Oliver Sourbut

Oliver - or call me Oly: I don't mind which!

Currently based in London, I'm in my early career working as a software engineer ('minoring' as a data scientist). I'm particularly interested in sustainable collaboration and the long-term future. I'd love to contribute to a safer and more prosperous future with AI!

I love to read - let me know your suggestions! Recently I've enjoyed

  • Ord - The Precipice
  • Pearl - The Book of Why
  • Bostrom - Superintelligence
  • McCall Smith - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
  • Abelson & Sussman - Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

Cooperative gaming is a relatively recent but fruitful interest for me. Here are some of my favourites

  • Hanabi (can't recommend enough; try it out!)
  • Pandemic (ironic at time of writing...)
  • Dungeons and Dragons (I DM a bit and it keeps me on my creative toes)
  • Overcooked (my partner and I love to work up an appetite playing this)

People who've got to know me only recently are sometimes surprised to learn that I'm a pretty handy trumpeter and hornist.

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Careers Questions Open Thread

I really appreciate these data points! Actually it's interesting you mention the networking aspect - one of the factors that would push me towards more higher education is the (real or imagined?) networking opportunities. Though I get on very well with most people I work or study with, I'm not an instinctive 'networker' and I think for me, improving that could be a factor with relatively high marginal return.

As for learning practical skills... I'd hope to get some from a higher degree but if that were all I wanted I might indeed stick to Coursera and the like! It's the research aspect I'd really like to explore my fit for.

Trying to negotiate a break with the company had crossed my mind but sounds hard. Thanks for the nudge and anecdata about that possibility. It would be a big win if possible!

I'm really glad to hear that your path has been working out without regret. I hope that continues. :)

Careers Questions Open Thread

I welcome the reinforcement that a) it is indeed a tough call and b) I'm sane and they're good options! Thank you for the encouragement, and the advice.

I remain fuzzy on what shape 'impactful direct work' could take, and I'm not sure to what degree keeping my mind 'open' in that sense is rational (the better to capture emergent opportunities) vs merely comforting (specifying a path is scary and procastinating is emotionally safer)! I acknowledge that my tentative principal goal besides donations, if I continue engineering growth, is indeed working on safety. The MIRI job link is interesting. I'd be pleased and proud to work in that sort of role (though I'm likely to remain in the UK at least for the near future).

Thank you for the suggestion to talk to Richard or others. I've gathered a few accounts from friends I know well who have gone into further degrees in other disciplines, and I expect it would be useful to complement that with evidence from others to help better predict personal fit. I wouldn't know whom to talk to about impact on a long-term engineering track.

Careers Questions Open Thread

As an engineer (software) myself for a few years, I can encourage you that is rewarding, challenging, and in the right position you can have quite a bit of autonomy to drive decision-making and execute on your own vision. Depending on the role and organisation, it can be far from merely technical; the outline you give of the college project sounds exactly like engineering to me!

That said, there are few or no places where engineers are completely unconstrained. But there are routes from engineering into more 'overseeing'-type roles, e.g. architect, tech director, technical project manager. A lot of those people do much better if they have solid engineering experience of their own first.

Some different thoughts on which I have much less or no experience but seem relevant:

  • management consulting. Have you heard of that? I think they solve hard problems and have some room for vision.
  • entrepreneurs obviously have an opportunity to create and oversee a vision. I gather that a lot of the time it helps to have related experience in the relevant industry/field beforehand
Careers Questions Open Thread

I'm trying to choose between doubling down on skills in software engineering or branching out with the goal of working on AI safety longer term. I get the impression that a lot of people are in a similar position.

For me, my undergrad was an unusual mix of things but included Maths, Music (!) and Computer Science. I got good grades and I think there's a reasonable chance of my getting into a university like Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial to study a Masters and perhaps subsequently a PhD in Computer Science/AI.

Currently I'm paid well and developing a fair amount of expertise as a software engineer. I've been at it for ~4 years and gained a fair amount of respect and responsibility; most likely on the cusp of a 'senior' promotion within months. Sticking at the engineering, I might be able to give £10s of thousands/year or more, perhaps sustained over a few decades, and there's also a chance I could find myself doing impactful direct work or being in a position to influence the direction of large forces in tech.

On the other hand, from the work I've done and investigations in my own time I think my temperament and working style suit research, but I've little direct evidence of that so far and I'd need to prove that to myself and others. I'm thinking of a Masters as being a great way to do that. I've enjoyed several recommended online courses in ML and statsy things as well as a little tinkering on toy projects. On this evidence my capacities appear to align well with applying and implementing machine learning but I think research and policy have higher leverage over future flourishing.

Is applying for Masters courses in AI/ML is a sensible next exploration? One catch is that some of my current compensation is in equity which vests over time, meaning making a change would sacrifice some earnings.

You Should Write a Forum Bio

Thanks for this, Aaron. Joining a new community can be tricky online so it's helpful to have an explicit welcome like this!