Avner was also a natural manager. He built and led a big
research project at Compugen, then a Computational Biology
company. His management style was not only unorthodox, it
was also unique. Everything about working with him was fun,
but probably the only effortless part of working for him was
friends with him.
I'd met Avner at University, but my first real encounter
with Avner was when I went to work there. I had been to
interviews at their main office, in Petach Tikva. Standard
stuff: interesting riddles and talking to people. Avner's
idea of an interview was rather different: He told me about
the research project he was working on. When I left over
two hours later, I really wanted to get the job.
When I started, Avner picked up the conversation
effortlessly right from where we'd left off. Especially the
bit about Mus musculus being a funnier name than Rattus
One day people came from Merck R&D for the first-ever demo.
I think by that time Avner was already officially Team
Leader (not that I recall many doubts prior to his Official
Appointment). All the team came down to Petach Tikva for
that: Avner presented to them, we hid upstairs and prepared
data to answer their questions. The encounter was
Once it was all over, Avner had an important question: In
explaining the statistical characteristics of the system,
he'd used the simple terms "positive negative", "negative
positive" and, of course, "positive positive" and "negative
negative". For some reason, the Merck people were confused
by these terms! Had he been using the terms incorrectly?
On seeing we were also confused, he explained that --
lacking context -- "selectivity" and "sensitivity" could be
confusing. It turned out that "positive negative" and
"negative positive" really meant "false negative" and "false
positive" (or vice versa). It also turned out the Merck
people had no problem understanding Avner, even with his new
Avner had many incredible tales from his journeys:
Everything from wading between isolated Pacific islands, to
discussing Qaddafi with a former Soviet air force advisor /
pilot who knew him.
The ease of slipping into behaving Avner has already been
mentioned. What I managed to learn from him was sitting on
the floor. Today at work, I was again offered a chair. The
natural way -- pioneered by Avner -- of sitting near a
co-worker's terminal is to squat. It really is less
imposing and more convenient. Avner also held entire
meetings seated on the floor.