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Academia.edu and San Francisco

While still working on my MSc thesis, I went to San Francisco this summer. I first attended the Digital Humanities 2011 conference at Stanford University. It was great to see many known faces there again, and the talks and posters were ‘not bad’ either. Especially impressive was the keynote on Culturomics, the quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books.

Then I started work at Academia.edu, a well-funded startup which now has over a million users. Academia.edu is a social network for scholars, which – besides the usual social network-features – organizes people by their department and research-interests, and enables scholars to present their publications in a beautiful way. Not only does it allow direct subscription to the news-feed of individual researchers (as in a personalized journal), but it also makes uploaded papers more widely available, as user-pages are indexed by Google, and thus easy to find by researchers and other interested parties.

Academia.edu is (also see next post) a great place to work. The team consists of great engineers, and decisions are generally made in a non-hierarchical way that allows the best ideas to come to the fore. A lot of interesting new technologies are being used as well, such as Redis, MongoDB, Memcached, Varnish, and Solr (besides Ruby on Rails). In that sense it is a real startup. And since I arrived we have started doing automated testing, and been improving the quality of the code. In addition to all this, our office also provides a very nice work-environment, as it is centrally located (Kearny and Bush), with a lot of light, and plants (for whoever wants them on their desk).

My work-space at Academia.edu

Our elephant-ear – name says it all – plant in the office at Academia.edu

And finally, San Francisco is not only part of the Sillicon Valley area; the heartland of the internet, but also is a great place to live. Though there is a bit more fog than I initially expected. My room is near Golden Gate Park, which is nice for taking long walks, and being surrounded by nature. Besides, there are a lot of cool coding-related events in the city (almost daily), many theaters, museums, and there are even some nice beaches nearby (Ocean Beach is my favorite, though the sea there is very cold). I haven’t gone for trips outside the city that much, but I did visit Lake Tahoe twice, which is a real gem, both in summer, and in winter.

Tahoe in the middle of summer, 2011

Tahoe during our company ski trip