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Google Brain Residency Program (g.co)
151 points by keveman on Oct 23, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

Given questionable academia politics, low to non-existent pay for PhD candidates as TAs, grants being mostly consumed by the school, profs acting as middle managers rather than true mentors, race to the bottom for quantity over quality of papers because of desperate PhD qualifications in order to then jump start careers (not to mention wasteful research for the sake of a PhD badge)...I think this is a great initiative.

Eh, there's a lot of good in academia too. It's just the people who have good experiences are busy with their lives for the most part.

My experience was great. I got paid to do 6 years of learning and experimental work by the government (thank you DOD and NSF) on the coldest states of matter in the universe. I traveled the world for free and hang out with Nobel prize winners. I was surrounded by bright and a few world-class brilliant people. I didn't have any real deadlines. I got to write and publish papers trying to explain my work.

Now, the post-doc/professor rat race is only for those who are truly called to the field. My plan was PhD->industry the whole time.

Mind if you share the University you went to?

I'm a Post Grad from Gatech myself, and from what I've seen this wasn't the norm.

Also, I wonder how different the pay/career options are for a PhD in industry vs. having a Masters in the same field.

I had a similar experience to rubidium. (Texas Ph.d., here, although in computational science, not a vile experimentalist ;) )

I've seldom seen an argument suggesting that the pay between Ph.d. and masters is substantial, or even advantageous (on average). Ph.d. is about becoming an expert and leader in a research field. It is not about the $$ or ROI.

On the other hand, in terms of career options, the differences are often quite substantial. Ph.d. is much more likely to be in a small research team than in the line of fire for a deliverable. Much more likely to be working in a laboratory somewhat independently/autonomously. Because of the predilection towards independent, high-risk/reward work, I have seen some recruiters and VP/engineering who are hesitant to add doctorates to typical engineering teams, as they gravitate towards different sorts of problems.

Such examples and on one of those grad forums and other places like Reddit about how horrible and how political grad programs are (I mean PhD mostly) I must say it added a lot to my decision of not trying for a PhD (maybe ever).

Is it an accepted environment in academia by now and very widely known and people still go for the same environment? Or people, students, don't know how it is actually there, or the severity of it, and then kind of get trapped because of that mild ignorance, so to speak? Or, is it just the hope that - oh that place cannot be that bad? Or is it really not this widespread as people make it out to be, or as it seems to be (to me at least)? Just curious (I'm not a grad school guy; just an MS aspirant who also wanted to do a PhD but now not).

Or, is it just the hope that - oh that place cannot be that bad? Or is it really not this widespread as people make it out to be, or as it seems to be (to me at least)? Just curious

I did my PhD in The Netherlands. I had an awesome time, both professionally and socially. I worked with great people, had a great social life, and wasn't paid badly (for Dutch standards).

Afterwards, I was in industry for a short time. Upside: people directly use what you create. Downside: in most companies (outside Google, Microsoft Research, etc.) urgent customer demands prevail over research time.

Given the relatively negative experiences I went to academia again (this time in Germany), and am enjoying it a lot: enough time to work out and test ideas, I enjoy teaching a lot, regular travel, a reasonable pay, and not much overtime.

I might explore the other side of the fence again when my current position ends, but I am happy where I am.

Thank you for your response. Fortunately, even I am going for my MS in Europe. Most probably in Germany. I've an accept from Bonn. I may try for other universities, e.g. TuM, RWTH etc.

May I ask your language abilities? Would a route like this work for people who don't speak Dutch/German?

I am a native speaker of Dutch and proficient in English. My German reading and understanding is quite good, since I had German in high school, but speaking had regressed to a 'can manage at the bakery'-level ;).

Both groups I worked in had a fair amount of people who couldn't speak Dutch/German --- for research it's definitely not a problem. In teaching it seems that The Netherlands (and probably Scandinavian countries) is more flexible: non-native speakers are typically allowed to teach in English. In Germany, this seems more problematic unless it's an international program.

Outside work, I would definitely recommend expats in Germany to learn German. Most Germans are not really proficient in English (not even general practitioners). In The Netherlands you could easily survive without knowing Dutch.

I knew a guy who did a year in a lab in Germany and didn't speak a word of German, he said the whole lab spoke English.

I did my PhD in Electrical Engineering / CS in Munich and would do it again any day. Fair pay, 30 days of paid vacation, lots of independence, nice colleagues, practically no pressure or monitoring from above, full insurance, funding for five years. Good times, even though I had to learn dealing with all the independence. Nobody really told me what to do, so I had to figure it out on my own. In retrospect I only wish there had been some more guidance or colleagues working in the same field. Then again it was an interesting learning challenge: Here is an office and a computer, you have five years to publish at least one paper on a premier conference. Which I did.

As with any profession, you hear only from those with the absolute worst experiences who write on HN, Reddit, etc. (The students who are excelling are not writing rants on Reddit.) I've seen the full gamut of Ph.D.-level experiences, from the terrible to the amazing. I've also seen a large dynamic range of software engineering experiences at various companies, at both startups and large orgs. In the end, I don't have any definitive answers, but I wouldn't rule out academia if you can get yourself to be as well-positioned as possible. The same holds for industry. So yeah, I didn't add any info here! (-random dude in academia defending academia, ducks)

As for "get[ting] trapped because of that mild ignorance", I don't buy that for CS, at least. Any competent CS Ph.D. student can instantly quit and at least QUADRUPLE their salary by getting a software engineering job. As an advisor, we have no way of "trapping" students in the Ph.D. program when they can instantly quit and make more money than we do ;) Now in other fields, the job market isn't as rosy. But I don't buy the "trapped" trope for CS Ph.D. for a minute.

You are underestimating inertia and unwritten rules. It's widely considered unethical (or at least frowned upon) to join a PhD program and intentionally quit with a Masters.

In practice, it seems that many people are actually doing so when they are free to choose. Many people I see choosing to stay in the PhD program have visa issues and that's a big contributing factor.

>You are underestimating inertia and unwritten rules. It's widely considered unethical (or at least frowned upon) to join a PhD program and intentionally quit with a Masters.

From the school/department's view, yes; from the perspective of the student I'm not so sure. Over the last few years, many of PhD programs I interacted with (In the biological and chemical sciences) were increasingly mastering out more students than they were passing through comps/quals. It has gotten to the point where students are intentionally failing their comps/quals so that they can master out. Going this route means you didn't have to pay the master's tuition and were on a stipend the entire time -- better than paying the master's tuition and having to scrounge for cash.

true, but big companies will usually take care of visa issues if you're hired full-time (or join as a summer intern and convert to full time). yes, it's hard to quit to join a startup; but those foreign students would've had a hard time joining a U.S. startup even without a Ph.D. due to visa issues.

Where are the politics? I must have missed that portion of grad school. PhD students typically take a few classes in related topics, meet with a mentor regularly, and conduct independent research until they defend their dissertation. This model is very old and very straightforward.

Not sure about US, but in Poland it is all about grants. If you have one, you can get paid for part of the year, go to conferences outside your city/country etc. If you don't have a grant, you don't get money, you have to support yourself somehow (e.g. get a job, but then, you have less time for PhD).

Your mentor (+ his overseers) decides where the money goes = politics.

Perhaps if Google paid taxes like the rest of us, universities would stand more of a chance to do things right.

Probably not a good idea to start a thread on this, but...it irks me every time I see one of these "BigCo only pays $5.34 in taxes despite making $35,923,233 in operating profit" comments.

Corporations, like the rest of us, pay taxes on the money they make (profit). Profit may be reduced, perhaps to zero, intentionally, by paying money made to people (employees, shareholders, managers). Those people like the rest of us pay tax on that income. I assert that provided tax is paid on the money by someone, somewhere, that's just fine and I'm ok with the corporation itself not paying any (income) tax. Obviously they should pay property taxes, employer payroll taxes and so on.

Since the marginal tax rate on corporate income is much higher than most individual's marginal tax rate (in the USA specifically), company managers are strongly motivated to aim for low to zero profit and hence zero tax by either spending money or paying it to employees or shareholders (who are liable for the tax on that income).

Of course, real life is a bit more complex -- corporations and individuals can reduce or evade tax through jurisdiction arbitrage, various other tricks. I don't support those things. I do support the goal to have individual people pay tax, not corporations. That also seems to be the motivating principal behind the US tax code at present.

There are a lot of smaller companies paying tax on profit right now. If you cancel that form of tax, the money needs to come from somewhere. Hence, income tax (and salaries) will increase and things will be fair. So that scenario would be perfectly fine with me.

This is, of course, no excuse for Google not paying taxes at this moment.

Are there? (genuine question) I own two small companies. Our accountant would have a fit if we left significant taxable profit in the companies. We pay any profit to employees and shareholders. Isn't Google just doing the same thing (modulo increased complexity due to their size and international reach)?

Because of all those unfair taxes universities are paying?

Last I checked, the universities in my city get their land tax-free, given that they are non-profits. Not many American corporations can claim the same.

Because if they paid their taxes, maybe universities would get more public fundings and wouldn't have to beg for private fundings.

Because effective corporate tax rates have anything to do with state legislators that cut higher education funding for easy votes (9/10 guy who cuts taxes beats guy who wants to raise them)? Or do you think that private universities somehow care about google's tax rate?

At what point does it make sense for Google-likes to educate their own workforce, skipping the university model entirely? They've already created a B.A. substitute by sponsoring Udacity's nanodegree programs, and now they're working on the other end of the spectrum with a masters / PhD equivalent.

Assume these companies have an excellent selection process (obviously a big 'if'). Could they pluck bright students straight out of high school, send them to two years of specialized super-accelerated Google School, and have a molded and productive employee come out the other side? They have the resources and the expertise, and there's only so many Stanford grads each year.

A workforce of bootcamp devs sounds unpleasant - but with skyrocketing tuition costs, and ever-increasing demand for 'only the best' talent at these companies, there's probably a point at which it makes economic sense for both employer and employee.

Would it be possible for companies to eventually become accredited?

Or, alternatively, would the preponderance of nanodegree programs and "Google Schools" diminish the value of a traditional degree to the point that accreditation would be unnecessary?

I agree that the increasing investment and quality of alternative higher education models will diminish the role of traditional accreditation agencies to some degree. However, there will always be some need for some third-party oversight to ensure educational institutions are delivering what they advertise.

They also just announced a programming bootcamp the other day.


> At what point does it make sense for Google-likes to educate their own workforce, skipping the university model entirely?

Never. You may be too young to remember this, but it used to be very common for companies to hire employees and then train them to do the jobs the company needed done.

Eventually, companies realized that it was much more cost-effective to foist off the expense of training onto employees themselves (and, indirectly onto taxpayers through federal financial aid) so it's become rare for companies to have any kind of formal training program. They expect potential employees to go heavily into debt training themselves, and then hope to find somebody who is already trained for their exact job role.

Google is no different from other companies in this regard: Training people is expensive, and if they can avoid that expense, they will avoid it.

I stopped here: The residency program is similar to a top Master’s or PhD program in deep learning.

If you accept that a Master's program is contained within a PhD program, and this residency is similar to a PhD program in deep learning from a top school, then this would be the fastest PhD-like (revised from equivalent which is too strong of a claim) program ever. Only 12 months and a google badge!

The very next sentence is:

> The residents are expected to read papers, work on research projects, and publish their work in top-tier venues.

My reading of that they're saying that the program has similar activities not that it provides a comparable outcome.

I submit the connections at Google are unbelievable. It seems reasonable that you could in fact learn substantially faster in that environment. I don't know if you can cram 6-7 years into one, but maybe in 2-3.

A PhD isn't so much about learning the material as it is about learning to manage and complete projects. Your job is to identify unsolved problems, come up with ideas to solve them, and carry it through to a few completed research projects. Depending on your field, a lot of this can become more managing logistics and people than "pure" research.

In my experience (which, admittedly, has only involved much less flexible corporations than Google), you don't get to the level of responsibility you have as a PhD student or postdoc until you've been with a large corporation for >20 years.

I admit I have a slightly skewed view, but I've very skeptical that this is anywhere close to a complete PhD program.

It looks a lot more like a 1-year internship on an R&D team. Still a very good and useful thing, but you're not the one responsible for completion of projects.

The connections at a top PhD program are unbelievable too.

I think what they really meant was that this program would be similar to (one year of) a top masters or Ph.D program, which would be plausible. Your inference of 2x doesn't meet the giggle test.

It's going to vary person to person of course, but I'd expect the learning rate to be at best about the same as a top program.

Perhaps the idea is they want an APM-like program but for deep learning researchers. The APM program has been pretty successful, and a lot of deep learning progress boils down to tuning architectures and dealing with overfitting and other domain problems. This sounds like a good opportunity for a practitioner, and all the recruiting spin is in place to attract adventurous candidates who might be open to deviating from the traditional grad program grind.



There's no such thing as a PhD in deep learning. Your best bet is going to be doing machine learning at a top-tier CS school that has someone who is interested in it. But you're still going to have to take architecture, algorithms, OSes, TA, etc.

Which makes it a great deal!

I know right.

Google: Now offering PhD-like programs in only 12 short months!

It's no match for my 12 week PhD bootcamp.

Sounds tiring! fourhoursemester.com anyone?

The post doesn't indicate whether residents will be paid like PhD students or like Google employees.

From the title, I thought the Google Brain Residency Program was the wetware version of Google Glass. Disappointing to find it's only a 12-month software development job.


What's the difference between a BA and BS in Computer Science?

If a university has both, the BA usually requires a language and the BS requires more computer science courses or requires science courses like physics or chemistry. Otherwise, it depends on what university you go to whether you degree is a BS or a BA. e.g. If CS is in the engineering college, it is a BS.

This is fantastic! Though it's not clear how much product/service engineering is required.

It seems to be listed as a software engineering position (and are likely paid through the same construct, since participants are required to be eligible for work in the US). I would think they are paid as entry level software engineers, but that's all conjecture.

This is going to be a deal breaker for many: Eligible to work in the United States

very true, but am not very sure what it means. You think one can apply for a visa especially for someone who has never been to the United States before?

Anyone know if this will this be a recurring program? As in beyond 2016?

Probably depends on the performance of the initial resident. :)

Did you write "resident", as in implying there's only one position?

Minimum qualifications: eligible to work in the United States. Damn.

just to clarify does that mean you should already have a work permit, or eligible to apply for the common visa's? I would expect the first but i couldn’t find any clear definition in the past since it changed from case to case

Are people currently doing their PhD eligible for the program? Thx

So, What about after the program?

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