IT Life: Complexities Are Fascinating

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TechWeekEurope chats to Pravin Paratey, CTO at Affectv, about the appeal of complex problems, wearable computing and his days as a codebreaker for the Indian navy

Pravin Paratey is the CTO of the social targeting and analytics start-up Affectv. He has been working in data analytics for the last 12 years, and has a particular fondness for graph theory. In other words, he loves graphs. Now he runs Europe’s first audience targeting platform specifically engineered to understand social interaction.

Paradigm shift

What has been your favourite project in your work so far?
As a company, we are involved in processing a phenomenal amount of data consisting of a large number of touchpoints, to understand how groups of people interact with different pieces of content. This is a very exciting project for me because of the immense complexities involved in working with a vast, rapidly changing multi-dimensional social graph. I love tackling challenging problems and it is a pleasure working on this with my immensely talented team.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago, I had started learning Python and was moving away from C/Java. CPUs were becoming more powerful and I/O was emerging as the limiting factor. Higher level languages allowed people to concentrate on the algorithms and prototypes and develop solutions faster without a tremendous loss of performance.

This was about the time I was tasked by the Indian Naval Intelligence to develop a piece of software to decrypt airborne enemy communication. Back then, the field devices used by the enemy for communication, although complex, were conceived in an era where computing power had been quite limited. Computing power had increased exponentially during the late 90s and early 2000s; and that enabled us to fulfil our directive.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
I believe we will see the adoption of wearable computing devices. Computers will be ubiquitous, unobtrusive and part of most things we interact with. Just like mobile devices today are causing a fundamental shift in human behaviour – communicating on the go, sharing personal life experiences through pictures and status updates – access to even more powerful computing devices that are more natural to use will result in another paradigm shift.

Who’s your tech hero? Who’s your tech villain?
My tech hero is Linus Torvalds – the creator of Linux. An offshoot of Linux was the Open Source movement, which is creating stable alternatives to existing commercial software. Who would’ve thought that a bunch of geeks working in their spare time could create software that would rival the largest software companies?

The tech villains are the patent trolls – companies whose sole purpose is buying patents and then suing software companies for exorbitant sums of money.

The importance of data 

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
When it comes to consumer electronics, the iPad is my favourite piece of technology. Although tablets have been around in some form or the other for over 15 years, it’s only now that they have become really user friendly and powerful enough for casual computing. Apple has done a very good job in pioneering easy to use tablets that “just work”.

Big data © cybrain Shutterstock 2012

What is your budget outlook? 
Definitely growing. We are the next generation of ad technology companies and are very excited at getting closer to understanding social graphs in real time.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
I really admire Google for a number of reasons. They caused a fundamental shift in the way people use search. Before Google, directory-based listings had been the primary way of navigating content on the Internet. They also released a couple of very innovative products – Gmail and Google Maps which again changed the way email and maps were traditionally used. They have an amazing, open culture and create an environment where smart people can thrive and focus on what they do best.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?
Big Data is the new buzzword. There is a vast amount of data available to companies now. And every company wants to jump into it because it is the “cool” thing to do. It is extremely important to understand the value of your data and the best way to extract it. Remember, lots of data does not equate to lots of valuable data.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
I would say, encrypted Cloud with a local encrypted backup. Saving data on the Cloud or using the Cloud for computing is very convenient and in many cases quite cost effective. End-to-end encryption mitigates the risk of data theft and an encrypted local backup mitigates the risk of data loss.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I grew up watching Doctor Who and Star Trek and reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut and explore the uncharted and unknown. I am not an astronaut, but I am working on the cutting edge of technology, on new, uncharted, unsolved problems. And that is a wonderful and extremely satisfying feeling.

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