James Coffey joined Katana Graph in August 2021 as head of Developer Relations.
Katana Graph has attracted a number of multi-talented professionals with diverse backgrounds. Even among this group, James has demonstrated deep expertise in an amazing array of fields. His independent research has included exploration of computational photography, including algorithms for the de-mosaicing of small-sensor camera images, deep learning models on the early prediction of bacterial disease transmission, and binary image classification models for differentiating ships and icebergs. Earlier in his career, he designed facilities for the preparation of lithium-ion battery formulations, founded a clothing production firm, and designed electromechanical water filtration systems. We recently spoke with James about his new position.
What is your role at Katana Graph?
James Coffey: I am currently leading the Developer Relations team at Katana Graph.
What does your job entail?
JC: My job entails constructing the Developer Relations team by formulating strategy, coordinating with other departments, and leading developer advocacy. Under developer advocacy, the job includes the development and coordination of tutorials, blog posts, video tutorials, talks at meetups and conferences, attending or sponsoring hackathons, meetups, and conferences, contributions to the developer community codebase, and social media engagement. Whew!
What advice do you have for prospective candidates?
JC: Show your enthusiasm, even if it feels weird. In fact, be weird; we're based in Austin, after all. For example, I never submitted a resume. Instead, I sent a short video and directed the interviewers to my website where I showed relevant work. Stop worrying about being the best; focus on being different instead.
What drew you to Katana Graph originally? And how has Katana Graph evolved since?
JC: I was drawn to Katana Graph because I wanted to work for a startup, but I also was impressed by the product being created here. Katana Graph is building a platform for solving the toughest challenges out there, including financial fraud, digital security, and — my favorite — drug discovery. Knowing that graph-based algorithms were the next step for AI, my coming to Katana Graph was a no-brainer. Since I joined in August of 2021, Katana Graph has only gotten bigger in terms of employees, codebase, and market presence.
What has been the most important innovation you have witnessed in your lifetime?
JC: This is a complicated one. I could solidly make an argument for social media or blockchain. Heck, even the proliferation of 3D printers and low-cost CNCs is no joke. All of these came about during my lifetime, but I'm more interested in telling a different story. Shamelessly, I'll plug deep neural networks. This is not simply for the reason that Katana Graph is working in the AI space. Most consider AI to be the most important innovation, and deep neural networks are responsible for the massive advances in machine translation, natural language processing, image recognition, and other AI advances experienced since the early 2010s. However, what only a few discuss is that AI represents more than an innovation that can change the world like the previous innovations I discussed. The AI growth that has happened in my lifetime represents a victory over the cycle of AI Spring and AI Winter that has plagued it since the 1940s. The confluence of big data and fast computers has finally brought power to a class of algorithms that have existed since the 1960s.
Weirdest job you’ve ever had:
JC: I was a Level B HAZMAT rescue, recovery, and containment worker. This was in addition to my regular role when I worked as a research and development engineer at Arkema, Inc. If there is a chemical spill, it can take a while before a remediation team can arrive and local emergency services are usually not equipped or trained in dealing with chemical hazards on a large scale. Because of this, chemical companies often maintain HAZMAT teams to get a spill under control until a remediation team can arrive. This team is also responsible for rescuing anyone caught in the spill, decontaminating them, and providing first aid if necessary before transfer to an ambulance.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
JC: I worked in a laboratory for eight years and it turns out that chemistry and cooking are very similar! I discovered this after getting married — I didn’t really cook when I was single — that both utilize pretty much the same techniques. So, it turns out I’m very good at cooking! I can cook just about anything. A couple of favorites are Indian cuisine and French cuisine. And I want to work more with Japanese cuisine, next; I plan to get a new set of Japanese knives and work on very fine presentation. I’ve got all the flavors down, I’ve got all the general methods down, so I’ll work next on getting to the top-notch Michelin Star presentation!
Do you have any favorite places in the world that you like to visit?
JC: I’ve spent a lot of time in India, mostly in and around Maharashtra – that’s where my wife’s from. Also in India, I really like Panchgani. “Gani” is the word for mesa, and “panch” is five. So: five mesas. It’s a flat-topped hill area referred to as a hill station. The English, when India was part of the British Empire, created settlements that they called hill stations. They’re at a high altitude and have a much more mild and European-like climate. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite place; I’m not sure I have one favorite. But it’s one of my favorite places to visit.