Local Data Analytics Champion Achieves Beyond Expectations
Each quarter, JAXCoE showcases someone within the local STEM2 workforce.
This weekend Jacksonville's NLP Logix, a leading advanced analytics and machine learning data services company, placed in the top 15 in an international competition. NLP entered the contest on a whim and triumphed over 800 teams, proving what it's capable of. Their story was featured in the Jacksonville Business Journal.
JAXCoE caught up with Michael Mann, a Sr. Software Engineer heavily involved in the NLP Logix team in the KDD Cup Challenge. We were curious about Michael and what local startups and the STEM2 community can learn from his success. We came away impressed.
Tell Us About the Company and Your Role
Mann: One way to look at NLP Logix is three men with an idea and a desire to bring machine learning as a tool to solve business problems. NLP Logix is a family of people who are passionate about data, and the story we can tell with it.
I believe my role is still forming, and a role is different than the position or title you hold in any company. Since January of this year, I have worked at NLP Logix as Sr. Software Engineer. That means I write the tools and the technology that continue to move us forward as a company and assist our clients in solving their business problems. I see my role as someone who is continually looking at new and interesting ways of doing things both from a software perspective and from a company perspective.
I love everything about the work that I do because it is so different from what I am used to and the people at NLP Logix are so supportive and amazing. Machine Learning is new to me and there is so much to learn. I love being in a place where I have to dig in and figure things out.
Tell Us About Your Background and What Led You to a STEM-Based Career?
Mann: I was born in Tallahassee where my mom and dad were attending Florida State University. My mother moved back to Jacksonville shortly after I was born to live with her parents, and I have lived ever since.
I played football at Robert E. Lee High School under Corkey Rogers and Leon Barrett who are town legends. Some of the young men I played football with went on to the pros and played with the Green Bay Packers, namely Leroy Butler and Edgar Bennett. In my first year at Lee, I watched the championship game between Pensacola Escambia and Lee where it was standing room only. Lee lost in overtime by a field goal. The running back for Pensacola Escambia was Emmit Smith who went on to be the running back for the Dallas Cowboys.
I graduated from Lee in 1987 and wasn't happy living at home so at the age of 19 I left home, got married and bought my first house in the Paxon area. My father worked at Baptist Medical Center and got me a job there out of high school as a data entry clerk in the Operating Room.
My first daughter Kirstyn was born September 3, 1989. I was working full time and going to community college at what was called FCCJ at that time. I was just taking classes that interested me and really had no idea what I would do professionally.
After receiving an AS degree, I spoke with the counselor at UNF who guided me into the Computer Information Science program based on the electives I took at FCCJ. That's how my education began in the domain of writing software.
I worked full time at the hospital and went to school at night. I believe it took me over 7 years to complete my college education. By the time I graduated UNF I was in my second marriage and had my second child Sarah who was born in Jan 4, 1998. Sarah is now 17 and next year she will be graduating from Ridge View High School in Orange Park. Carol and I have been married for 22 years.
When I graduated college I was offered a position with a software consulting company called Nexgenix based out of Irvine, CA. I worked there for about 5 years where the travel went from 20% to 100%. I wanted to return to my hometown.
In 2003, I found a job in Jacksonville with Ring Power Corp., where I worked as the only developer for an IT shop of 7 people. I wrote web-based software and started to move from classic ASP to .NET. The turning point in my career is when I left Ring Power and went to work for PaySpan Health, a software product company whose sole source of income is the software they build. I was totally hooked. I knew that this was the type of company I always wanted to work for.
What Are Your Thoughts About STEM Careers?
Mann: STEM is important because as a society we have moved into the digital world, and the digital world is supported by software, algorithms, and data structures. Data Science is becoming more prevalent, where companies are looking for the goldmines in the data they have been collecting over the years. There are so many opportunities; we just need the supply to marry up to the overwhelming demand of all the disciplines within STEM and the infrastructure to support it.
Tell Us About the KDD Cup Challenge - Why is it Important?
Mann: KDD Cup is an annual company-sponsored international machine learning competition. When Matt Berseth, our Chief Science Officer, became aware of the KDD Cup he asked others in the office if they would be interested in working with him on it. I jumped on the opportunity as a way to learn how we would approach solving the problem presented to us.
We should care about our team's success in this challenge because this brings attention to Jacksonville, FL as a place where some of the best technology companies in the world are located.
Is Jax a good place for people with STEM backgrounds like yours?
Mann: Jacksonville is a great place for people with STEM backgrounds because Jacksonville is a growing market. Jacksonville used to have a handful of technology user groups and this has exploded over the last few years. There are several software product companies in the area and I am sure there are many that I am not aware of. Jacksonville has SQL Saturday, Code Impact and the Code on the Beach conferences. I have a feeling more are brewing.
Jacksonville is an exciting place to be if you love to write software.
What Do You Do Other Than Write Software and Rank in International Competitions?
Mann: I go to church at Freedom Destiny Christian Fellowship (FDCF) where I volunteer in Destiny Kids, which is our children's ministry program. FDCF has partnered with SALT prison ministry where I am responsible for coordinating both our men and women's prison ministry outreaches with our members. We go into the prisons once a month and bring the gospel of Christ to where we are allowed to go whether it be the Chapel, solitary confinement, Death Row, or the recreation yard.
Other members of the NLP Logix team.