Coding, caffeinating, keynoting fuel CEAS grad

Daniel Spiewak
Degree: BS Engineering, Computer Science
Hometown: Ashippun, Wis.
It’s a fact: Computers are his instrument of choice, but Daniel Spiewak can also play piano, guitar and “various woodwind instruments.” Skiing is among his more recent interests.

Daniel Spiewak says the best coffee in the world can be found on Milwaukee’s East Side.

Believe him.

Spiewak’s “double life” as a full-time software developer and full-time student allowed him to travel and coffee-taste worldwide. He arrived at UWM in 2006 to major in Computer Science. He was a super-commuter who lived 60 minutes from campus and worked as chief programmer for a London (England) company.

Finding work has never been a problem for Spiewak, an avid, inexhaustible, internationally known coder/programmer. He started working with software at age 8 out of his home in sparsely populated central Wisconsin. He finished his homeschool curriculum at 16.

Settling into college and finding academic opportunities to build on his experiences took a little more time.

“A lot of chief technology officers don’t have degrees. Computer science in academia is very divorced from the industry,” Spiewak explains. “But you can learn a lot of other things in academic compsci: applied math, theoretical skills, things that help shape the way you think.”

Spiewak credits UWM computer science professor John Boyland for helping him learn all of the above.

“Even in lower-level courses, his teaching style was challenging,” Spiewak says. “And he does not grade on a curve.”

Spiewak’s coursework wasn’t lower level for long. Boyland waived four prerequisite courses to get him into a master’s-level compsci course by sophomore year.

“I came into CS 754 not knowing much, but it was so much fun. It was the hardest course I ever took. I highly recommend it.” What Spiewak wouldn’t recommend: four to five hours of sleep nightly, the daily commute to Ashippun, Wis., writing a book, publishing scholarly articles and editing an online compsci journal – all at about the same time.

Coffee helped, and he’s sampled a lot of it as an in-demand speaker on the tech talk circuit. Speaking at a dozen conferences yearly, Spiewak visited New York, London, Amsterdam, Oslo, San Francisco and more, all during undergrad.

The support of his close-knit family (he’s the eldest of six) and a move to Milwaukee also helped him through a college/career combination that he says “probably took 15 years off my life.” Expertise and exposure have earned him 3,400 Twitter followers, job offers and invites to Ph.D. programs. Graduate work may be in his future: Carnegie Mellon and EPFL (considered Europe’s “most cosmopolitan technical university”) are on his short list.

But after years of traveling, studying and working, he’s ready to take on deeper technical challenges and a new view. He’s now a senior research and development engineer at Precog, a Boulder-based company tackling big-data analytics.

How big? For example, says Spiewak, a Precog client might want to know how many of its 100,000,000 clients are of an age that is three standard deviations from the mean.

Spiewak organizes those pedabytes of data into query language that gets clients the answers they seek.

“It’s about providing a big-data platform as a service,” he says.

Spiewak says he’ll miss the Milwaukee lakefront that inspires him, and world-class coffee at Rochambo and Alterra. But his notebook and iPad are always in hand – two desktop units handle heavy processing – for coding, writing and organizing research ideas.

Inspiration and good coffee, he believes, are abundant in his new city.

“I’ll be trading the lake for the mountains. Boulder is not in the foothills of the Rockies; the city is leaning on the Rockies.”