Q&A: Tim Jurka 

From political science to AI, alumnus builds an interdisciplinary career.  

Portrait photo of UC Davis alumnus Tim JurkaAs director of artificial intelligence at LinkedIn, Tim Jurka (B.S., computer science, ’10) leads a global team of data engineers, scientists, and linguists that builds algorithms to personalize the LinkedIn news feed. His tech career began at Pulse, a news feed app acquired by LinkedIn in 2013, not long after Jurka dropped out of graduate school to join the startup.  

What kinds of AI (artificial intelligence) factor into your work? 

We use AI to look at historical data and trends and then identify relevant jobs and professional conversations to display in the feed. We work across a lot of domains, such as natural language processing, knowledge representation, and machine learning. In the machine learning space, we use algorithms like neural networks for deep learning, logistic regression, decision trees, and a variety of other techniques. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your work? 

I get to help people find jobs, help them connect to mentors, and help them discover new information. It’s incredibly rewarding when you can generate economic opportunity for someone, and do it on a massive scale. 

During your time at UC Davis, was there anything or anyone who inspired you? 

As an undergraduate, I worked with Amber Boydstun (associate professor of political science) to create software to mine data and research how the mainstream media frames issues in our political system. This was the single most impactful experience I had in terms of shaping my career. It led me to enter the political science Ph.D. program at UC Davis and study machine learning. She also helped me navigate some pretty complex issues in my personal life. I left the Ph.D. program to join a startup because my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I felt the need to be closer to him in the South Bay. Amber was incredibly supportive in guiding me through that. She’s really who I credit for where I am today. 

How did your UC Davis experience prepare you for your career? 

The biggest problems to be solved will be solved by people who understand a variety of domains, not just computer science. The fact that I could really blend together the social sciences, natural sciences, computer sciences, and find all the faculty experts that are willing to nurture that interdisciplinary curriculum, was something really unique at UC Davis.  

— Becky Oskin, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science, interviewed Tim Jurka for the fall 2019 issue of the College of Letters and Science Magazine