Tell No One at NVIDIA This: The Real Reason I Love Project Inspire

by Brian Caulfield

I could rhapsodize about the sweet smell of freshly spread manure. Or the sour tang of the wet paint we daubed across Fischer Middle School’s once drab walls. I could tell you I enjoy the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.

I could do that. And do it sincerely. Getting a little magenta paint between your fingers after working in an office all year – even if it is stocked with Nerf guns and free coffee – is nice. And I like kids.

But I wouldn’t be telling you the real reason I enjoy Project Inspire. So I’ll let you in on a secret. Just promise not to tell any of the people who work here.

I love Project Inspire because it’s the one day of the year when I understand what all these people are really doing.

There are 500 of them crawling around East San Jose’s Fischer Middle School with everything from hammers to pickups full of power tools. And close to a thousand more will show up tomorrow.

More than 500 NVIDIANs gathered at Fischer Middle School Friday, with 1000 more coming Saturday.
Roughly 500 NVIDIANs gathered at Fischer Middle School Friday, with nearly a thousand more coming Saturday.

Project Inspire is NVIDIA’s annual holiday celebration instead of a party. And while it’s fun, it’s a different kind of company bash. Between all the hammering and sawing and drilling, this is no place to get loaded.

A lot gets done. I can see walls getting painted, sports fields getting refurbished by NVIDIANs with picks and shovels, and dozens of planters being constructed. It’s exhausting just looking at all these people.

But it’s awesome. There are cheers when the day begins. There’s lunch of paella and Swedish meatballs. There will be hot coffee when it’s done. And you can find extraordinary people – like Will Ramey, who does stuff with parallel programming tools – getting to work with measuring tape and hand tools.

I’ve worked in construction, so I understand how that works. But I have no idea what Shalimar, the guy working next to me as I help paint a mural, normally does. He tells me that he designs GPU fabric with a tool called IC Compiler, as he brushes greenish-yellow paint over the outline of a flower.

Nor do I know how to build software, though I do use it to make sure the games I play get the most out of my GPU. Today, some of the developers behind GeForce Experience, like Phong Ha, are flattening dirt with big, blunt metal tools so they can build a new walking path to Fisher Middle School’s track. And they look like they’re having fun.

I’m not complaining. In some ways I have the perfect job. I’m paid to be the dumbest guy in the room – the dude who asks stupid questions – and around here I’m not ashamed to say I don’t have to fake that.

After all, I’ve bumped into some of the people who invented the GPU. The processors used by engineers and architects to design, well, everything. They put these things inside of supercomputers.

And they’re just walking around the office, like normal people, talking about sports (and using the stuff they built to simulate lighting conditions from July 20, 1969 … on the FREAKING MOON). That scares me if I think about it too hard.

And for one day a year, I don’t have to. Not a bad way to spend the day. And not a bad group to spend it with. Even if I still don’t really understand what most of them do.