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Meet the College Dropout Who Helped OpenAI Build Sora

OpenAI is always on the hunt for young exceptional talent. Just like the company hired Prafulla Dhariwal, who helped CEO Sam Altman create GPT-4o, OpenAI also brought onboard 20-year-old Will DePue, a college dropout, who was one of the major contributors to Sora, the text-to-video tool that generates life-like, hyper-realistic video footage.

Last week, DePue turned 21 and said, “I want to be careful to have a healthy relationship with age (something tech is famously bad at). Just trying to compare where I’m now to a year/two years ago, I do think that I need to take care in continuing to push myself to grow as much as I’ve done in the past.”

DePue joined OpenAI 11 months ago as a member of the technical staff with OpenAI’s residency programme where he worked on jailbreaking and prompt injection mitigation, along with model capability evaluations and fine-tuning. 

He is possibly joining 1X, a robotics company funded by OpenAI, Tiger Global, Everon, and NVIDIA.

I love this video. You’re one of the first <10,000 people in human history to experience externally anthropomorphically interacting with yourself

— Mehran Jalali (@mehran__jalali) May 23, 2024

In a podcast, DePue said that he joined OpenAI by basically texting every one of his connections. “I don’t have a traditional background. I just dropped out of college, built startups, and started working on projects then,” said DePue, adding that he did not care about which position he joined as long as he got to learn something. 

One of the stand out projects that DePue worked on was WebGPT, where he built a package to run GPT models entirely on the Chrome browser. He credited Andrej Karpathy for teaching him about Transformers, which he had no idea about before starting the project. 

The dropout prodigy

Even though DePue was always into tech, he said that he was mostly interested in hardware. He never started coding until he turned 17. One of his friends predicted the startup market crash in 2008, which led him to move to Argentina. He stayed there for five years.

Born in Seattle, DePue went to school at Geffen Academy at UCLA and later went on to study BS in computer science at the University of Michigan, from where he eventually dropped out to start building things. He previously founded DeepResearch and, a Discord bot. 

Homeschooled until the sixth grade, DePue said that he did not like the idea of school much. “You sit down all the time and learn from a board, don’t move, don’t yell at kids, and don’t poke your friends, it is not something that people are super good at,” he said. 

However, he does admit that schools are really important. “I don’t think I was doing it for the right reasons,” he said. DePue was also an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America. 

DePue believes that one of the most important things is relative competition. “We all started in different fields,” DePue explained, saying that he started with building Discord and Minecraft servers, and his friends who were doing something else, and are now running Series A and above companies.

With a massive following on X and building the computer on Figma, DePue claims to know what people want, but says that he does not like that he knows it too well because it messes with what he actually wants to build.

‘The perception of success and the reality of success are disconnected’

In June 2023, DePue announced Alexandria: Project Tenet, an open source project to embed all human belief. It was consistent with 10+ religious texts with over 15 million tokens. 

DePue said that a friend of his dad built a chat app with GPT-3 when it was launched two years ago. He sat all night talking to it and his mind was blown – this is what got him into AI. 

One of the reasons why DePue is probably moving on to robotics company 1X from OpenAI is his belief that no one should commit to working on a single thing for a very long time and explore more options at a young age. 

He suggests people to get into coding and work on something they love instead of a very ambitious project or field whose idea they got from some influencer on social media. 

Currently, DePue has started a one-month-long hackathon called ‘10% project’ where participants should commit to a single project for 36 days. 

So, when Altman said that OpenAI is not run by a bunch of 24-year-old programmers, it was true. It’s run by younger folks! 

“In AI, at least in my opinion, the real 30 under 30 are those you’ve never heard of. They typically exist five layers down the organisational chart from the CEO.” Karpathy couldn’t have been more right.

Originally Appeared Here

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