Yandex Zen CTO discusses challenges to grow the Russian firm internationally, his love of programming and his astrophysicist dream
What is your role and who do you work for?
CTO of Zen at Yandex
How long have you been in IT?
Arguably my entire life. I loved programming even when I was at school. The first time I immersed myself into the IT world, I created the school web site and in my spare time even made a computer game. I then first started working as a programmer 19 years ago, during my third year of university.
What is your most interesting project to date?
I have had the pleasure of working on various projects, however I must say that my current project Yandex Zen, a personal recommendation content feed, is by far the most interesting so far.
Zen combines a number of very complex technologies, such as machine learning, neural networks and artificial intelligence. Seeing how these technologies intertwine and are leveraged by both consumers and businesses fascinates me.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
The biggest challenge for me now is to grow Yandex internationally, learn how all users’ needs and interests differ across the globe and how Yandex technology adapts to this.
What is your favourite technology of all time?
SQL (Structured Query Language). I’ve been using that almost twenty years, since I was a student. And I’m still using it now for analysing the big data inside Zen.
What smartphone do you use?
I use a Nexus Android phone, which is particularly good for speed and ease of use.
What three apps could you not live without?
As I have a very busy schedule, I use my Wunderlist app to make sure I don’t miss anything. Evernote is another favourite. Every day I conduct research across a number of websites, and am always finding interesting things which help me to review my work on Zen.
Being able to note these quickly and efficiently saves me so much time. Constant communication with my team is also crucial; that’s where the Slack app is another I can’t live without.
What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself?
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technology have always been a fascination to me, especially it’s potential to shape the future of how we work and how we access information in our everyday lives. We have moved from a mobile first to an AI first world.
As users, we are only just starting to see the true benefits of its application. Our internet experiences and the way we interact with devices have completely changed, AI can provide us with the content and information we like and want without us having to ask for it.
In business, AI enables companies to truly understand their users and provide a highly personalised experience that sets them apart from the competition. We are still at the beginning of this AI journey. I am excited to see where it takes us.
If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you be doing?
I think I would like to become an astrophysicist, I would love to combine my interest in space with my knowledge of physics.