The AlphaTECH Experience: A Proven Startup
Can you talk more about the “proven startup” balance AlphaSights provides employees?
We are very fortunate as engineers to find ourselves in a “proven startup” environment. We maintain many startup advantages but within the setting of a successful company. There are several startups in our space that attack our same core problem with a heavy machine learning focus. When looking to improve and update our approach, we saw that machine learning could greatly increase team efficiency. As a “proven startup”, we didn’t need to spend half our time putting together pitch books and looking for funding. We went right to work and were able to bring in a Head of Data Science to start building out the team and dive into problem-solving.
What is your professional background and experience in the industry?
I began my career over twenty years ago in financial services. I worked for BlackRock as a financial analyst back when it was 130 people (it’s now 100 times larger!). I later entered a PhD program at UCLA, focusing on AI. I actually left the program before finishing because I realized the majority of the research in the field was happening in the industry, not in school. My first stop was A9, a subsidiary of Amazon. I was a member of the search relevance team and helped design and implement an algorithm that was executed on nearly every search, combining results from various storefronts. I later moved to Google, where I was part of the Search Quality team and was lucky enough to work on the redesign of the spelling correction service (“Did you mean?”). After that, I spent some time at Telefonica working as a researcher in social networks and then moved to Shutterstock for six years. There, I slowly transitioned from an individual contributor on the search team to an Engineering Manager to the team’s Director. I joined AlphaSights at the start of 2018.
How does the engineering team at AlphaSights differ from others that you’ve been a part of?
Every company is unique with different values. One striking aspect of our team is how quickly we can move. It’s surprisingly easy to align with stakeholders, due to the fact that most of our software is developed for internal consumption. Our users sit right next to us, providing an extremely tight feedback cycle. It is much easier to understand the meat of the problem and the pain points we are trying to solve.
How do you encourage professional growth and bonding within the Software Engineering team?
I take the professional development of every team member very seriously. We are only as good as each of our team members, so we invest in their growth and learning. We encourage professional growth through mentorships from senior tech leaders, attending beneficial conferences, taking online courses, and dedicating our 10% time to explore ambitious ideas. Engineers are able to move between teams, ensuring a constant set of challenging and diverse projects. We also have regular team tech talks, where everyone shares their own expertise. For example, I recently gave a talk covering some learnings over the years around common gotchas in productionizing machine learning models.
In terms of bonding, we have a pretty tight-knit group. I attribute a lot of that to AlphaSights’ great company culture. Our team regularly eats lunch together, in and out of the office. We also have team outings and offsites to build trust and friendships that can be difficult to create in the office. A few weeks ago, we left work early and had some fun in the sun (and water!) at a lake house in New Jersey. We’re currently planning an international engineering offsite to encourage bonding and refresh some relationships with our engineers working from all sides of the globe.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about the software engineering team at AlphaSights?
People may be surprised that many of our team members have a musical talent or background. We have professional and award-winning drummers, guitarists, and even a ukulele player. Over the years we’ve toyed with the idea of launching an engineering band!