Friday 23 October 2009

10 Reasons to Work for

I've moved to Vienna, and I'm about to leave Looking back, here are 10 reasons why I love to work for

1. Staff
My colleagues turn work into play and have created an environment that feels like a family. I've learned a lot from many of them. Some have become very close friends. All of them have inspired me with their passion, enthusiasm, motivation and curiosity for everything related to technology and music. Also they've always been very patient with me and always very helpful. I admire their intelligence, creativity, and how determined they are to make music more enjoyable.

2. Users
There is a constant flow of very valuable feedback from our users. Many are as passionate about as we are. They have enabled us to run countless experiments (A/B tests and similar) - from which we learned more than we could have ever learned in a standard academic environment.

3. Data
If you love data mining and working with large data sets, you'll love working at There are a lot of fascinating things that can be learned about music from's data. And there is a lot of fascinating things to learn about dealing with data at such a scale.

4. Technology has been on the front-line of some very interesting developments. Always using the tools that work best and developing new ones when needed. Always trying to push scalability limits and trying to make things work faster and better. Before joining I didn't realize how fascinating technology can be that solves large scale problems. I've learned new programming languages, things like Hadoop, and many algorithms I had never heard of before. I caught a glimpse of the amazing technology (both software and hardware) behind serving tens of millions every month. If you love technology, you'll love working at

5. Openness
The data is easily available through APIs. staffers constantly contribute to open source projects and parts of are open source. Every staff member (even I) can post anything they want on the company blog. We are constantly attending events where we talk about the things we do and share our experiences. Also the communication within is very open.

5. Fun
We have a table tennis table standing around in the office, a foosball table, there was always a skateboard around, and for a while we even turned one of the meeting rooms into a ball pit (and had meetings in there). There were remote controlled helicopters flying around in the office, XBoxes, we have colored bears telling us about the state of our code, highlight words on IRC include "pub", on IRC we also constantly share the newest coolest stuff we find on the Internet, servers have names like "badger", ...

6. Lunch Discussions & Techmosis
One of the things I've already started missing since I moved to Vienna are the daily (informal) lunch discussions. In particular the discussions in which Norman Casagrande was involved - he's like a living encyclopedia. We talked about why C++ templates are so useful, how to solve the problems in the middle east, inconsistencies in religious beliefs, objectivity as a concept, world history, politics, the daily show, ...

We also have something we call Techmosis, where we teach each other things. Usually Friday evenings we reserve a one hour slot to learn about something cool. Sometimes we'd also have non-staffers teach us. Today it will be a presentation on manga by Japanese manga artists. Generally I found the atmosphere of teaching each other extremely inspiring.

7. London
London is an amazing city. There is so much happening, there is more stuff to check out every day than I could absorb in a year. I'd love to move to Vienna, but I can see why East London is the perfect place for As one of my colleagues says: it rubs off on you. If you haven't lived in London yet, you should definitely give it a try.

8. Free Stuff
My favorites are my t-shirts (one of which I'm wearing right now) and the fruit. (I herewith admit that every week I probably eat about half of our weekly supplies all on my own.) Pizza lunches and the occasional pub visits with a company credit card were nice to have, too.

9. Rooftop Barbecues
We made sure our neighbors knew they lived (or worked) next to us. But I think the best part always was how the parties just seemed to spontaneously happen.

10. Music
Last on this list, but not least: If you love music, you'll have a hard time finding a better place to work than where you are surrounded by music, and people who love music. You might also like the band practice room.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Wittgenstein Award: Gerhard Widmer (!!)

The Wittgenstein award is kind of like the Austrian version of the Nobel prize. It's worth €1.5M and the most prestigious research award I'm aware of. Yesterday Gerhard Widmer received the prize for his outstanding research work.

Gerhard is one of the hardest working I know, he has an amazing talent of communicating research to non-researchers, creating very productive work environments, and bringing the right people together. Also he has conducted, supervised, and inspired lots of great research. He also gave me my first (paid) job in MIR and supervised my PhD. I've learned a lot from him and I'm very grateful. So I'm particularly happy to see Gerhard received this award he well deserves.

My favorite daily newspaper wrote about it. And here's a quick, shortened, and far from accurate translation of what they wrote:

Frustrations and Fortunes with Ludwig van Beethoven

Among Gerhard Widmer's favorite music you find Beethoven's piano sonatas. He doesn't have a preferred interpret. For some phrases he prefers Friedrich Gulda, for others Alfred Brendel, or other pianists.

It is also Beethoven who is to blame that Gerhard did not pursue a career as musician and instead became a internationally renowned researcher on algorithms to study music. Work for which he was now awarded with the Wittgenstein prize.

Gerhard was an early talent but gave up his career as pianist after frustrations with Beethoven's sonatas as a teenager. Instead he took a quick dip in Jazz and more or less randomly ended up studying computer science.

He received an MSc in Vienna and at the University of Wisconsin. It was also in Wisconsin that Gerhard briefly returned to the Jazz piano. Back in Vienna he completed his PhD in computer science which finalized his career as researcher.

Gerhard's research started with analyzing the performances of a single artist and as a side effect he tried to teach computers to interpret music. Later his group started focusing on developing algorithms that enable organizing and retrieving content from very large music collections. The work of his group can also be found in the newest devices by Bang & Olufsen.

Music has always been more than just a research subject to Gerhard. And he says that the scientific analysis of music does not take away any of its magic - instead it makes the music even more beautiful when you start to understand its structure.