Taking an indirect path into a bright future

Matthew Johnston was a physics senior looking to postpone his entry into adulting. He had an intense four years at MIT; when he wasn’t in class, he was playing baseball and working various tech development gigs.

Johnston had led the MIT Engineers baseball team to a conference championship, becoming the first player in his team’s history to be named a three-time Google Cloud Academic All-American. He put an exclamation mark on his career by hitting four home runs in his final game. 

Johnston also developed a novel method of producing solar devices as a researcher with GridEdge Solar at MIT, and worked on a tax-loss harvesting research project as an intern at Impact Labs in San Francisco, California. As he contemplated post-graduation life, he liked the idea of gaining new experiences before committing to a company.

Remotely Down Under

MISTI-Australia matched him with an internship at Sydney-based Okra Solar, which manufactures smart solar charge controllers in Shenzhen, China, to help power off-the-grid remote villages in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and the Philippines, as well as in Nigeria. 

“I felt that I had so much more to learn before committing to a full-time job, and I wanted to see the world,” he says. “Working an internship for Okra in Sydney seemed like it would be the perfect buffer between university life and life in the real world. If all went well, maybe I would end up living in Sydney a while longer.”

After graduating in May 2020 with a BS in physics, a minor in computer science, and a concentration in philosophy, he prepared to live in Sydney, with the possibility of travel to Shenzhen, when he received a familiar pitch: a curveball. 

Like everyone else, he had hoped that the pandemic would wind down before his Down Under move, but when that didn’t happen, he pivoted to sharing a place with friends in Southern California, where they could hike and camp in nearby Sequoia National Park when they weren’t working remotely.

On Okra’s software team, he focused on data science to streamline the maintenance and improve the reliability of Okra’s solar energy systems. However, his remote status didn’t mesh with an ongoing project to identify remote villages without grid access. So, he launched his own data project: designing a model to identify shaded solar panels based on their daily power output. That project was placed on hold until they could get more reliable data, but he gained experience setting up machine-learning problems as he developed a pipeline to retrieve, process, and load the data to train the model.

“This project helped me understand that most of the effort in a data science problem goes into sourcing and processing the data. Unfortunately, it seemed that it was just a bit too early for the model to perf

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Source - Continue Reading: https://news.mit.edu/2021/taking-indirect-path-bright-future-matthew-johnston-0528

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