To look at him, William Falcon seems more like the graduate student he is (at New York University) than a former Navy SEAL trainee, AI wiz, and start-up entrepreneur. Dark curly hair frames his young, attractive face and his manner is friendly and open—chatty and accessible even when discussing the intricacies of math sequencing.
Having come to the U.S. from Caracas, Venezuela, at 13, William found himself, like many Latino immigrants completely at sea in school and struggling with culture shock and homesickness. Placed in an ESL program he loathed, he made it his mission to learn English quickly so that he could join the general school population. An indifferent student despite his obvious intelligence, William’s obsession was joining the Navy Seals.
After serving in the Navy, leaving after sustaining an injury that cut short his career, William found himself at sea yet again. He was coding but looking for something more intellectually challenging. When a friend suggested he enroll at Columbia University for a computer science degree, he locked himself in a room for a couple of months in order to study for the SATs. And, having sailed through those, he found himself in the uptown campus of the Ivy League school studying statistics and computer science and becoming intrigued with Artificial Intelligence. Given that he’d mostly avoided math since high school, he was surprised at how compelling the process of applying math functions to developing AI structures could be.
All through college, William had worked at Goldman Sachs and created and sold his start-up company, NextGenVest. So, less concerned with making a living than most recent college grads, he decided to pursue a doctorate at NYU. As if the workload of a doctoral program weren’t enough, this particular grad student is still developing various start-ups and running his own successful company (he’s the CEO of grid.ai).
When asked what he does for fun—not that statistics, math and solving intractable AI problems isn’t fun—William says, with a cheeky smile, “I like to think.” Despite the fact that he is an accomplished athlete who endured grueling physical training for his military career and enjoys the outdoors, he makes sitting on a couch for hours just thinking about complicated problems and how to solve them, sound positively zen-like.
The journey of a kid from Caracas, who knew not one word of English when he arrived in this country, to an elite branch of the military and then the Ivy League, from an ESL classroom to a corporate board room, and from not knowing enough English to fill out an application for entry into the country to working on computer coding that could change our collective future, his is an immensely inspiring story.
The kicker is that he makes it all sound like fun. Watch!