A former Gwynedd student who is now developing cutting-edge AI for Google has spoken about his journey from Abergynolwyn to Silicon Valley.
Bangor-born Llion Jones, 34, is a software engineer for the internet giant at its massive headquarters in Mountain View, California.
The former Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor student, who lived in Abergynolwyn in south Gwynedd, got his A-levels in Mathematics, Computing, Physics and Chemistry at the college's Dolgellau campus, gaining two As and two Bs. He is now considered among the elite of what he does.
College was when I really started to get in to computer programming. Discovering programming and how exactly a computer worked during my time in Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor was a real eye-opener, understanding things that I previously thought were beyond me. Software was basically "magic" before that. The realization I could make these magic boxes do literally anything with the right code had me hooked for life.
After studying at Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, the software expert moved onto the University of Birmingham where he gained a First Class degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, and then a Masters in Advanced Computer Science.
He struggled to find a job after leaving university in 2009, and after six months of job applications, interviews and frustration, visited google.com/jobs and sent off his CV for a generic "software engineer" position in London.
Llion passed two interviews on the phone with Google. The company eventually got back to him after some time, inviting him for a full interview in London. He said no.
"I was absolutely sick of interviewing at that point!" he said, having just started another job in Birmingham at the time.
That would have been the end of the story, but 18 months later another Google recruiter reached out to ask if he wanted to try applying again - which he did.
He now works in Google's massive campus in Mountain View commuting in for an hour and a half a day from San Francisco on Google's own transport service. He has been with the company since 2012, and has been there longer than 85 per cent of the company's staff, such is the rate of growth at the company.
It's mad that there's almost 100 times more people at my place of work now than live in the village I grew up in - 200 compared to 20,000! I see self-driving cars and people on hoverboards all the time here, it's just normal now.
Llion works for well-known futurist Ray Kurzweil and conducts regular one-on-one meetings with him.
Discussing his work, Llion said:
Artificial Intelligence is just fascinating, from a scientific, philosophical and ethical view. I'm at the forefront of an effort to reverse engineer literally the most complex thing in the known universe: the human mind. The specific thing I'm working on so far as I can tell you is on Question Answering. That is, getting a computer to be able to read and understand natural text well enough to answer natural language questions about it.
Llion has fond memories of his time at Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor. He said:
My main and fondest memories from Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor are easily of my teacher, Graham Hall. Graham was the first teacher that saw potential in me and helped me realise it. What a fantastic teacher and person he is.
Sharing some advice for young students in the area, Llion said: "I was a C-grade student since I didn't try - because I didn't think I'd be able to do better.
I was an average student in secondary school but it was Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor where I started to do very well academically - mostly thanks to the staff there.
I don't think you need a glowing CV to get into Google, they are mostly interested in your programming ability and have a very specific interviewing technique to assess that. I tell everyone that says they wished they worked there to just go for it.
I just followed my nose, and just kept doing what I enjoyed. I think I'm very lucky that that turned out to be a very, very lucrative hobby!
Llion's opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Google.
For more information on A-level courses at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, please visit www.gllm.ac.uk/a-levels.