Alumni Spotlight – Brian Muller ‘05

Brian MullerBrian Muller has had a progressive career path since graduating from the Department of Computer Science and receiving a Master’s in bioinformatics at MUSC.  He worked at John Hopkins applying machine learning to cancer data at the Center for Computational Genomics, Web Director for Foreign Policy Magazine under the Slate Group, to Chief Data Scientist at LivingSocial.  As Muller’s next big move, backed by notable financial companies like The New York Times and The Washington Post, he co-founded a company that provided content optimization for online publishers!  The company grew a product that served hundreds of millions of optimized webpage views per month for publishers in six countries.  Recently acquired by Vox Media, Muller is currently the Director of Data Science, where he oversees the data infrastructure and efforts that help grow and maintain an actively engaged audience.  


How did your time at CofC prepare you for the professional world?

There were a number of classes that tried to simulate the experience of working on a software development team, which I later found to have been quite useful.  I think the classes where the emphasis was on higher level concepts (and the students were left to decide on their own language, platform, etc for implementation) provided a great foundation for later experiences in the professional world.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

I think that the explosion of Data Science as a professional field is fantastic – even as many organizations are trying to figure out exactly what is meant by those two words.  I think one of the biggest challenges is not just applying statistics / machine learning / etc to the vast quantities of data that are now collected, but then trying to tie those insights back to real business value.  For instance, I think sometimes it can be hard to not only answer hard questions, model data, and find interesting patterns – but then to show the applicability of that work to the core mission of whatever organization you’re working in can be the toughest part.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud that I took the risk of starting a company.  Leaving behind a salary, benefits, and all of the consistency and security of an established company was tough – but I’m glad that I made the leap.  Having that company grow into a success based on a solid product and great relationships with publishers all over the world was something I’m immensely proud of as well.

Who has been a mentor to you, and what was the biggest lesson you learned from him/her?

Dr. Manaris was my mentor at The College, and I learned an incredible amount from him.  He had a view of aesthetics that applied to all of his work, whether that was appreciating the fractal nature of music or spending what seemed like an eternity discussing the perfect name for a variable.  He inculcated esteem for the artistic side of creation, imbuing an admiration for form along with function.  I’d like to think that the projects I work on today, whether they’re high level designs or low level code, contain more order and clarity from his influence.

What new trends are you seeing in your field?

There has certainly been an explosion of new terms (or reemergence of old ones) for using data to inform decisions (“big data”, “data science”, “business intelligence”, “data warehousing”, “data mining”, “informatics”, etc).  Unfortunately, these terms can mean very different things depending on the context.  There are clearly new things that can be done (and some old things in new ways) by combining available storage and processing power with statistics/computer science/etc, but I think there is a long way to go to reach agreement on terminology and what work different roles entail.  My hope is that over time a common vocabulary will emerge with consensus-based definitions to help reduce the confusion, and certain professional fields will become more clearly defined.

How do you like to spend your time outside of the office?

With close proximity between so many great cities here in the NE, I travel quite a bit between Baltimore, DC, NYC, and Philly – whether that’s to visit friends or just getting to know the cities.