David Baraff | Principal Software Engineer
Pixar Animation Studios
Department: Studio Tools
Education: B.S. Computer Science and Engineering, 1987, University of Pennsylvania; Master’s, 1990, and Ph.D., 1992, Computer Science, Cornell University
Career stage: Late—30 years post Bachelor’s
What He Does
David’s main responsibilities are the development, maintenance, and evolution of the physics software simulation tools at Pixar that allow automatic animation of elements such as clothing, hair, fur, or water.
Necessary Job Skills
Getting his job done requires a lot of applied mathematics (numerical analysis, solution of large systems of equations, knowledge of differential geometry) as well as proficiency in computer engineering in many areas (UI pipelines and interfaces, data representations of all kinds, parallel computing, just to name a few). At the same time, he has worked on “back-end support” for the studio having little to do with computer simulation but also requiring wide-ranging computer engineer skills; areas include efficient disk storage methods, federated asset systems development and management, distributed server/client frameworks and policies, and novel backend communications architectures and software deployment systems.
Pros and Cons of His Job
David most enjoys the wide-ranging areas he’s been able to work with, and seeing things he has worked on being displayed far beyond his work environment. (Seeing aspects of a computer animated character I worked on in the grocery store on a cereal box for the first time was a novel experience.) What is perhaps least enjoyable is the inevitable inertia involved in being at one place for a long period of time.
David became interested in computer graphics early on and he had the opportunity to work on computer graphics at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, during high school and college. His graduate field of study at Cornell was in computer graphics (specifically animation/computer simulation), and after graduating he joined the computer science faculty at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) where he continued this research. In 1998 he was invited to join Pixar, and he has been there ever since.
Career Expectations and Advice
“Find problems/areas to work on that really capture your attention.”
You need that kind of focus and (occasionally) single-mindedness to have a truly successful career and/or make an impact.
Salary truly depends a lot on the company and its focus and size. However, I would expect the lower end of the salary range for a position where this title is truly appropriate to be $150K; the upper end depends a lot on how big the company is and whether or not the title is given to only one individual, or can be given to several people.
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