New Team Member Highlight - Matt Parrilla

Matt comes to us from Vermont, an entrepreneurialy spirited man. He is our Full Stack Engineer bringing his expertise in building applications from scratch to scale, helping us build delightful experiences and shore up our data practices! Not only is he a co-founder of some of his own businesses, he also comes to us from the marine robotics world! We spent some time with Matt so he could get to know you all! (also check out one of his old companies Ramble Maps)

Here's Matt:

Matt, Jacobi Software Engineer

So Matt, let's start from the top. what makes you, you?

I'm a software developer. That's part of my identity. I've been writing software for getting on 15 years now. I studied physics as an undergraduate and wasn't sure what to do with that. After I graduated I taught myself how to program, did some traveling, and then came up to Vermont to start a grad program. I didn't like the grad program but I fell in love with this place.

I built a live music search engine as a startup and spent about a year working on it. We had some users; it was a very involved project and it never took off. I had a whole lot of fun and my co-founder and I both got great jobs coming out of that. That was my start in software. From there I worked in public radio as a newsroom developer doing data visualizations and web applications in support of their mission of public service.

What makes me me though… I’d definitely identify as a Vermonter. This place is a core part of me and the life that I live here with my wife and son.

How did you go from search engines to robotics?

After a few jobs in software I got recruited to join a marine robotics company called Greensea Systems in 2015. I was a software developer with a physics degree in Vermont, so the Venn diagram landed me square in the middle.

Is that how they recruited you?

Exactly. They're like, this guy knows some physics and writes some code. Perfect! They took a chance on someone without robotics experience.

The job itself was wild. We supported so many different systems of radically different types. We were effectively integrators in the subsea world. I traveled widely to support those systems.

The marine environment is unforgiving and was a valuable teacher. The incredible expense for down time, and the robustness required of these systems gave me a real appreciation for testing and taught me that “move fast and break things” might work in the software industry, but it is not looked upon favorably in robotics! Down time is expensive in industrial as well, but throw in no internet access and instead of a warehouse you’ve got a ship in the middle of some ocean and you can begin to appreciate the value of stable, well tested systems!

And then Marine Robotics to Industrial Robotics Motion Planning?

So after Greensea I founded another company called RambleMaps. It was a direct to consumer wall-map business I started with the same co-founder I made the live music search engine with. We were profitable, but couldn’t quite hit the scale we were hoping for. So I took on some contract work in 3D web dev and augmented reality.

Once I had my son a little over a year ago I took a few months off with my wife and new baby before I joined up with one of my old Greensea co-workers who had founded his own robotics company, this time in industrial robotics.

So you’ve really been around the entrepreneurs scene! Tells us a little bit about what your doing here with Jacobi!

I am doing full stack web development in support of our mission.

Right now I’m spending a lot of time working on our 3D environment, Studio, but I’ll also work on our data warehouse, APIs, documentation, and cloud infrastructure. Basically anything and everything that is needed to support the work of the really smart folks that I work with.

I view my teammates as leading experts in their fields and see my job as to free them up to focus on their expertise. So while I have a lot of experience in robotics, I am generalist in the space. I'm not a expert in motion planning or computer vision, I've dabbled in both, but I've also had a multimeter out trying to find ground faults in a pressure vessel - I've got a pretty broad experience in the space. But what I really look to do is to pull robotics closer to the experience of modern software. Coming from a more modern software background, it isn’t hard to look around at the status quo in robotics and think that it has fallen behind.

Is that what excites you the most about robotics?

I’m obsessed with the idea of modernizing robotics. Coming from a more classic software background, you get a hold of some of these robots and the languages that they use and the interfaces that you have to program them and it feels straight out of the stone age. It really is from another century.

Bringing a modern experience to programming a robot is what I consider to be my life’s work and is the reason why I’m at Jacobi.

In that vein, what do you think the greatest risk is in modernizing the robotics experience?

There’s this push and pull between stability and change. I think rightly so. A lot of companies don’t want the latest and greatest because tried and true is tested and proven. There’s this tension between making improvements and offering stability. This means you need to build trust first because you’re going to be impacting the company’s bottom line. So the systems you build need to be extremely robust. Because we are dealing with robots that move through the real world there is an entirely different level of care and concern that needs to go towards safety and stability that aren’t exactly a factor in your typical web app.

What about outside of work, where do you find yourself when you’re away from your desk?

I’ve got a 1-year old son, so when I’m not at my desk I’m typically following him around or showing him the woods and rivers near our home in Vermont.

If it's a nice summer day we go swimming at the river. The rivers in Vermont are just one of the most special places in the universe. You'll have water that is so clear that you could read a newspaper 10 ft deep. There are these little rock gorges that you come across with 15 or 20 foot tall walls on either side and just feel really magical and special. Getting to share that experience with him is a really special thing.

If I’ve got some me time I’m either mountain biking or skiing, depending on the season. We’ve got some great mountain biking around here, I live about a mile from a trailhead with some world-class mountain biking.

Any parting words you'd like to leave with our customers and the community?

Don’t settle for the status quo!

Robotics can, should, and will be getting better.

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