Alumni

Intertwining Passions


 
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SUMMARY: Michael Jacob (’16) is taking his career success to a whole new level in his newest project with Google that combines artificial intelligence technology and his love of hip-hop to create instrumentals.


By: Brittany Bell, student writing assistant, Office of Alumni Relations

When Michael Jacob (’16) was 13 years old, he completely took apart his family’s computer and put it back together again. Fascinated by technology after spending years learning to record and produce his own music, Jacob found a passion for both. Now, working as a Customer Cloud Engineer at Google, Jacob has the ability to combine his two interests.

As a Computer Information Systems major within the College of Business, Jacob had many opportunities during his time at JMU to explore his talents and expand his knowledge. While he was starting to produce his own music, he was also getting into cloud technology. When planning out a business idea for COB 300, Jacob had an idea to use algorithms to prevent people from falling asleep at the wheel. Inspired by his own mishap of falling asleep, Jacob wanted to create the technology to prevent disaster from occurring.

While his group eventually went with another plan, Jacob decided to keep working on the idea as a side project. After graduation, he continued his Incubation Project working at Booz Allen Hamilton, an information technology consulting company in McLean, Virginia. With the materials and technology needed at hand, Jacob and a few other coworkers were able to build a prototype demonstrating how cloud technology would help catch people who are falling asleep at the wheel. 

“It was pretty cool because people at Booz Allen ended up catching a decent amount of buzz around the concept,” Jacob said. “They ended up selecting me and my friend Andre to go to this large cloud event called Amazon Reinvent.” 

At the event, Jacob and his colleague represented the consulting company through a technical presentation of their prototype and provided demonstrations on other cloud technology projects that the company had been working on. His success at the Amazon convention reached all the way to Google, who contacted Jacob about setting up a job interview. 

“When I was, I would say 15 years old, I made a promise to myself that I don’t care how or what obstacles I need to jump over to make it happen, I want to work at Google at some point in my life,” Jacob said. “I was super grateful when I had the chance to interview because I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect for the opportunity to come this quickly.’” 

Jacob nailed the interview and began working for Google in 2018 in their cloud technology department. He helps clients, usually business owners, understand how to use Google Cloud technologies to better their businesses. When he isn’t helping customers, Jacob can work on his own side projects.

Thanks to his position at Google, Jacob is taking his love of technology and combining it with his love of hip-hop in his newest project. Growing up, Jacob was always interested in hip-hop and the positive messages it conveys.

“I think hip-hop really helped me out a lot because of the ‘started from the bottom’ mentality and things like that, which I always loved,” Jacob said. “It helped me develop a work ethic of, regardless of how hard times are now, you can continue to push and believe in bettering yourself in order to achieve ‘great things.’”

He produces his own music under his alias “MJX Music,” which has a little over two million streams on Spotify.

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With his newest personal project, Jacob is taking his music-making abilities and combining it with artificial intelligence to create actual songs. His process involves using a Google Cloud machine learning tool called Magenta to create instrumentals for hip-hop music.

First Jacob inputs a lot of music data, specifically hip-hop, into Magenta. The artificial intelligence coding picks out patterns within the data and creates a music model. Using machine learning, Magenta can then produce its own version of musical sounds based off of the model. Jacob takes the sounds that the artificial intelligence outputs and stitches them together to create a complete instrumental. 

“I would say there aren’t too many artists that have done something like this, as far as using these machine learning tools in order to create new music,” Jacob said. “I can confidently say that I’ve never seen it done in the hip-hop space before.” 

While this project is revolutionary for artificial intelligence, is it still only a step in the music creation process. The artificial intelligence can make the sounds, but a person is needed to stitch those sounds together to create music that is understandable. Jacob is happy that human creation still exists within the process to keep music full of expression and meaning.

With this feat realized, Jacob plans to continue learning more about artificial intelligence through the music-making process. He plans to create more hip-hop songs and eventually release an EP of fully artificially intelligent-produced tracks. 

Jacob credits a lot of his success to the hard work he put in and the life skills he learned at JMU. Confidence was a huge benefactor in his efforts to rise up on the ladder to success. Being able to talk with professionals, present prototypes and collaborate with coworkers are all skills that his JMU experience instilled in him. He also affirms that it helps to work with something he’s passionate about – you are more willing to learn a new skill if it involves one of your interests. He encourages everyone to follow their passions and try to intertwine them with their work.

“If you have something to say, or something to contribute, just try to build it or try to make it happen,” Jacob said. “Go ahead and contribute it because the worst-case scenario is you’ve learned a new skill, and the best-case scenario is you’ll end up somewhere you wanted to be, maybe sooner than you could have expected.”

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Published: Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, June 24, 2021

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