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Plant Computational Biology Technical Lead, Agriculture

X Development, LLC
Mountain View, California, US
Closing date
Oct 7, 2022

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Academic / Research, Consultancy/Private Sector
Informatics / GIS
Modeling, Biology
Salary Type
Employment Type
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Plant Computational Biology Technical Lead, Agriculture

Software Engineering

Mountain View, CA

X is Alphabet's moonshot factory. We are a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people. Our goal: 10x impact on the world's most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. We approach projects that have the aspiration and riskiness of research with the speed and ambition of a startup.

About the team:

This team is one of the earlier stage moonshots and sits at the intersection of machine learning, synthetic biology, and agriculture. It has both experimental and computational components, aimed at developing breakthroughs in the design-build-test-learn cycle of plants.

About the role:

We are currently looking for a full-time person to lead the modeling component of the project, which consists of full time researchers/engineers, vendors, and rotating fellows (AI Residents) who work with our team in 6 month sprints.

You will spend the majority of your time working with this team to execute an ambitious, ambiguous, and multi-disciplinary roadmap. This includes active project management and technical due diligence. You will also work with the project lead and experimental lead to define the general technical roadmap of the team, and communicate key results to internal stakeholders. You will be ultimately responsible to the project lead for the results of the modeling team.

Knowledge of plant biology is essential. You will provide biological and agricultural context to the computational work being performed. Along with the experimental lead, you will be responsible for making sure model development, data collection, and experiments are coordinated seamlessly and correctly designed.

Partnership management will be a significant portion of your role: you will be the point-of-contact for, and usually actively involved in, numerous partnerships that involve data collection and/or analysis. These include partnerships with external entities spanning basic research to industrial commercialization, as well as cutting edge research with other teams within Alphabet.

There is the expectation that you will spend approximately 25% of your time doing boots on the ground work, including actively developing ML models and performing data analysis. You should be able to easily and rapidly write code and share it with the team.

This project is ML first and synthetic biology first. You should be well grounded in the principles of biology and quantitative genetics, and keep up-to-date with the latest advances in those fields. At the same time, you should be focused on developing new approaches to push the boundaries of what is possible in the modeling of plant systems.

A special type of person will thrive at X: a learning machine who doesn't fear a failed experiment. One who embraces iteration, scrappy experiments, and ambiguity. The team especially values self-starters with a team-oriented work style, the capability to navigate a complex set of goals and tasks, the willingness to be open and vulnerable with your teammates, and the ability to work hard under stressful conditions or tight timelines for limited periods. Finally, the position calls for a highly organized, strategic thinker, who can translate goals into research tasks, but also can triage tasks as goals shift.

Industry experience is essential, because we are focused on products with impact, but X doesn't work like a normal corporation. We are inventing new industries, not trying to improve existing ones.

We are looking for someone with leadership potential and strong interpersonal skills, who can function independently, manage teams effectively, be a thought partner with the project lead and leadership at X, and can communicate across a diverse group of stakeholders; a go-getter that can help bring the project to the next level technically, administratively, and strategically. The work will be difficult and requires agile navigation of a shifting strategic landscape, but provides an opportunity to be on the ground floor and shape a potential Alphabet-sized effort.

How you will make 10x impact:
  • Be the one ultimately responsible for the computational pipeline, machine learning models, statistical models, and analytical packages.
  • Manage the month-to-month and day-to-day work of the modeling staff.
  • Be a thought partner on the strategy and execution on the project. This will include refining the "moonshot" vision/hypothesis, as well as setting long, medium, and short term milestones and tactics.
  • Foster and manage active partnerships for data acquisition or generation. Monitor the public and private research landscape for potential new partnerships and initiate and develop efforts with promising leads.
  • Assist in communication with key stakeholders; be an advocate for the project.
  • Generate professional-quality code and analysis.
  • Help recruit new personnel and vendors.
  • Ensure the team is most up-to-date with the latest methods in machine learning and plant computational biology.

What you should have:
  • PhD in population genetics, quantitative genetics, statistics, bioinformatics, computer science, computational biology, or equivalent.
  • 3+ years of industry experience.
  • Familiarity with modern machine learning and artificial intelligence methods and practices.
  • Expertise in plant biology, synthetic biology, systems biology, quantitative genetics, breeding, molecular biology, or equivalent.
  • Experience performing agricultural or plant biology experiments at least to the undergraduate level.
  • Strong desire to become an expert in agricultural systems.
  • Experience leading a team of interdisciplinary researchers.
  • Experience initiating and managing internal and external partnerships.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Ability to communicate with multiple levels including executive leadership, peers, managers, and junior staff, and to non-technical and technical audiences.
  • Expertise in python, ability and willingness to work in R when necessary.
  • Excellent planning, analytical, and interpersonal skills.
  • Excellent project management skills and ability to keep multiple priorities moving at the same time.
  • Ability to work on-site at our offices in Mountain View, CA.
  • Ability to travel 5-10% of the time.

It'd be great if you also had these:
  • Further experience in experimental plant biology or breeding.
  • Deep expertise in machine learning practice, including the development and evaluation of novel algorithms, architectures, and model training approaches.
  • Knowledge or experience in the sustainability and/or agriculture sectors.
  • Experience with Google Cloud Platform, internal Google computing resources, or DevOps in general.

Manager Expectations:

We believe every Xer should have a great manager. Whether you are an applicant evaluating a prospective manager, or an applicant to a management role, these are the expectations for our managers:
  • [Psychological safety first] We can't build moonshots without a foundation of trust and respect. Create space for team members to be seen, heard, and understood.
  • [Continuous development] Take the time to invest in yourself and those around you. Create an environment where team members are empowered to do the same for one another.
  • [Build a team with intention] Assemble a diverse team of people who have the substance and stamina to reach the moon.
  • [Mission is critical] Why are we here? What are we working towards? Get clear on the answers, and then make sure your team understands where you're headed and how to get there together.
  • [Nurture our culture] Be a role model of X's values and champion creativity, passion, and play.
  • [Be accountable] Everything at X is a team effort, but the buck stops with managers. Celebrate your team's successes and own the failures. Taking responsibility earns respect.

At X, we don't just accept difference - we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our products and our community. We are proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and is an affirmative action employer. We are committed to equal employment opportunity regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, marital status, disability, gender identity or Veteran status. We also consider qualified applicants regardless of criminal histories, consistent with legal requirements.

This position is located in Mountain View, CA. Are you able to commute to the office and/or are you willing to relocate?* No Yes

Are you currently or were you previously an Alphabet employee, contractor, or intern?* No Yes

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