From the Cave to the Customer: Lessons from My First 100 Days at Groq

Written by:
Lev Zlotnik

My name is Lev Zlotnik and I’m a Machine Learning Development Specialist at Groq. My focus is helping customers achieve real-time AI – running their workloads on GroqChip™ to realize the fastest time-to-solution with the single push of a button. That’s the vision; and from what I’ve been able to see and do at Groq, I’m convinced reality can and will keep up.

After spending the first part of my career in the Israeli Air Force and at Intel, joining Groq was exciting because it gave me the opportunity to work in a hands-on environment and interact with customers, a welcome change from working behind the scenes solely on software. I knew by joining Groq I’d be working with some really smart people solving some really tough problems.

In my first one hundred days at Groq, I had the opportunity to use two of my favorite tools, math and physics, to tackle machine learning challenges in projects ranging from fusion reactors to advertising recommendation systems to autonomous vehicles. Here are some fun surprises and valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Work where curiosity is valued - this is where you will have impact

When given a customer project to support, I usually start with understanding the problem they’re solving and – if they’re willing to share it – their algorithm or another proxy to their approach, so I can then analyze it and understand how it will run on GroqChip. I look at every problem as an opportunity to explore a new domain, which involves research, reading academic papers to learn about the problem and the approach, and investigating the mathematical functions modeled to understand how they produce certain behaviors.

I feel lucky that my preferred process is very similar to the way Groq approaches problems: looking at things from first principles. It’s about having the curiosity to explore and wanting to solve a problem while limiting assumptions, always asking why, and trying to understand problems from the inside out to reach the best solution. This all means I don’t just work on passing neural networks through Groq Compiler – I research math in-depth to understand how a concept applies simultaneously to both a customer’s application and our technology.

I also work closely with the software leads, which has been a really positive experience. They’re very supportive of new problem solving approaches and appreciate that I try to generalize problems to the widest range possible in order to solve them from their root cause.

After just a few short months of working with Lev, Brian Kurtz, Director of Design Acceleration at Groq, observed, “While some people are really focused on accelerating the piece of a workload that’s the problem, Lev looks to treat the problem, not just the symptom. He did this recently for one of our autonomous vehicle customers. By understanding the problem holistically, he’s helping develop broadly useful tools that are having impact in multiple places."

"We" delivers more than "me"

I originally joined Groq because I wanted to work at a start-up where my work would make an impact. I’m technically in the sales org, which may surprise fellow software engineers, but I’m always collaborating with the engineering team. Both groups understand how to make a workload run on GroqChip and I try to be the customer’s advocate as we problem solve. Sometimes we do this by “pair programming” which involves teaming up with someone else who has a different area of expertise, say hardware, and working together on a set of code to make it work.

This team-centered culture pushes us to combine architecture and engineering parameters with customer requirements into solutions that really impress our customers. And it’s a big part of what makes me feel like I have a lot of impact at Groq.

Kyle Aubrey, Head of Customer Apps at Groq, said, “Since joining my team, Lev’s not only helped customers achieve amazing performance with their models, he is also constantly working with our engineering teams to drive improvements to our development tools and examples. His contributions have helped us establish high speed developer velocity as a cornerstone of Groq products and software.”

The era of deterministic compute has arrived

Coming into Groq, I was most curious about having an impact with my existing knowledge, but I was immediately humbled by how different things are at Groq. Our approach to computing is entirely different. Surprisingly, what I’ve enjoyed most is modifying my pre-existing notions with what I now think is the proper way of simplifying compute. 

From day one at Groq, I’ve gotten to learn by doing. All new hires on the sales team are given the chance to run a workload they are familiar with on GroqChip. I decided to start with a simple workload and moved on to experimenting with a very application-specific workload. I then decided to try to generalize it and ended up getting it working in time to showcase to a customer who needed real-time AI to solve their challenge. After that, the customer handed us another one of their workloads on a Thursday and we had it working before the weekend. 

Instead of just hearing how different our technology was, I got to get my hands dirty by exploring Groq technology. This all happened in my first one hundred days at Groq and it’s blown me away to be working where I’m not held back but instead enabled by this new era of deterministic compute and the amazing efforts and helpfulness of my colleagues. 

If you’re interested in joining Groq, explore careers here.

First photo credit, Dave Ashutosh on Unsplash
Second photo credit, Adobe Stock
Third photo credit, Martin Sanchez on Unsplash
Fourth photo credit, Johannes Groll on Unsplash

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