Karthik Rajgopal Laxmi Naarayanan is the co-founder & Director of Research at black.ai, a cutting edge research and development start up in the artificial intelligence space.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m a generalist. I’m currently a Machine Learning Engineer. But, I’ve been a database engineer, a full stack web developer and a front end engineer. I was born and raised in Southern India. Born in Kochi, Kerala. raised in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
I joined a software consultancy company once I finished my bachelors in Computer Science and wanted to do an MBA. But, along the way, I absolutely loved the technical side of the business and continued progressing through my career there. I decided to do my masters in Computer science and was adamant on not wanting to go to the US. I picked Australia and specifically Melbourne because I knew no one here and I always wanted to watch cricket at the MCG.
I’m a Co-founder and Director of Research at black.ai. I met Keaton and subsequently Sebastien, my two co-founders at different hackathons and started working with them on our company black.ai. That was 7 years ago. Black is an AI startup focussing on automation in real spaces. Black’s vision is to democratise the access of automation for everyone.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
5:30-6:30a – Wake up, make coffee for me and my partner and lie on the couch with our dog(Pedro) chatting with my partner / reading research papers / watch cooking and carpentry videos.
6:30a – Workout for an hour. I have a full blown gym setup in my garage to make sure I have no excuses. It was surprisingly cheap to set up. I sometimes skip morning workouts if I feel sore and workout in the evening instead. This means I leave straight to work.
7:30a – Take Pedro to the dog park/walk/run . I take my dog to work a couple of times a week.
8:30- 9:30a – get ready for work and ride to work/ take PT if I’m taking Pedro to work.
9:30a-6p – work
6:30p – either workout if I’ve missed the morning workout or cook for the night and eat and read or watch something. I mostly read.
9:00-9:30p – start reading in bed. I normally read two books at a time. A fiction and a non-fiction.I’m currently reading The StormLight Archive and the Team of Teams.
10p-10:45p – shuteye with an audio book for 30 mins. This is a great way to finish another book. I’m currently listening to The Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown.
3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I believe the key to balance is intent and priority. I’m an intense person. I’m either a 0 or a 100 and I need fulfilment from work and personal life. That determines balance for me. But, I’m flexible about them.
I have a general goal every week/month/year about what I want from it. My priorities in general are my partner, work, fitness and learning and I allocate time for all of that. The weightage varies from time to time. If at the end of the week I feel that I’ve done my best for that week on all these fronts, I feel balanced. If I haven’t, I calibrate. The key to achieving balance for me is to listen. Listen to your body, your workmates, your partner and get to a shared meaning.
I don’t want to come across as if I’ve nailed this. Far from it. I constantly struggle with wanting to do a lot. I want to build/cook/try everything I see and that’s exhausting. I have to exercise restraint and be disciplined almost all the time and it’s work. But, I’ve come to enjoy that. And just this quality bleeds into all the work I do. I prioritise and score everything before I start from chores to work tasks.
4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I’d say the last three months have been difficult with me getting a new property and us scaling up at black. I’ve had to workout 3 times a week instead of 5 for a month during that time. But nothing major.
I’m in general flexible with the timings of my routine, So, it’s by and large unaffected. At the start of the week, I decide that I need to workout x times a week, learn specific things, do specific tasks and spend y hours with my partner. And I just get it done somehow. I make sure I’m accountable to what I decided to do.
5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
There are so many. I love Malcolm Gladwell. So, most of his books. I also love his podcast – The Revisionist History. I love Dan Carlin’s podcasts as well. I read anything and everything. What I try to do (try being the underlying word, I have not succeeded at all) is to absorb as much information as possible and try and relate them together.
To explain that further, I believe that the economy always pushes itself to get to the next technological breakthrough because regardless of how many stock traders, politicians and business people there are, they all need to back and put money into someone or a group of people who make something. And technology is the sure shot way to achieve it. I needed history, economics, politics and technology to understand this.
6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I would rephrase the question to “If I could understand how someone achieves work-life balance, who would that be? ”
Anyone and everyone. Though my balance is dependent on what I want to achieve and what my priorities are, I look for ways to make certain processes efficient. Most people do not know why they could achieve as much as they do. It’s so internalised that they find it hard to verbalise. I’d like to get as much information from the limited number of people who can verbalise them.
7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
My belief is that the easiest way to find the balance you want is to do the things you love. I would work at black and as an ML researcher without pay if I have to and be with my partner even if the logistics get difficult and work out even if I have to run in the cold. The point I’m trying to make is, once you know what brings you joy, you will make it work and find balance. It starts with intent.
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