Matt | Stanford, California

Matt Portrait

“I’ve always been motivated to work on interesting problems. I feel the most alive and most engaged when I’m staying up late working on some project or programming assignment, so I’m driven to pursue similar problems in the future. Some of my biggest choices are: What industry will I work in? What job will I choose? I’m focusing on picking something that will be really engaging.”

Current Mission

My current mission is my final project which is due next Monday. It’s almost the entirety of my life’s purpose right now.

It’s a programming assignment, so mostly it’s coming up with the mathematical framework behind a certain problem. The problem is: if a car is driving on a road, and an obstacle pops up in front of it, what should you do to safely avoid the obstacle?

I was actually driving home from my parents house a few days ago and it was pouring down rain. I probably saw ten accidents in the two and a half hour drive over here. It was the scariest driving situation I’ve ever been in, and it really solidified my desire to keep working on this kind of thing.

It can be easy to think about autonomous vehicles as super easy: it’s a dry road, it’s flat, you just direct the tires where you want it to go and it all works out. But it can very easily be a situation like I was in where you’re driving down a mountain, it’s winding, and there’s standing water streaming down the road. I changed lanes once and I could feel the back end of the car getting loose and starting to slide. Very scary. You could see cars that had spun out on the side of the road, and there was highway patrol everywhere. It was like wow, it’s really important to take this into consideration. It’s not just an academic toy problem.

It’s exciting to think that if you find out a good solution to this, that this could be on real cars, everywhere.

Living at Stanford

I wouldn’t identify with living in Palo Alto. I really live on campus, it’s totally a bubble. You could spend a long time without ever having to leave, or maybe only having to leave campus to buy groceries.

Restaurants. Parties. Homework gets done here. I work here. It’s almost self contained. And living at Stanford is kind of like living at Disneyland, everything is tightly groomed and perfectly manicured all the time. But you get used that, and then it’s weird to leave and go elsewhere.

On Being American

Certainly I feel fortunate to live here. There’s a lot of great opportunities that are presented here. One thing that I have always felt kind of iffy about is nationalism: if I feel pride as an American, I feel almost as though I’m putting down every other country. I don’t want to criticize being proud of your country, but personally I’ve always wanted to shy away from feeling like my country is the best country out there.But there’s definitely a lot of great stuff here: I love our national parks system, at least compared to the majority of countries. There’s a sense of wilderness, and that it’s something we culturally value.

At the other end of the spectrum, living in the Bay Area, it’s a powerhouse, a global tech powerhouse, and I have some amount of pride that it started here, that we (even though there’s a ton of non-american workers here) are the driving force of Tech.

One Amazing Experience I’ve Had

A few years ago I went backpacking with four guy friends. We took this weeklong trek through the Sierra Nevadas, and we’d be going 15-20 miles a day and moving to a new spot every night. it felt like an adventure.

The landscape was amazing, and there was that feeling of adventure. None of us had been to these places before so we didn’t really know what was around the corner, and  we were going to explore it together.

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