About

Thanks for stopping by. Here's more about me and my background.

Brendon Smith at desk at work

Science

Science is my jam. Before I got into tech, I spent about ten years doing science research.

College

Brendon Smith in Wheaton College Library

I got into science during college. I was in a dual-degree program with majors in Spanish and Applied Health Science. Applied Health Science was a great fit and I became a thriving member of the department. Mentors helped me figure out who I was as a person and how to leverage my strengths to create a career.

My favorite subject in my Applied Health Science major was Nutrition. I was blessed with a great teacher who provided a rigorous foundation in nutritional biochemistry and taught the course materials with passion. I found it fascinating that all of the biochemical and molecular details of our cells and physiology could relate back to the foods we eat every day. My nutrition teacher gave me extensive opportunities in research, teaching, and administration that made me a competitive applicant for graduate school.

I graduated from Wheaton with a B.S. in Applied Health Science, a B.A. in Spanish, an understanding of my identity and values, and a direction for my career.

Grad School

Brendon Smith in the Bioacoustics Research Lab
            at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Brendon Smith in doctoral regalia after defending dissertation

Me in the lab during my first year of grad school, and me after defending my dissertation. The more science I did, the longer my hair got. Correlation or causation?

I went directly from college into the Nutritional Sciences PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My tuition and living expenses were fully funded by research grants and fellowships.

My coursework opened my mind to the wonderful world of cells, molecules, and biochemical reactions, and to the effects of food from cell to community. I got rigorous research training, working in both nutritional biochemistry and engineering labs, and leading projects on a large interdisciplinary team.

I began to see the computing challenges involved in scientific research. I wrote VBA macros to automate experimental data analysis and learned the SAS and R computing languages for statistical programming. I also designed some illustrations for my work, like this illustration of an assay method I developed, and this illustration describing a process called endothelial dysfunction I made for a fellowship proposal.

I also did some teaching. I ranked in the top 10% of campus teachers based on student feedback, and completed a teaching certification.

You can download my dissertation for free here, and you can look up my publications on my ORCID profile.

Postdoc

Brendon Smith at postdoc lab bench at Harvard Brendon Smith's hands at postdoc lab bench at Harvard

Next, I moved to Boston for postdoctoral research at Harvard. I dived deeper into molecular nutrition during this time. Even a cup of coffee can contain a thousand molecular compounds with potential effects on physiology and health, but few have been studied. I did some work to help illuminate the links between food molecules and physiology. I won a year of grant funding and collaborated with researchers at MIT and in pharma. You can see one of my conference posters here.

During this time, I learned the importance of reproducibility. In science, reproducibility occurs when different scientists do the same experiment and get results that agree. The science career system does not incentivize reproducibility. As a result, the scientific community is experiencing what has been called a "reproducibility crisis" or "replication crisis," in which published research can't be reproduced by multiple labs, or oftentimes even repeated within the same lab by the same person. The book "Rigor Mortis" by Richard Harris provides a useful summary of the crisis.

I started thinking about how software, lab automation, and other technology tools could help with reproducibility. For example, documentation certainly seems important for reproducibility. Molecular biologists perform complicated experimental protocols with many steps, and each step can affect the outcome. It's difficult to document experiments in enough detail so that other scientists can learn from, and reproduce, our work. I could see the importance of documentation in other fields as well. For example, the surgeon Atul Gawande wrote a book called "The Checklist Manifesto" describing their research about surgical checklists, a form of protocol or documentation. Distributing a checklist to surgical team members reduced patient deaths by half. Couldn't software help us document and reproduce our work?

Around this time, I started using an electronic lab notebook (ELN) to replace the antiquated paper lab notebooks my lab at Harvard was still using. It wasn't a smooth transition. On a Saturday afternoon on which our ELN was experiencing an extended cloud outage, I had an epiphany. I realized software skills would empower me to alleviate problems like this and improve productivity for other scientists in the future. I decided to learn software engineering and start a career in tech.

During this transition period into tech, I offered to coordinate the operational logistics of the lab as lab manager. I worked with the other lab members to achieve numerous improvements to lab infrastructure and culture. I also encountered a new set of lab management pain points that could be addressed with better tech.

Tech

My experiences as a science researcher motivated me to get into the tech industry. I'm all about making scientists productive.

Udacity

Brendon Smith with some fellow coders at a Udacity meetup

After deciding to learn software engineering, I had to figure out how to learn. I looked into code bootcamps and computer science grad school. Some friends introduced me to the online learning platform Udacity, and I decided to learn there. I chose web development because of its broad applicability and large open source software community. Check out the Udacity page for more.

Projects

I've built my own open source software projects and helped with many other projects too. Check out the projects page for more.

Work

I've worked as a Software Engineer and DevOps Engineer at a few different companies. Check out the work page for more.

Life

Here are some things I like to do when I'm not working.

Coffee

George Howell Coffee Godfrey Hotel Modbar pour-over system George Howell Coffee Godfrey Hotel map with coffee sources Brendon Smith and Kent Langston at the 2017 New York Coffee Festival
              Counter Culture booth Brendon Smith at the 2017 New York Coffee Festival Stumptown booth

I like to start my days with specialty coffee. I frequently hang out at coffee shops around Boston and Cambridge. Let me know if you'd like to join me.

Fitness

Brendon Smith competing in a track meet in 2002
Brendon Smith doing biceps curls Brendon Smith doing pull-ups

I got into fitness at the beginning of high school. I ran track, and got into swimming and strength training. My fitness pursuits taught me the value of consistency and focus, and helped me develop an active lifestyle that I continue today.

Movies

Close-up from Blade Runner (1982) of an eye with the 'Hades Landscape' reflected in the iris

I like collecting and watching movies.

Here are some of my favorite genres:

Here are some of my favorite directors:

I usually prefer to watch movies at home, but sometimes hang out at art theaters like the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Fun fact - the username "br3ndonland" I have on platforms like GitHub and LinkedIn is a reference to one of my favorite movies, Jurassic Park (1993) (TheMovieDB, Wikipedia). The computer programmer character, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), has an Apple Macintosh Quadra 700 computer at his desk. Apple's convention (still in use today) was to put an icon at the top right of the desktop representing the computer's hard drive. A close look at Nedry's desktop reveals that his hard drive is named NEDRYLAND. When I got my first Mac, I named my hard drive BRENDONLAND. On socials, I had to use "br3ndonland" because "brendonland" was taken (there are actually people named Brendon Land).

Image from Jurassic Park (1993) of Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) squeezing a stress ball and saying, 'Thanks, Dad.' Image from Jurassic Park (1993) of Dennis Nedry's desktop showing that his hard drive is named NEDRYLAND

Music

Massive Attack at the Riviera Theatre, Chicago, 2010-10-15 Rush at the United Center, Chicago, 2015-06-12

I like listening to music and going to concerts. I also played classical guitar for several years in high school and college.

Here are some of my favorite genres: