(upbeat music) - [Interviewer] All right, but how do you go from high school suspendee to community college to chief data scientist of the United States? - Well, so the big one that happened was, it was a real big shake-up moment when I couldn't get into a traditional college, and it was a moment of that sort of, you know, well, everyone else is doing this, why aren't I doing this? I was very fortunate that we had a great community college, De Anza College, just down the street.
And I was able to walk there, and I had been taking classes there. And just during the summers. And it was awesome. I also had the good fortune, my girlfriend at the time was going to De Anza, so I went there. And I took the same classes as she did, and the first set of classes I took were these English classes. And oh my gosh did they kick my butt. I mean, they kicked my butt in every awesome way. My quality of writing was terrible, but my quality of thinking wasn't strong enough.
And forcing to write down your ideas, and for someone at the community college level to work with you in this close proximity and detail, leveled me up in an incredible way. I wasn't some kid writing in a class of 500 or 1,000 people. I was a kid writing and a professor saying, have you thought about it this way? And pushing and challenging me. So I was getting almost this one-to-one kind of tutorial that allowed me to go from being this bottom of the class person to just being elevated so quickly.
And I took this back-to-back English classes where I just got my head just kicked constantly by these people in the most loving way. And they upgraded me. And then the next thing that happened was my girlfriend took this class called Calculus, so I took this class called Calculus. Seemed like a good idea at the time. And I literally went in there and I didn't know anything. I was just like, holy crap. I just don't know any of this. And it was this defining moment of, what kind of person do I wanna be? Do I wanna be the person that can't figure this out, or do I have to be the person that goes and does figure it out? So I went to the local library, Cupertino Library, which is an amazing library.
And I checked out all the math books that I could, and taught myself high school math over a few days, which you can't imagine something more frustrating than having failed all your classes and you're just like, oh, I could just learn it on my own. But now I was motivated, I was motivated. And I took it, and the teacher at the time, Holly Hake, you know, I just was working on problem after problem and I'd go to her and she'd explain stuff, and she helped me see the beauty in these problems. The incredible beauty that was happening in there.
And I just fell in love with it. I had to fight my way into getting into a role at University of California San Diego, and even there, I had amazing mentors. I had amazing people who were able to look out for me. George Sugihara, who's one of the luminaries in the field. Brad Warner, uh, Reggie Brown, these are people who are at the front edge of something called chaos theory. And I was working in their labs and I was just spending every ounce of energy that I could take. I took every class that I could, not just the liberal arts classes, but the sciences.
There was one time where your normal, I think the normal course load is like four classes, and so I was doing eight plus classes. And I just had this view of like, what a cherished opportunity is it that you get to go to an institution where the whole focus is to put ideas into your head. And so I wanted to take every ounce of that. And so I was not, I was the social boring person. I'd study on Friday nights, I'd study on Saturday nights, 'cause maybe I was making up for lost time.