Christiana Cromer May 26, 2021

Coiled Employee Spotlight: Senior Sales Engineer Kristopher Overholt

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Welcome to the Coiled Employee Spotlight

Welcome back to the Coiled Employee Spotlight, a segment on our blog where we highlight and get to know the fantastic members of our team. In these blogs, we interview Coiled team members to learn more about their background and interests and pick their brains on data science, ML, and open source. 

For this feature, we sat down with our Senior Sales Engineer, Kristopher Overholt.

This interview was edited slightly for clarity. Keep reading to get to know Kris and learn about his journey to Coiled. 

Meet Kris 

Born and raised in Houston, Kris is a proud native Texan. Kris spent his first 25 years in Houston, and worked as a field technician for a fire and security alarm company while starting college. Kris got interested in computers when he was younger, noting, “Earlier in my life, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I grabbed my dad’s laptop and started coding games in QBasic and reading library books about programming in Fortran. It was a neat feeling to be able to tell a computer exactly what to do, and even better when it did work for me that I would rather not do.”

Kris also found a passion for serving others when he worked as a volunteer firefighter/EMT in the Houston area. Soon, he realized he could combine his interest in engineering and science with his passion for burning things, and he headed to the University of Houston – Downtown to obtain his undergraduate degree in Fire Protection Engineering.

A number of different worlds came crashing together when he discovered an open-source Fortran-based fire modeling tool (Fire Dynamics Simulator) that was maintained by a government research lab (NIST), where Kris would end up working directly with some of his most memorable heroes and mentors. It was here where Kris solidified his love for solving engineering problems, parallel/cluster computing, and open-source software and communities.

After finishing up his undergrad degree, Kris (and his soon-to-be-wife) headed northeast to Worcester, Massachusetts, to pursue a graduate degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Fire Protection Engineering, then returned back to Texas to obtain his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at UT Austin. After school, Kris moved to Maryland and worked full-time at NIST.

During various fire research work that involved both large-scale fire experiments and working with firefighters, Kris found himself drawn to the data analysis side of the job as well as the scientific Python community. After deciding to get into the purely technical side of data analysis, he joined Anaconda as a software engineer in 2015 and has been involved with tech companies in a customer-facing and product-oriented capacity since, and most recently: joining us here at Coiled a few months back!

Kris noted, “There are a lot of people at Coiled and in the PyData community that started off doing something completely different, like working on black holes in space, or working on engineering problems, and somehow ended up working together on very similar technical and computing problems. So many different backgrounds, but we all ended up here, and that’s a great thing”. We think so, too!

After moving back to Austin, TX in 2015, Kris and his wife decided to head further west into the Texas Hill Country, where they and their three boys have settled down about an hour west of Austin, in the city of Cottonwood Shores, TX. Kris said, “The older that I get, the more I want to keep moving further west in Texas. It’s beautiful, very minimalist, and has just the right amount of what we need in terms of good people, excellent barbeque, the great outdoors, cool rivers to swim and fish in, and all of that good stuff”.

Now let’s Dive into some Q&A

CC: How do you like to spend time outside of work?

KO: I very much like to completely disconnect from technology and turn into a technology Luddite after work is done for the day or while on vacation. I find that this helps balance out my mind and figure out new/technical solutions to life’s age-old problems. I enjoy going hiking, camping in the woods, stargazing, setting large fires, or working outside. My wife and I have three young boys ages 6, 3, and 1, who join us on most of our adventures. Also, any time that I spend connecting to and learning about my past family history related to Mexico, Germany, or Switzerland is time well spent. Finally, I spend a lot of time related to barbecue: cooking it at home, seeking it in new places, or philosophizing about it while exploring the many different parts of Texas.

CC: What’s your favorite thing about working at Coiled?

KO: My favorite thing about Coiled is actually two things, but they are very closely related. The first one is working with people that I trust with a tool and product that I love. I’ve known many of the people who work at Coiled for many years, either by working with them at the same company in the past or through their presence in the Dask/PyData/SciPy communities. And we all have very similar visions for both the Dask OSS community and set of tools as well as where Coiled fits into that vision. My other favorite thing about Coiled is the vast ecosystem and active community around Dask and its strong connection to the PyData and SciPy communities. It’s wonderful and amazing to have so many engaged users working on so many different types of problems and use cases in finance, healthcare, energy, science, education, and many other impactful areas.

CC: If you could give one piece of advice to your past self before you started your career,  what would it be?

KO: I would give one piece of advice related to technology and one related to people. Regarding technology, if you learn the fundamentals of how technical systems work, why they work well, and what challenges we’ve overcome, everything else is just a higher-level layer on top of that. So, rather than getting caught up in the latest trending technologies or hype, take time to understand the fundamentals first, then let the tools fall into place where they help you the most and drop the ones that don’t.

Regarding people, especially in areas of technology such as DevOps, machine learning, or distributed computing, the order of importance when solving any problem is: people first, process second, and tools third. The best tools in the world start with one person trying to solve a specific problem in a particular way with what they know. When considering complicated technologies, don’t get lost in the numbers. We all need to remember the human element of technology. We’re all people working together, not commodities, we’re all humans after all.

CC: What most excites you about the future of data science or the ML space?

KO: I think that the most exciting thing about data science and machine learning is when they will get to a point where they are a boring and mostly invisible, yet powerful part of our lives. Consider how much you think about your cell phone’s CPU specifications or network transfer rate when giving a virtual presentation (unless one of those things is broken!).

Most of the time when technical tools work well, the technical details just kind of disappear into the background, and instead we find ourselves totally engaged with one another as people. So, I look forward to a period when all of the hype related to data science and machine learning calms down a bit, becomes invisible to most people, and we can just reap the benefits of it while a number of different industries and parts of people’s lives improve. In summary, I am probably most excited about the day when we all automate ourselves out of a job!

Rapid Fire Questions 

CC: Describe your perfect Sunday.

KO: My perfect Sunday would involve an exploratory road trip or day trip somewhere with my family, maybe a new town or direction that we haven’t visited before. And in Texas, this could range from a quick 30-minute drive to a 12-hour expedition. We might head to a new small town to find the best local barbecue or Mexican food, then go to a riverside park and have a picnic there with my wife and kids, while our boys run wild, just existing in nature, and being able to forget about everything in the world for a brief while. Being surrounded by people you love and food you enjoy are key. And by the way, exactly this type of Sunday afternoon with Cooper’s BBQ in Llano, TX, and being surrounded by nature is exactly what I did with Matt Rocklin (Coiled’s CEO) the day before I started working at Coiled!

CC: Tea or coffee?

KO: Definitely tea. It’s Texas, where it’s all about our sweet tea (although I prefer strongly brewed unsweet tea myself). Here in Texas, when you ask for tea at any restaurant, you’re going to get a gigantic 64-oz or larger glass of insanely sweet tea. So you have to be sure to specify unsweet tea if you are not into that. You’ve been warned.

CC: Do you have a secret talent?

KO: Actually, this one’s very recent. I’m not even sure if I would consider it a talent. But I do have juggling balls on my desk at all times and have become pretty proficient at it. I always wanted to learn how to juggle, and it’s a great thing to do in between meetings: get in a quick juggling session, get some blood flowing, and then put them away and carry on with the day. 

CC: Recent show or book recommendation? 

KO: With our three kids, watching any kind of TV show in a coherent manner is a thing of the past. I don’t think I’ve actually binge-watched anything in the last 6 years. But I do read lots of books. When I’m not reading children’s books to my kids, I have enjoyed reading 2600 Magazine, How to Be Everything, and Better Off: for the hacker personality in me, the jack-of-all-trades personality in me, and the offline/technology Luddite personality in me, respectively.

CC: What’s one thing you’ll never do again?

KO: I will never live outside of Texas again.

That’s a wrap!

Thanks for reading this employee spotlight and learning more about Kris. To find out more about life and work at Coiled, you can visit our About page.

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