, etc in order to be able to train future algorithms to predict/detect events for us without having to label them anymore. After our data science OH, we had a meeting with a UC Irvine professor who is also working with the electric grid. The meeting allowed me to see what some of the frontier research is in that field.


Lastly, during the fourth week, I got the opportunity to attend the ACM e-Energy 2020 conference. The conference was held from June 22nd to June 26th in Melbourne, Australia. Of course, this year everything was going to be held online, which was great for me because it allowed me the ability to participate. The goal of the ACM e-Energy conference is to bring together researchers around the world who are working on “computing and communication for smart energy systems (including smart grids, smart buildings, and smart cities), and in energy-efficient computing and communication systems.” This was a truly unique opportunity for me. Moreover, our mission at PingThings fit in perfectly. Due to the difference in time zones, the timings were a bit off. Despite that, I got the chance to attend two of the events. In one of the events, several researchers spoke about their research relating to smart energy systems. One project stood out to me in that event. A researcher suggested using home lights to display information about one’s home. For instance, if one has solar panels and a home battery, when the battery is fully charged, the ambient lights could turn slightly green or slightly red if there is low battery. This type of display would allow people of all backgrounds to easily understand and monitor different aspects of their house. Best of all though is that I have a recording of the event itself so I can always go back and look at it.


As one can see, these two weeks were quite eventful. Fortunately, everything is working out great. With all that said, I cannot wait for the next two weeks!