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Interview Alain Chesnais Chief Scientist Trendspottr.com

Here is a brief interview with Alain Chesnais ,Chief Scientist  Trendspottr.com. It is a big honor to interview such a legend in computer science, and I am grateful to both him and Mark Zohar for taking time to write these down.

Ajay-  Describe your career from your student days to being the President of ACM (Association of Computing Machinery http://www.acm.org/ ). How can we increase  the interest of students in STEM education, particularly in view of the shortage of data scientists.
Alain- I’m trying to sum up a career of over 35 years. This may be a bit long winded…
I started my career in CS when I was in high school in the early 70′s. I was accepted in the National Science Foundation’s Science Honors Program in 9th grade and the first course I took was a Fortran programming course at Columbia University. This was on an IBM 360 using punch cards.
The next year my high school got a donation from DEC of a PDP-8E mini computer. I ended up spending a lot of time in the machine room all through high school at a time when access to computers wasn’t all that common. I went to college in Paris and ended up at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan in the newly created Computer Science department.
My first job after finishing my graduate studies was as a research assistant at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique where I focused my efforts on modelling the behaviour of distributed database systems in the presence of locking. When François Mitterand was elected president of France in 1981, he invited Nicholas Negroponte and Seymour Papert to come to France to set up the Centre Mondial Informatique. I was hired as a researcher there and continued on to become director of software development until it was closed down in 1986. I then started up my own company focusing on distributed computer graphics. We sold the company to Abvent in the early 90′s.
After that, I was hired by Thomson Digital Image to lead their rendering team. We were acquired by Wavefront Technologies in 1993 then by SGI in 1995 and merged with Alias Research. In the merged company: Alias|wavefront, I was director of engineering on the Maya project. Our team received an Oscar in 2003 for the creation of the Maya software system.
Since then I’ve worked at various companies, most recently focusing on social media and Big Data issues associated with it. Mark Zohar and I worked together at SceneCaster in 2007 where we developed a Facebook app that allowed users to create their own 3D scenes and share them with friends via Facebook without requiring a proprietary plugin. In December 2007 it was the most popular app in its category on Facebook.
Recently Mark approached me with a concept related to mining the content of public tweets to determine what was trending in real time. Using math similar to what I had developed during my graduate studies to model the performance of distributed databases in the presence of locking, we built up a real time analytics engine that ranks the content of tweets as they stream in. The math is designed to scale linearly in complexity with the volume of data that we analyze. That is the basis for what we have created for TrendSpottr.
In parallel to my professional career, I have been a very active volunteer at ACM. I started out as a member of the Paris ACM SIGGRAPH chapter in 1985 and volunteered to help do our mailings (snail mail at the time). After taking on more responsibilities with the chapter, I was elected chair of the chapter in 1991. I was first appointed to the SIGGRAPH Local Groups Steering Committee, then became ACM Director for Chapters. Later I was successively elected SIGGRAPH Vice Chair, ACM SIG Governing Board (SGB) Vice Chair for Operations, SGB Chair, ACM SIGGRAPH President, ACM Secretary/Treasurer, ACM Vice President, and finally, in 2010, I was elected ACM President. My term as ACM President has just ended on July 1st. Vint Cerf is our new President. I continue to serve on the ACM Executive Committee in my role as immediate Past President.
(Note- About ACM
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery www.acm.org, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. )
Ajay- What sets Trendspotter apart from other startups out there in terms of vision in trying to achieve a more coherent experience on the web.
Alain- The Basic difference with other approaches that we are aware of is that we have developed an incremental solution that calculates the results on the fly as the data streams in. Our evaluators are based on solid mathematical foundations that have proven their usefulness over time. One way to describe what we do is to think of it as signal processing where the tweets are the signal and our evaluators are like triggers that tell you what elements of the signal have the characteristics that we are filtering for (velocity and acceleration). One key result of using this approach is that our unit cost per tweet analyzed does not go up with increased volume. Using more traditional data analysis approaches involving an implicit sort would imply a complexity of N*log(N), where N is the volume of tweets being analyzed. That would imply that the cost per tweet analyzed would go up with the volume of tweets. Our approach was designed to avoid that, so that we can maintain a cap on our unit costs of analysis, no matter what volume of data we analyze.
Ajay- What do you think is the future of big data visualization going to look like? What are some of the technologies that you are currently bullish on?
Alain- I see several trends that would have deep impact on Big Data visualization. I firmly believe that with large amounts of data, visualization is key tool for understanding both the structure and the relationships that exist between data elements. Let’s focus on some of the key things that are pushing in this direction:
  • the volume of data that is available is growing at a rate we have never seen before. Cisco has measured an 8 fold increase in the volume of IP traffic over the last 5 years and predicts that we will reach the zettabyte of data over IP in 2016
  • more of the data is becoming publicly available. This isn’t only on social networks such as Facebook and twitter, but joins a more general trend involving open research initiatives and open government programs
  • the desired time to get meaningful results is going down dramatically. In the past 5 years we have seen the half life of data on Facebook, defined as the amount of time that half of the public reactions to any given post (likes, shares., comments) take place, go from about 12 hours to under 3 hours currently
  • our access to the net is always on via mobile device. You are always connected.
  • the CPU and GPU capabilities of mobile devices is huge (an iPhone has 10 times the compute power of a Cray-1 and more graphics capabilities than early SGI workstations)
Put all of these observations together and you quickly come up with a massive opportunity to analyze data visually on the go as it happens no matter where you are. We can’t afford to have to wait for results. When something of interest occurs we need to be aware of it immediately.
Ajay- What are some of the applications we could use Trendspottr. Could we predict events like Arab Spring, or even the next viral thing.
Alain- TrendSpottr won’t predict what will happen next. What it *will* do is alert you immediately when it happens. You can think of it like a smoke detector. It doesn’t tell that a fire will take place, but it will save your life when a fire does break out.
Typical uses for TrendSpottr are
  • thought leadership by tracking content that your readership is interested in via TrendSpottr you can be seen as a thought leader on the subject by being one of the first to share trending content on a given subject. I personally do this on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/alain.chesnais) and have seen my klout score go up dramatically as a result
  • brand marketing to be able to know when something is trending about your brand and take advantage of it as it happens.
  • competitive analysis to see what is being said about two competing elements. For instance, searching TrendSpottr for “Obama OR Romney” gives you a very good understanding about how social networks are reacting to each politician. You can also do searches like “$aapl OR $msft OR $goog” to get a sense of what is the current buzz for certain hi tech stocks.
  • understanding your impact in real time to be able to see which of the content that you are posting is trending the most on social media so that you can highlight it on your main page. So if all of your content is hosted on common domain name (ourbrand.com), searching for ourbrand.com will show you the most active of your site’s content. That can easily be set up by putting a TrendSpottr widget on your front page

Ajay- What are some of the privacy guidelines that you keep in  mind- given the fact that you collect individual information but also have government agencies as potential users.

Alain- We take privacy very seriously and anonymize all of the data that we collect. We don’t keep explicit records of the data we collected through the various incoming streams and only store the aggregate results of our analysis.
Alain Chesnais is immediate Past President of ACM, elected for the two-year term beginning July 1, 2010.Chesnais studied at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de l’Enseignement Technique and l’Université de Paris where he earned a Maîtrise de Mathematiques, a Maitrise de Structure Mathématique de l’Informatique, and a Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies in Compuer Science. He was a high school student at the United Nations International School in New York, where, along with preparing his International Baccalaureate with a focus on Math, Physics and Chemistry, he also studied Mandarin Chinese.Chesnais recently founded Visual Transitions, which specializes in helping companies move to HTML 5, the newest standard for structuring and presenting content on the World Wide Web. He was the CTO of SceneCaster.com from June 2007 until April 2010, and was Vice President of Product Development at Tucows Inc. from July 2005 – May 2007. He also served as director of engineering at Alias|Wavefront on the team that received an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for developing the Maya 3D software package.

Prior to his election as ACM president, Chesnais was vice president from July 2008 – June 2010 as well as secretary/treasurer from July 2006 – June 2008. He also served as president of ACM SIGGRAPH from July 2002 – June 2005 and as SIG Governing Board Chair from July 2000 – June 2002.

As a French citizen now residing in Canada, he has more than 20 years of management experience in the software industry. He joined the local SIGGRAPH Chapter in Paris some 20 years ago as a volunteer and has continued his involvement with ACM in a variety of leadership capacities since then.

About Trendspottr.com

TrendSpottr is a real-time viral search and predictive analytics service that identifies the most timely and trending information for any topic or keyword. Our core technology analyzes real-time data streams and spots emerging trends at their earliest acceleration point — hours or days before they have become “popular” and reached mainstream awareness.

TrendSpottr serves as a predictive early warning system for news and media organizations, brands, government agencies and Fortune 500 companies and helps them to identify emerging news, events and issues that have high viral potential and market impact. TrendSpottr has partnered with HootSuite, DataSift and other leading social and big data companies.

Interview Scott Gidley CTO and Founder, DataFlux

Here is an interview with Scott Gidley, CTO and co-founder of leading data quality ccompany DataFlux . DataFlux is a part of SAS Institute and in 2011 acquired Baseline Consulting besides launching the latest version of their Master Data Management  product. (more…)

Interview David Katz ,Dataspora /David Katz Consulting

Here is an interview with David Katz ,founder of David Katz Consulting (http://www.davidkatzconsulting.com/) and an analyst at the noted firm http://dataspora.com/. He is a featured speaker at Predictive Analytics World  http://www.predictiveanalyticsworld.com/sanfrancisco/2011/speakers.php#katz)

Ajay-  Describe your background working with analytics . How can we make analytics and science more attractive career options for young students

David- I had an interest in math from an early age, spurred by reading lots of science fiction with mathematicians and scientists in leading roles. I was fortunate to be at Harry and David (Fruit of the Month Club) when they were in the forefront of applying multivariate statistics to the challenge of targeting catalogs and other snail-mail offerings. Later I had the opportunity to expand these techniques to the retail sphere with Williams-Sonoma, who grew their retail business with the support of their catalog mailings. Since they had several catalog titles and product lines, cross-selling presented additional analytic challenges, and with the growth of the internet there was still another channel to consider, with its own dynamics.

After helping to found Abacus Direct Marketing, I became an independent consultant, which provided a lot of variety in applying statistics and data mining in a variety of settings from health care to telecom to credit marketing and education.

Students should be exposed to the many roles that analytics plays in modern life, and to the excitement of finding meaningful and useful patterns in the vast profusion of data that is now available.

Ajay-  Describe your most challenging project in 3 decades of experience in this field.

David- Hard to choose just one, but the educational field has been particularly interesting. Partnering with Olympic Behavior Labs, we’ve developed systems to help identify students who are most at-risk for dropping out of school to help target interventions that could prevent dropout and promote success.

Ajay- What do you think are the top 5 trends in analytics for 2011.

David- Big Data, Privacy concerns, quick response to consumer needs, integration of testing and analysis into business processes, social networking data.

Ajay- Do you think techniques like RFM and LTV are adequately utilized by organization. How can they be propagated further.

David- Organizations vary amazingly in how sophisticated or unsophisticated the are in analytics. A key factor in success as a consultant is to understand where each client is on this continuum and how well that serves their needs.

Ajay- What are the various software you have worked for in this field- and name your favorite per category.

David- I started out using COBOL (that dates me!) then concentrated on SAS for many years. More recently R is my favorite because of its coverage, currency and programming model, and it’s debugging capabilities.

Ajay- Independent consulting can be a strenuous job. What do you do to unwind?

David- Cycling, yoga, meditation, hiking and guitar.


David Katz, Senior Analyst, Dataspora, and President, David Katz Consulting.

David Katz has been in the forefront of applying statistical models and database technology to marketing problems since 1980. He holds a Master’s Degree in Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is one of the founders of Abacus Direct Marketing and was previously the Director of Database Development for Williams-Sonoma.

He is the founder and President of David Katz Consulting, specializing in sophisticated statistical services for a variety of applications, with a special focus on the Direct Marketing Industry. David Katz has an extensive background that includes experience in all aspects of direct marketing from data mining, to strategy, to test design and implementation. In addition, he consults on a variety of data mining and statistical applications from public health to collections analysis. He has partnered with consulting firms such as Ernst and Young, Prediction Impact, and most recently on this project with Dataspora.

For more on David’s Session in Predictive Analytics World, San Fransisco on (http://www.predictiveanalyticsworld.com/sanfrancisco/2011/agenda.php#day2-16a)

Room: Salon 5 & 6
4:45pm – 5:05pm

Track 2: Social Data and Telecom 
Case Study: Major North American Telecom
Social Networking Data for Churn Analysis

A North American Telecom found that it had a window into social contacts – who has been calling whom on its network. This data proved to be predictive of churn. Using SQL, and GAM in R, we explored how to use this data to improve the identification of likely churners. We will present many dimensions of the lessons learned on this engagement.

Speaker: David Katz, Senior Analyst, Dataspora, and President, David Katz Consulting

Exhibit Hours
Monday, March 14th:10:00am to 7:30pm

Tuesday, March 15th:9:45am to 4:30pm

R on Windows HPC Server

From HPC Wire, the newsletter/site for all HPC news-

Source- Link

PALO ALTO, Calif., Sept. 20 — Revolution Analytics, the leading commercial provider of software and support for the popular open source R statistics language, today announced it will deliver Revolution R Enterprise for Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 R2, released today, enabling users to analyze very large data sets in high-performance computing environments.

R is a powerful open source statistics language and the modern system for predictive analytics. Revolution Analytics recently introduced RevoScaleR, new “Big Data” analysis capabilities, to its R distribution, Revolution R Enterprise. RevoScaleR solves the performance and capacity limitations of the R language by with parallelized algorithms that stream data across multiple cores on a laptop, workstation or server. Users can now process, visualize and model terabyte-class data sets at top speeds — without the need for specialized hardware.

“Revolution Analytics is pleased to support Microsoft’s Technical Computing initiative, whose efforts will benefit scientists, engineers and data analysts,” said David Champagne, CTO at Revolution. “We believe the engineering we have done for Revolution R Enterprise, in particular our work on big-data statistics and multicore computing, along with Microsoft’s HPC platform for technical computing, makes an ideal combination for high-performance large scale statistical computing.”

“Processing and analyzing this ‘big data’ is essential to better prediction and decision making,” said Bill Hamilton, director of technical computing at Microsoft Corp. “Revolution R Enterprise for Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 gives customers an extremely powerful tool that handles analysis of very large data and high workloads.”

To learn more about Revolution R Enterprise and its Big Data capabilities, download thewhite paper. Revolution Analytics also has an on-demand webcast, “High-performance analytics with Revolution R and Windows HPC Server,” available online.

AND from Microsoft’s website


REvolution R Enterprise »

REvolution Computing

REvolution R Enterprise is designed for both novice and experienced R users looking for a production-grade R distribution to perform mission critical predictive analytics tasks right from the desktop and scale across multiprocessor environments. Featuring RPE™ REvolution’s R Productivity Environment for Windows.

Of course R Enterprise is available on Linux but on Red Hat Enterprise Linux- it would be nice to see Amazom Machine Images as well as Ubuntu versions as well.

An Amazon Machine Image (AMI) is a special type of virtual appliance which is used to instantiate (create) a virtual machine within the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. It serves as the basic unit of deployment for services delivered using EC2.[1]

Like all virtual appliances, the main component of an AMI is a read-only filesystem image which includes an operating system (e.g., Linux, UNIX, or Windows) and any additional software required to deliver a service or a portion of it.[2]

The AMI filesystem is compressed, encrypted, signed, split into a series of 10MB chunks and uploaded into Amazon S3 for storage. An XML manifest file stores information about the AMI, including name, version, architecture, default kernel id, decryption key and digests for all of the filesystem chunks.

An AMI does not include a kernel image, only a pointer to the default kernel id, which can be chosen from an approved list of safe kernels maintained by Amazon and its partners (e.g., RedHat, Canonical, Microsoft). Users may choose kernels other than the default when booting an AMI.[3]

[edit]Types of images

  • Public: an AMI image that can be used by any one.
  • Paid: a for-pay AMI image that is registered with Amazon DevPay and can be used by any one who subscribes for it. DevPay allows developers to mark-up Amazon’s usage fees and optionally add monthly subscription fees.

KXEN EMEA User Conference 2010-Success in Business Analytics

KXEN User Conference-Prelim Agenda is out



09:30-10:00 AM Registration & Breakfast

10:00-10:45 AM Welcome & Opening Remarks,
by John Ball, CEO KXEN
10:45-11:30 AM Keynote Session by James Kobielus,
Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. and author
of “The Forrester WaveTM: Predictive Analytics & Data Mining Solutions, Q1 2010″ report 

11:30-12:05 AM Customer Case Study:
The European Commission (Government)
12:05-12:50 PM General Session:
Teradata Advanced Analytics
12:50-02:00 PM Lunch Break & Exhibition
02:00-02:35 PM Customer Case Study: 
Virgin Media
02:35-03:05 PM General Session:
Sponsor Presentation
03:05-03:40 PM
Coffee Break & Exhibition

03:40-04:40 PM General Session:
The Factory Approach to Compete on Analytics
04:40-05:25 PM Customer Case Study: 
05:30-06:30 PM Cocktail & Exhibition
07:30-00:00 PM Gala Dinner
08:30-09:00 AM
Registration & Breakfast

09:00-10:00 AM Keynote Presentation:
The CTO Talk
10:00-10:30 AM Customer Case Study: 
(Japan – Retail)
10:30-10:55 AM
Coffee Break & Exhibition

10:55-11:30 AM General Session: 
Sponsor Presentation
11:30-12:05 PM Customer Case Study: 
(Poland – Insurance)
12:05-01:00 PM Lunch Break & Exhibition
01:00-01:45 PM General Session: 
How Social Network Analysis Can Boost your Marketing Performance
01:45-02:20 PM Customer Case Study:
Financial Services
02:20-02:45 PM Closing Remarks,
by John Ball, CEO KXEN
02:45-03:00 PM
Coffee Break & Exhibition

Optional: Technical Training (Complimentary to all Attendees)
02:45-04:00 PM Hands-On Training #1: Getting Started with KXEN Analytical Data Management (ADM)
04:00-04:15 PM
Coffee Break

04:15-05:30 PM Hands-On Training #2: Getting Started with KXEN Modeling Factory (KMF)

Interview Tasso Argyros CTO Aster Data Systems

Here is an interview with Tasso Argyros,the CTO and co-founder of Aster Data Systems (www.asterdata.com ) .Aster Data Systems is one of the first DBMS to tightly integrate SQL with MapReduce.


Ajay- Maths and Science students the world over are facing a major decline. What would you recommend to young students to get careers in science.

[TA] -My father is a professor of Mathematics and I spent a lot of my college time studying advanced math. What I would say to new students is that Math is not a way to get  a job, it’s a way to learn how to think. As such, a Math education can lead to success in any discipline that requires intellectual abilities. As long as they take the time to specialize at some point – via  postgraduate education or a job where they can learn a new discipline from smart people – they won’t regret the investment.

Ajay- Describe your career in Science particularly your time at Stanford. What made you think of starting up Asterdata. How important is it for a team rather than an individual to begin startups. Could you describe the startup moment when your team came together.

[TA] - While at Stanford I became very familiar with the world of startups through my advisor, David Cheriton (who was an angel investor in VMWare, Google and founder of two successful companies). My research was about processing large amounts of data on large, low-cost computer farms. A year into my research it became obvious that this approach had huge processingpower advantages and it was superior to anything else I could see in the marketplace. I then happened to meet my other two co-founders, Mayank Bawa & George Candea who were looking at a similar technical problem from the database and reliability perspective, respectively.

I distinctly remember George walking into my office one day (I barely knew him back then) and saying “I want talk to you about startups and the future” – the rest has become history.

Ajay- How would you describe your product Aster nCluster Cloud Edition to omebody who does not anything beyond the Traditional Server/ Datawarehouse technologies. Could you rate it against some known vendors and give a price point specific to what level of usage does the Total Cost of Ownership in Asterdata becomes cheaper than a say Oracle or a SAP or a Microsoft Datawarehosuing solution.

[TA]- Aster allows businesses  to reduce the data analytics TCO in two interesting ways. First, it has a much lower hardware cost than any traditional DW technology because of its use of commodity servers or cloud infrastructure like Amazon EC2. Secondly, Aster has implemented a lot of  innovations that simplify the (previously tedious and expensive) management of the system, which includes scaling the system elastically up/down as needed – so they are not paying for capacity they don’t need at a given point in time.

But cutting costs is one side of the equation; what makes me even more excited is the ability to make a business more profitable, competitive and efficient through analyzing more data at greaterdepth. We have customers that have cut their costs and increased their customers and revenue by using Aster to analyze their valuable (and usually underutilized) data. If you have data – and you think you’re not taking full advantage of it – Aster can help.

Ajay- I have always have this one favourite question.When can I analyze 100 giga bytes of data using just a browser and some statistical software like R or advanced forecasting softwares that are available.Describe some of Asterdata ‘s work in enhancing the analytical capabilities of big data.

Can I run R ( free -open source) on an on demand basis for an Asterdata solution. How much would it cost me to crunch 100 gb of data and make segmentations and models with say 50 hours of processing time per month

[TA]- One of the big innovations that Aster does it to allow analytical applications like R to be embedded in the database via our SQL/MapReduce framework. We actually have customers right now that are using R to do advanced analytics over terabytes of data.  100GB is actually on the lower end of what our software can enable and as such the cost would not be significant.

Ajay- What do people at Asterdata do when not making complex software.

[TA]- A lot of Asterites love to travel around the world – we are, after all, a very diverse company. We also love coffee, Indian food as well as international and US sports like soccer, cricket, cycling,and football!

Ajay- Name some competing products to Asterdata and where Asterdata products are more suitable for a TCO viewpoint. Name specific areas where you would not recommend your own products.

[TA]- We go against products like Orace database, Teradata and IBM DB2. If you need to do analytics over 100s of GBs or terabytes of data, our price/performance ratio would be orders of magnitude better.

Ajay- How do you convince named and experienced VC’s Sequia Capital to invest in a start-up ( eg I could do with some server costs coming financing)

[TA]- You need to convince Sequoia of three things. (a) that the market you’re going after is very large (in the billions of dollars, if you’re successful). (b) that your team is the best set of people that could ever come together to solve the particular problem you’re trying to solve. And (c) that the technology you’ve developed gives you an “unfair advantage” over incumbents or new market entrants.  Most importantly, you have to smile a lot! J


About Tasso:

Tasso (Tassos) Argyros is the CTO and co-founder of Aster Data Systems, where he is responsible for all product and engineering operations of the company. Tasso was recently recognized as one ofBusinessWeek’s Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs for 2009 and was an SAP fellow at the Stanford Computer Science department. Prior to Aster, Tasso was pursuing a Ph.D. in the Stanford Distributed Systems Group with a focus on designing cluster architectures for fast, parallel data processing using large farms of commodity servers. He holds an MsC in Computer Science from Stanford University and a Diploma in Computer and Electrical Engineering from Technical University of Athens.

About Aster:

Aster Data Systems is a proven leader in high-performance database systems for data warehousing and analytics – the first DBMS to tightly integrate SQL with MapReduce – providing deep insights on data analyzed on clusters of low-cost commodity hardware.

The Aster nCluster database cost-effectively powers frontline analytic applications for companies such as MySpace, aCerno (an Akamai company), and ShareThis. Running on low-cost off-the-shelf hardware, and providing ‘hands-free’ administration, Aster enables enterprises to meet their data warehousing needs within their budget.

Aster is headquartered in San Carlos, California and is backed by Sequoia Capital, JAFCO Ventures, IVP, Cambrian Ventures, and First-Round Capital, as well as industry visionaries including David Cheriton, Rajeev Motwani and Ron Conway.


Interview John Moore CTO, Swimfish

Here is an interview with John F Moore, VP Engineering and Chief Technology Officer, Swimfish a provider of business solutions and CRM. A well known figure in Technology and CRM circles, John talks of Social CRM, Technology Offshoring, Community Initiatives and his own career.

Too many CRM systems are not usable. They are built by engineers that think of the system as a large database and the systems often look like a database making it difficult to use by the sales, support, and marketing people.

-John F Moore


Ajay – Describe your career journey from college to CTO. What changes in mindset did you undergo along the journey? What advice would you give to young students to take up science careers ?

John- First, I wanted to take time to thank you for the interview offer. I graduated from Boston University in 1988 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. At the time of my graduation I found myself to be very interested in the advanced taking place on the personal computing front by companies like Lotus with their 1-2-3 product. I knew that I wanted to be involved with these efforts and landed my first job in the software space as a Software Quality Engineer working on 1-2-3 for DOS.

I spent the first few years of my career working at Lotus as a developer, a quality engineer, and manager, on products such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Lotus Notes. Throughout those early career years I learned a lot and focused on taking as many classes as possible.

From Lotus I sought out the start-up environment and by early 2000 and joined a startup named Brainshark (http://www.brainshark.com). Brainshark was, and is, focused on delivering an asynchronous communication platform on the web and was one of the early providers of SAAS. In my seven years at Brainshark I learned a lot about delivering an Enterprise class SAAS solution on top of the Microsoft technology stack. The requirements to pass security audits for Fortune 500 companies, the need to match the performance of in-house solutions, resulted in all of us learning a great deal. These were very fun times.

I now work as the VP of Engineering and CTO at Swimfish, a services and software provider of business solutions. We focus on the financial marketplace where we have the founder has a very deep background, but also work within other verticals as well. Our products are focused on the CRM, document management, and mobile product space and are built on the Microsoft technology stack. Our customers leverage both our SAAS and on-premise solutions which require us to build our products to be more flexible than is generally required for a SAAS-only solution.

The exciting thing for me is the sheer amount of opportunities I see available for science/engineering students graduating in the near future. To be prepared for these opportunities, however, it will be important to not just be technically savvy.

Engineering students should also be looking at:

* Business classes. If you want to build cool products they must deliver business value.

* Writing and speaking classes. You must be able to articulate your ideas or no one will be willing to invest in them.

I would also encourage people to take chances, get in over your head as often as possible.You may fail, you may succeed. Either way you will gain experiences that make it all worthwhile.

Ajay- How do you think social media can help with CRM. What are the basic do’s and don’ts for social media CRM in your opinion?

John- You touch upon a subject that I am very passionate about. When I think of Social CRM I think about a system of processes and products that enable businesses to actively engage with customers in a manner that delivers maximum value to all. Customers should be able to find answers to their questions with minimal friction or effort; companies should find the right customers for their products.

Social CRM should deliver on some of these fronts:

* Analyze the web of relationships that exists to define optimal pathways. These pathways will define relationships that businesses can leverage for finding their customers. These pathways will enable customers to quickly find answers to their questions. For example, I needed an answer to a question about SharePoint and project management. I asked the question on Twitter and within 3 minutes had answers from two different people. Not only did I get the answer I needed but I made two new friends who I still talk to today.

* Monitor conversations to gauge brand awareness, identify customers having problems or asking questions. This monitoring should not be stalking; however, it should be used to provide quick responses to customers to benefit the greater community.

* Usability. Too many CRM systems are not usable. They are built by engineers that think of the system as a large database and the systems often look like a database making it difficult to use by the sales, support, and marketing people.

Finally, when I think of social media I think of these properties:

* Social is about relationship building.

* You should always add more value to the community than you take in return.

* Be transparent and honest. People can tell when you’re not.

Ajay-  You are involved in some noble causes – like using blog space for out of work techies and separately for Alzheimer’s disease. How important do you think is for people especially younger people to be dedicated to community causes?

John- My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age 57. My wife and I moved into their two-family house to help her through the final years of her life. It is a horrible disease and one that it is easy to be passionate about if you have seen it in action.

My motivation on the job front is very similar. I have seen too many people suffer through these poor economic times and I simply want to do what I can to help people get back to work.

It probably sounds corny, but I firmly believe that we must all do what we can for each other. Business is competitive, but it does not mean that we cannot, or should not, help each other out. I think it’s important for everyone to have causes they believe in. You have to find your passions in life and follow them. Be a whole person and help change the world for the better.

Ajay- Describe your daily challenges as head of Engineering of Swimfish, Inc How important is it for the tech team to be integrated with the business and understand it as well.

John- The engineering team at Swimfish works very closely with the business teams. It is important for the team to understand the challenges our customers are encountering and to build products that help the customer succeed. I am not satisfied with the lack of success that many companies encounter when deploying a CRM solution.

We go as deep as possible to understand the business, the processes currently in use, the disparate systems being utilized, and then the underlying technologies currently in use. Only then do we focus on the solutions and deliver the right solution for that company.

On the product front it is the same. We work closely with customers on the features we are planning to add, trying to ensure that the solutions meet their needs as well as the needs of the other customers in the market that we are hoping to serve.

I do expect my engineers to be great at their core job, that goes without question. However, if they cannot understand the business needs they will not work for me very long.My weeks at Swimfish always provide me with interesting challenges and opportunities.

My typical day involves:

* Checking in with our support team to understand if there are any major issues being encountered by any of our customers.

* Challenging the support team to hit their targets. I love sales as without them I cannot deliver products.

* Checking in with my developers and test teams to determine how each of our projects is doing. We have a daily standup as well, but I try and personally check-in with as many people as possible.

* Most days I spend some time developing, mostly in C#. My current focus area is on our next release of our Milestone Tracking Matrix where I have made major revisions to our user interface.

I also spend time interacting on various social platforms, such as Twitter, as it is critical for me to understand the challenges that people are encountering in their businesses, to keep up with the rapid pace of technology, and just to check-in with friends. Keep it real.

Ajay-  What are your views on off shoring work especially science jobs which ultimately made science careers less attractive in the US- at the same time outsourcing companies ( in India) generally pay only 1/3 rd of billing fees to salaries. Do you think concepts like ODesk can help change the paradigm of tech out-sourcing.

John- I have mixed opinions on off-shoring. You should not offshore because of perceived cost savings only. On net you will generally break even, you will not save as much as you might originally think.

I am, however, close to starting a relationship with a good development provider in Costa Rica. The reason for this relationship is not cost based, it is knowledge based. This company has a lot of experience with the primary CRM system that we sell to customers and I have not been successful in finding this experience locally. I will save a lot of money in upfront training on this skill-set; they have done a lot of work in this area already (and have great references). There is real value to our business, and theirs.

Note that Swimfish is already working with a geographically dispersed team as part of the engineering team is in California and part is in Massachusetts. This arrangement has already helped us to better prepare for an offshore relationship and I know we will be successful when we begin.

Ajay- What does John Moore do to have fun when he is not in front of his computer or with a cause.

John- As the father of two teenage daughters I spend a lot of time going to soccer, basketball, and softball games. I also enjoy spending time running, having completed a couple of marathons, and relaxing with a good book. My next challenge will be skydiving as my 17 year old daughter and I are going skydiving when she turns 18.

Brief Bio:

For the last decade I have worked as a senior engineering manager for SAAS applications built upon the Microsoft technology stack. I have established the processes, and hired the teams that delivered hundreds of updates ranging from weekly patches to longer running full feature releases. My background as a hands-on developer combined with my strong QA background has enabled me to deliver high quality software on-time.

You can learn more about me, and my opinions, by reading my blog at http://johnfmoore.wordpress.com/ or joining me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JohnFMoore


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