Career Notes 9.12.21
Ep 66 | 9.12.21

Joe Bradley: A bit of a winding road. [Chief Scientist]


Joe Bradley: My name is Joe Bradley and I'm the Chief Scientist at LivePerson. 

Joe Bradley: It's not so much that I didn't have an idea of things that I wanted to do, it's that there's been a lot of different ideas along the way and it ranges from opera singing to potentially wanting to be a professor of English literature to being a classroom teacher to working in tech the first time, to being a physicist and all the way now to what my job is today. It's been a bit of a windy road. 

Joe Bradley: I've found that having a range of career options and existing in a range of places at a professional level, with the variety of people in a variety of perspectives has been very helpful. I think one of the, one of the areas people in my field can often fall down in is they can have this mindset where they're like, oh, well, we're the scientists in the room, you know, we're the engineers, and we kind of have this access to a truth that you don't. What happens then in companies, when that mindset builds up, you get these ivory tower organizations and you get people that don't really know how to listen and to understand the other professionals in the room. 

Joe Bradley: I've always had a love for a couple of things. One of them has been mathematics. That's kind of always been there. I fought it for a while when I was younger cause I came of age in the mid nineties when it was really cool to be an artist and really not cool to be a as nerdy as it is today. Throughout my career, I've wanted to kind of marry those things. I think there is a real connection between music and math. It's sort of like absent minded scientists to the mad scientist of math than it is typically the engineer mindset. I think there's something cognitive going on there. Many of the most mathematically intuitive people that I've met are people that also have a creative outlet and a lot of times it's music. 

Joe Bradley: I was fortunate to be able to get a master's degree in mathematics and also pretty close to the equivalent in physics. I went up to UW from there, spent several years getting a PhD and then I went and worked in the country's national labs a little bit. I worked for Los Alamos as a grad student. I worked for Livermore as a scientist. That was a very interesting time and I think very fun and fertile academic time. But ultimately for me, that felt like it was the career trajectory there was just kind of weird physicist with some strange other stuff in the background. But there was one recruiter at Amazon that took a chance and saw something in what I've written. I spent time time there working for the ads platform, working as a scientist, building models, building systems that build models, and then started to kind of take on management work in other places from there. 

Joe Bradley: I kind of have two jobs. The first one is to lead the science as a function for LivePerson and to grow the scientific professionals we have. Deciding with the science leads, what our research agenda should be. Making sure we have the right tooling and data management and all that stuff is one piece of it, but also making sure that we have habit of mind around the way we run experiments and the way we learn. So that's one side of the job. On the other hand, I also run a product development organization, which is sort of coupled into the science teams and we manage them with a little bit of cross-functional pods. 

Joe Bradley: Sometimes I think of scientists as a little bit of a cross between like a designer and an engineer. There's a little bit of both mentalities in there. In order to get a great science team to be excited about their work and to really produce, I think you also have to manage the art of helping them with process and with management. I come into a number of science teams that were kind of essentially unmanaged where there really wasn't a process about how you move work forward or how you understand if it's moving forward well and how you stop it when it isn't. And, the first instinct of a lot of science folks is to put some structure around this, and to hear that as creatively limiting. You have to make the case to these folks that it's actually going to help them in the end.  

Joe Bradley: One of the smartest things I did was go to grad school and really go deep on math. And, there was a time, I was doing that and it was like eight to 12 hours a day at like madman then I'd go home. I would do more. But in hindsight, now how I look at it is that I invested in training my mind be able to do things easily that it could not do before. And that without that training, most people can't do. I think, however, you succeed in this world, you're probably succeeding because you've done some version of that. Maybe it's not math, maybe it's acting, maybe it's whatever. You've gone deep on something and you've become something different because of how much you put into it. 

Joe Bradley: If we advance the ball, I don't mean we as LivePerson. I mean, we as a culture. Advances the ball a little bit on that general goal, I think we've done some good and I'd be very proud of that.