A Conversation with BPC Alumni: Sam Schickler and Jack Gallagher

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BPC Alums Jack Gallagher (‘11) and Sam Schickler (‘15) are working together at Midjourney, an independent research lab that produces AI-created images from text descriptions (Think: typing “cat playing with yarn Da Vinci” into a search bar, and a computer created image akin to a cat playing with yarn in the style of Leonardo Da Vinci will appear).

These two very busy alums set aside time to talk with Mr. Carlstroem about their time at BPC, and how that influenced their path to Midjourney:

Mr. Carlstroem: How did you both get involved with Midjourney?

Sam: I met the Midjourney founder, David, the summer of 10th grade at a VR [virtual reality] event – Ms. Mytko was there too; it all comes back to BPC! We stayed in touch over the years, and David eventually offered me a job but I declined because I was in school. Later when I was looking at opportunities, I contacted David again and started at Midjourney right away.

Jack: I met David through a friend when I was working in open source AI communities. Most of the AI focus was on research, but Midjourney was product-focused, which aligned more with my work. David and I joined forces in Feb 2022. Funny story, Sam was my intern at Midjourney before we realized we both went to BPC! 

Midjourney was featured on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Sam in Maker Club

Mr. C: What is your elevator pitch for Midjourney – do you have a sentence that describes what Midjourney does?

Jack: We are augmenting visual imagination. For example, I’m not a very good visual artist. I’ll have some concepts I want to explore, but I can’t because I don’t have the mechanical skills to do it. How am I going to create an image of Kentucky fried solipsism? I’ll ask a robot.

Midjourney has 3 million users. This is 3x higher than any other discord server in the world.

Jack on the annual Yosemite trip

Mr. C: One of the things that strikes me as wonderful, and reflective of what we do at BPC, is Midjourney’s combination of art, science, and math. Has this always appealed to you?

Jack: There are a lot of different directions that you can take machine-learning research, some more fun than others. Some machine learning is focused on adtech, and that might feel soulless; some people are trying to build god, and that feels way out there in terms of sanity. What draws me to Midjourney is that we are working at the razor’s edge of down-to-earth and human-oriented research. We want to make the world more beautiful.

Mr. C: Sam, would you like to add anything to that?

Sam: “We want to make the world more beautiful.“ I feel like that was a good quote. There’s a lot of art in what we do, and the machines seem to truly understand what’s ugly and what’s beautiful. We keep trying to create something unattractive but the machines override it and seem to know better. And also both of us would be happy to speak to the students and parents at BPC!

Mr. C: Do you see yourselves staying with Midjourney long term?

Sam: Oh, I think so – as long as we continue to be successful we would stay. It’s a small company (as of October 2022, Midjourney has about 10 employees) and normally you would have teams of people working on research and engineering, but here it’s just–

Jack: Uh, it’s just me

Sam: Haha, exactly! David puts trust in each of us, and gives us the freedom to work.

Sam in the Halloween parade
Jack in Math Club

As the conversation wraps up, Sam and Jack share that they briefly overlapped at BPC while in Math Club together. To which Mr. Carlstroem responds, “When Mr. G finds out he will want stock options in Midjourney! And we can’t wait to have you both speak to our students, soon.”

Thank you Sam and Jack!

If you’d like to read more about AI and Midjourney, here’s a recent article from the LA Times.