CTOs to know: 5 tech leaders share trends they're following and more

February 14, 2018

Behind every great company is a strong tech team — and behind that, a CTO who serves as the techie of all techies. We sat down with the tech leaders of five local companies and picked their brains on how they chose their tech stacks, which trends they’re watching and other valuable information.

 

Joe Ambeault
SVP, product and technology

Discovery Digital Media is a startup within Discovery Communications — the parent company of Discovery Channel, Science and TLC — that is solely focused on innovative multi-platform experiences. It uses technology to evolve the viewing experience, telling immersive and engaging stories to millions of viewers across digital platforms every day. SVP of Product and Technology, Joe Ambeault, told us about the technology that supports this division.

 

Which technologies power your business, and why did you choose them?

We use cloud computing, because who wants to provision and rack servers anymore? The ability to scale up and down with demand and launch new capabilities quickly was a big factor for us. We’re also migrating our services to Golang because of its scalability and straightforward syntax.

React is used for its ability to quickly get our apps onto just about any device. When that doesn’t meet a need, then we can also access native OS capabilities. And finally, we prefer open source in our products and delivery toolchain. Engineering is a team sport and open source is the ultimate expression of that approach to work.

 

What are the most important tech developments you’re watching right now?

I’m closely watching VR, AR, computer vision, AI and HEVC.

 

What’s one project your team completed that you’re most proud of?

The team built a pub-sub data pipeline using MQTT, SQS, Lamba and NGINX to collect data and provide it to all our internal and partner systems in real time with high integrity, which is fed by a single custom events library working across 10 different device types. This allowed us to become an SDK-free shop and drive a more data-centric business.

 

What do you look for when hiring for engineers?

Culture fit is most important, since we’re a fun-loving group that is super friendly and supportive of each other. It’s also important for an engineer to constantly want to learn and not be afraid of conquering the next challenge. They should also be able to disagree and engage in a healthy debate if necessary.

Compass is a real estate platform that features high-end apartments and condos. It’s raised a total of $808 million in funding since being founded in 2012. The company’s recent $550 million Series E will be put toward expanding to other U.S. markets, and its technology must be able to accommodate the explosive growth. CTO Liming Zhao explained more.

 

Which technologies power your business, and why did you choose them?

We have the typical consumer-oriented SaaS stack for servicing business logics, such as Java/Go backend, Python/NodeJS server layer, JavaScript and Swift frontend; Spark data ingestion pipeline and ElasticSearch cluster for servicing the real estate data layer. A number of factors drove us to these choices, but two strong factors are: maturity and support of the stack, as well as the likelihood to recruit high-quality engineers.

 

What are the most important tech developments you’re watching right now?

Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are top of mind at the moment.

 

What’s one project your team completed that you’re most proud of?

We recently released our product “Insights,” which provides our agents with easily digestible data on their listings from major listing marketing platforms and Google Analytics. This paved the path toward creating the Compass data-driven approach, which helps demystify real estate marketing efforts.

 

What do you look for when hiring for engineers?

For junior engineers, I look for curiosity. For senior engineers, I want to see that they have the ability to make design and performance tradeoffs with foresight.

 

 

Open communication is key to the treatment of diseases. Flatiron Health has built an oncology-specific platform that connects cancer centers from all over the world so people can share their challenges and wins. CTO Gil Shklarski, PhD, explained what it takes to power that functionality from a tech perspective.

 

Which technologies power your business, and why did you choose them?

Flatiron is technology agnostic; rather than selecting a specific language or framework for our engineers, we prefer to use the technology that enables us to build the solutions that our customers need, as well as the technology that will allow us to scale our fast-growing technology organization. We are reliant on many AWS services for our infrastructure and data processing, and on the frontend, React/Redux and Angular power the user experience across our product lines.

 

What are the most important tech developments you’re watching right now?

There are many exciting technology developments happening every day, and probably the most exciting for us are machine learning capabilities, as well as technologies that enable us to build a robust learning healthcare system, one in which we can learn from every cancer patient and then deliver those learnings back to the point of care.

More specifically, we are closely watching the developments of distributed data processing tools and how they will evolve our infrastructure and mode of development. We are circumferencing the concept of data lakes and all the tools that are developing around it.

 

What’s one project your team completed that you’re most proud of?

I am most proud of our ability to infer medical facts from unstructured notes within the electronic health record. It is based on a system that continuously trains, validates and refreshes machine-learning models. I am also proud of our electronic health record, OncoEMR, which has become amazingly responsive with a beautiful UI and new workflows that enable clinicians to spend less time on the computer and more time with patients.

 

What do you look for when hiring for engineers?

We look for several behavioral and technical skill sets when hiring engineers. One of Flatiron’s values is “be willing to sit on the floor.” We want humble engineers who will focus on getting the job done and ignoring their own comfort if necessary. We also look for engineers with empathy — those who can relate to the needs of their end users, whether they are their internal peers, our customers or cancer patients.

 

Rob Park
Co-Founder and CTO

IEX Group is a U.S. stock exchange that was founded to remove the unfair advantages in the current market. Co-founder and CTO Rob Park spoke to us about the technology it takes to build an entire stock exchange from the ground up.

 

Which technologies power your business, and why did you choose them?

One of the exciting things about IEX is that we build almost everything ourselves. When we do use existing technologies, what we’re looking for are tools that can handle our specific use cases. For instance, when we’re evaluating a database product, we’re looking for a product that can specifically manage time-sequenced data, which is different than what a lot of other tech companies are seeking. Similarly, when we’re looking at cloud services, we need infrastructure that gives us scalability as well as security.

 

What are the most important tech developments you’re watching right now?

Artificial intelligence is the big one for me. We’re already using machine learning here at IEX in the development and enhancement of our “crumbling quote indicator,” a predictive model that helps us protect orders on IEX.

We’re also always keeping a close eye on how microprocessors, memory technology and network interface cards are developing. We process a huge amount of data – hundreds of millions of messages per day – on a microsecond timeframe, so scale and performance are very important to us.

 

What’s one project your team completed that you’re most proud of?

Building a new stock exchange from the ground up is hard to beat. It’s a challenge that involves a huge range of skill sets, from core development to infrastructure to data science, and working with everyone across the business. Successfully launching the newest stock exchange in the U.S. with such a lean team is something that I’m extremely proud of.

 

What do you look for when hiring for engineers?

We look for three things when we’re hiring. First, a values fit – do your core values align with ours? Second, a motivational fit – are the projects you would work on at IEX exciting to you? And last, a skill set fit – can you do the job we’re hiring for and do you have the versatility to grow and take on new challenges in the future?

 

 

Managed by Q is a platform that helps businesses run their offices more efficiently. With the platform, users can schedule services such as cleaning, IT and maintenance. CTO Phil Sarin talked about how this service was designed and how it’s evolved over the years.

 

Which technologies power your business, and why did you choose them?

Managed by Q empowers people and companies who provide services to offices. Our systems aren’t just virtual — they make physical things happen in the real world, and that excites us. We are building a comprehensive system for ordering, logistics, support and billing. It’s a distributed system that’s connected by a messaging backbone built on top of Amazon’s SNS and SQS. We write primarily in python and javascript/react.

 

What are the most important tech developments you’re watching right now?

We’re passionate about learning and self-improvement and we are reading about technical and non-technical topics constantly. One recent topic of interest has been how to develop and sustain a culture of high achievement. I was surprised by how much I liked Ray Dalio’s Principles and how applicable it was to engineering cultures. The book talks about making better decisions by viewing our work as the output of a machine and debugging that machine much as an engineer would debug a program.

 

What’s one project your team completed that you’re most proud of?

We’ve recently built out the first version of our matchmaking API that finds service providers who are eligible to handle specific customer orders, such as those for cleaning service, handyman work or office support. Over time, we expect to evolve this system into a rules engine that elevates high-quality service providers, helps new ones get started and balances workload across our pool of service providers.

 

What do you look for when hiring for engineers?

We are an incredibly ambitious yet humble team. We care a lot about technical aptitude but we don’t focus too much on expertise in our particular stack and believe that aptitude can arise from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences. We also look for great non-technical judgment. We like people who ask “why,” who thrive under ambiguity and who relish hard problems. We’ve found that the people who thrive here come from a variety of backgrounds, and we’ve developed several relationships in the community to recruit a diverse talent pool.

 

 

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