What led you to software engineering?
“In Middle and High School, I took some basic web development classes. I found it interesting but never considered making it a career. That changed when I received a last-minute internship in web development the summer before starting college, and I quickly realized I enjoyed it. Starting college, I switched my major to computer science and continue to enjoy it just as much eight years later.”
What is your favorite thing about being a scientist/engineer?
“Having the opportunity to be a catalyst for innovation in a team or company. Software engineers have the responsibility and opportunity to build systems and tools that enable experts from various domains across the company to do their work more effectively. It’s usually easy to cobble together a system that you or other engineers understand but it’s far more difficult and rewarding to build systems that are intuitive for everyone in a cross-functional team. I enjoy the challenge and the benefits that arise when you do it well.”
What is one thing that would surprise people about your field of work in software engineering and agriculture tech?
“In our field, you have to devote a lot of effort to improving modeling and agricultural simulation techniques. What’s perhaps less obvious is that many improvements are the result of simply improving data quality. There’s no shortage of messy data, and building systems and heuristics for cleaning it is a tedious endeavor, so people don’t really celebrate it or talk about it much. But it’s been critical to the quality of our work.”
What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to encourage more people to pursue a career in science?
“Most people are motivated by applying what they learn. In my experience, the typical computer science curriculum devotes a lot of time to fundamentals and theory with no compelling application in mind. Fundamentals and theory are of course critical, and you won’t get far without them. But people feel rewarded when they use what they’ve learned and in turn, they’re interested to learn even more. We should focus more effort on presenting students with opportunities and realistic problems to apply what they’re learning as early and frequently as possible.”
Here are some publications from Alex
What brought you to CIBO?
“At the time, I was interested in maximizing my exposure to new topics and software engineering techniques. Agriculture was a totally new domain for me, and CIBO uses a language called Scala for almost all of our software, which was also new to me at the time. So both of these in combination made CIBO a perfect next step.”
What are your primary responsibilities at CIBO?
“Broadly speaking, my teammates and I responsibility is to enable CIBO’s scientists and agriculture experts to iterate quickly so we can deliver relevant and accurate results to our users.”
“My teammates and I focus on the software and computing infrastructure for running our crop simulation and land evaluation models. Our goal is to enable CIBO scientists and agriculture experts to iterate quickly and ensure the Marketplace team can consume their results correctly and easily. I mostly work on internal services for ingesting, storing, and accessing the data that feeds into our models as well as the infrastructure for running the models. We most commonly use Scala, PostgreSQL, and S3 to build services, and we deploy them in a Kubernetes cluster. In the past I’ve also worked more closely with the crop simulation model, specifically focusing on tools that simplify how we run our model and A/B test model changes before deploying them.”
What do you find the most rewarding about your work here?
“I really enjoy the process of turning academic research into a product. Most of the models and techniques we use have been developed, validated, and celebrated in academia for decades. Yet it still takes substantial engineering effort to turn them into a reliable system and a compelling product. I’ve learned a lot along the way and feel very fortunate to be part of a team that’s pushing the boundaries of agriculture, science, and software.”
About Alex Klibisz
Alex Klibisz is a Software Engineer at CIBO, a science-driven software startup. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.