LiveRamp Engineering is all about connections.
My name is Laura Davis and I’m the Head of Engineering Culture and Branding. This is part of a series of interviews of engineering thought leaders to share their unique perspectives in order to shed light on LiveRamp Engineering.
Today, we connect with Abhishek Jain, who is an Engineering Platform Architect, to gain some insights about his career path and what it’s like working at LiveRamp.
Abhishek, how did you get interested in engineering?
So, it was actually pretty simple for me. I come from a middle class family in India. My dad’s side of the family were all into businesses while my mom and her siblings were into higher education, medicine, and engineering. So my engineer uncles suggested that I look into computers for higher education and as a career. That got me interested in technology.
I applied to engineering schools and had options of electronics, telecom, or computer science. Even back then, IT was big in India, so I chose computer science. After undergrad, I worked briefly at an IT company in India that implemented ERP solutions. I remember a project that I was on was for a grocery chain client based in Texas. But I wanted to get more education, so I started applying to masters programs in the US.
In 2007, I got my masters degree in computer science from Georgia Institute of Technology (aka Georgia Tech).
What helped you decide to join LiveRamp engineering?
I heard about LiveRamp through Georgia Tech’s career and internship portal. LiveRamp was offering internships, and it really piqued my interest to think about working at a start-up based in San Francisco.
I took the online challenges, went through the intern interview process, talked to the VP of Engineering at LiveRamp at the time and got super excited about the topics of big data and solving interesting problems.
At the same time, I had another interview for an internship in New York City with Goldman Sachs. I thought to myself, do I want to work at a start-up in San Francisco or a large, well-established financial firm in New York City? They were two very different environments and cultures.
The big data start-up environment seemed cool and the people I spoke to were great, so I chose LiveRamp and now I’ve been here for 15 years!
We are so glad you chose LiveRamp! What roles have you had since you joined?
Well, when I started, there were only 15 employees.
Initially, I started as a back-end engineer. We were using Hadoop and MapReduce to build our big data processing stack.
Because we were such a small start-up, I also did some front-end engineering doing client-side web development, built internal tools, and customer-facing external tools. It was super exciting.
Eventually, I was doing full-stack (server and client side) engineering connecting applications, and before I could realize it, I moved into management. At one point I was managing a team of 18 direct and indirect reports, while also doing full-stack development.
One thing that I realized during this career growth experience was that even during my one-on-one meetings with my team members, I got more excited about solving technical customer problems and white-boarding than the management activities. People management was an interesting role to explore, but I enjoyed the technical challenges so much more.
Then I went back to being an individual contributor. During that time, my wife decided to go to Philadelphia for her masters and we moved and I transitioned into being a Tech Lead for various teams.
And your current role?
Currently I am an Engineering Platform Architect and a member of LiveRamp engineering’s Architecture Leadership Group (ALG), which acts as liaisons across LiveRamp in order to bridge our various engineering communities, share information, and architect for the future.
ALG is a group of senior engineers from different parts of our organization with the goal to collectively and collaboratively build the architecture for LiveRamp and bring value to our customers.
It’s a relatively new group, but we are already having a lot of deep conversations about our core technology, new technologies that we wish to explore, product and company strategy, and everything in between. ALG is an amazing and impactful group.
Please describe some of the types of interesting problems you solve at LiveRamp.
Ultimately, we solve many different and interesting problems, which is one of the things that motivates me every day.
One example is exploring how to use technology to bring value to our customers. For instance, our current platform is built on data lake technologies using Hadoop, Spark, etc., but, given the recent advances in hardware and technology, we’re exploring distributed databases to serve better application experiences to our customers.
We get opportunities to explore modern tools and technologies, warehouses and databases. Another example of this is reducing the amount of time it takes to securely get data and extract value faster and easier while remaining privacy compliant.
As we look at our longer-term strategy where distributed databases are involved, ALG also gets involved with determining what kind of companies we want to architect with or connect with as partners. Part of this work is to evaluate potential mergers and acquisitions (M&A) vs. growing organically.
Ultimately, we ask ourselves, “What is our unique value proposition to customers?” We foster an environment where architects and, actually, all engineers, think from a sales perspective, asking ourselves, “How do we provide more value?” If a customer doesn’t find value in what we build, what’s the point? Any software is only as valuable as the customer problems it solves.
What are you most proud of in your career accomplishments?
Seeing where LiveRamp is today, having grown from a start-up of 15 employees to 1,400 has been amazing! I’ve had the privilege of leading initiatives and have contributed to the growth and success (in some form or the other) is absolutely rewarding. I’m proud of my choice to join LiveRamp.
I’m really excited about our opportunities as the industry’s landscape changes and we solve even more complex challenges.
What advice would you give early career engineers?
A lot of times people coming out of engineering school don’t know exactly what to focus on or how to think about careers. Seriously, having gone through this process, my thinking aligns with the popular saying, “The sky’s the limit.”
There are so many paths one can take. Cool technology, leadership, mentoring, people management and architecting.
One mistake that I can share is that, early on, I was too shy and didn’t go outside my comfort zone. I talked only to close peers working on the same project vs. reaching out to senior engineers and seeking out their experiences. I absolutely recommend reaching out!
Different people have taken their own, unique paths and there’s a lot you can learn from their experiences. And, don’t limit yourself to one mentor, you might need different viewpoints depending on your current job and where you are in your career, and you’ll benefit from a variety of ideas.
I’ve had so many mentors in my career who have given great advice.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
One piece of advice that stuck with me is that anyone can surface problems and it’s a sign of growth. But, as a true leader, go deeper, come up with different solutions and think about the pros and cons as well as the impact of your decision.
Another one was from my esteemed colleague, Kannan, who reminded me that the fear of failure kills more dreams than failure ever will. Try something big in life!
Just as important as the cool challenges you get to solve is the organizational culture. How would you describe the culture in LiveRamp Engineering?
That’s another thing that has kept me here so long. The culture is amazing, and that has been very true from early days up to today. There’s just not much ego here. People really want to solve customer pain points and provide value.
There’s also an incredible amount of trust that leaders place in us. No micromanagement. They ask, “What do we do for customers?” Then they entrust us with time and resources and turn us loose. I have great respect for Mohsin Hussain, our CTO, who often replies to ideas by saying, “Let’s try it!” Trust and empowerment is amazing at this cool, big data company. The level of ownership is amazingly motivational. Of course, accountability comes with the freedom we’re afforded, as it should.
As I shared earlier, at LiveRamp you are given opportunities to try different career paths, whether it’s lateral moves or you earn a promotion. You have access to stay in engineering as an individual contributor, technical lead or people manager. If you don’t thrive in one role, or simply want to keep growing, you have many roles to consider. LiveRamp Engineering was very supportive of my career exploration while I found my best-fitting role.
I work with an amazing group of people and have been very fortunate.
Sorry, Goldman Sachs.
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