DataXu Engineering Spotlight: Leveraging Programmatic Marketing
DataXu helps CMOs and their agencies around the world leverage the power of programmatic marketing to drive the most important marketing metric of all: increased sales revenue. The world’s top brands and agencies partner with DataXu to deliver real results and prove how marketing impacts the business.
We caught up with Dr. Bill Simmons, DataXu's Co-Founder, CTO and EVP of Product Development to learn more about the engineering team dynamics and projects. Dr. Simmons is the brain behind DataXu’s core technology, which he developed while earning his PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. He is an expert in optimal system design and in developing reliable real-time software–skills he put to use when he co-founded DataXu.
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Jill Gregoriou: You’ve created the #1 ranked platform that leverages big data science to drive better ROI. What makes your service stand out amongst the other Big Data & Analytics companies in the Boston tech community?
Bill Simmons: DataXu was recently ranked the industry’s “most complete solution” for advertising by Forrester Research, which is certainly an accomplishment we are proud of. Our engineers have built a successful and powerful product that has three main elements: Data Management, Insights & Analytics, and what we call Action—automatically buying optimized advertising on behalf of our customers using data and analytics. All of this forms a massive closed loop system that allows us to process four petabytes per month of data and nearly 5 trillion advertising opportunities per month. There are very few comparable opportunities outside of DataXu to work on such a massively scaled technology in a company that is still small enough that each individual employee has a significant impact.
DataXu is also one of America’s fastest growing companies, as ranked by the Inc. 5000 four years in a row. This is largely in part due to our people. Here at DataXu, our team is an unusually well-balanced mix of highly talented technical and and highly talented business people.
JG: How do you view DataXu’s culture, and what qualities do you look for in potential candidates to join your team?
BS: When I first co-founded DataXu, I wanted to create the ideal company culture where I personally wanted to work. I love to learn, I love to solve the hardest problems, I love to collaborate and I never give up. We look for candidates who truly want to learn and who be excellent. We look for people who are more comfortable collaborating with others in a team, rather than for people who want to only be individual contributors. We look for people who are great at what they do, but also have the humility to know that they can improve themselves by learning from others. We also look for a propensity to innovate. In my mind, this is similar to a trait called “grit”. If a strong solution to a challenge isn’t obvious, we expect our employees to never give up. We expect them to find a solution… or invent one. This is what makes it fun to work here. The ideas flow from all directions. This is what makes our company a great place to work if you are a person who likes to push the boundaries of the status quo.
It’s important to mention that these are not just qualities for technical hires; these are the qualities we look for in every employee, no matter which role they are hired for.
JG: DataXu is approaching its 10-year mark. How has the team evolved since its start? What are the team’s core values?
BS: DataXu is a company that originally started with just a few engineers. We now have a team of over 100 engineers within our broader org. Over time, we have attracted talent from a variety of industries, making the company stronger in the process. And we have expanded our Research & Development team by hiring PhDs from a variety of machine-learning backgrounds. These folks work with engineers to build new innovations. Our company’s five core values have not changed in nearly ten years: excellence, innovation, collaboration, trust and customer obsession. All of these are important, but I personally find trust to be the value that really sets our company apart from others like us. Ad tech is an industry that tends to have a negative halo hanging over it, so I’m extremely proud that DataXu has earned the reputation of being trustworthy and honest.
JG: DataXu believes that data science could help make marketing better. What are some of the interesting projects the engineering team is working on?
BS: Part of DataXu’s core DNA is using technology to apply data and analytics to a wide variety of marketing problems. Historically, marketing departments have been ill-equipped to leverage data and analytics. In today’s competitive market, working with machine learning and AI-powered data and analytics systems has become critical for a company to succeed in market.
One of the most interesting things our engineers are doing here at DataXu is finding new ways to deploy massive adaptive marketing experiments on a nationwide basis. With this technique, we are automatically deploying thousands of localized experiments across a mix of all of the media channels an advertiser uses in market. We have built a way to use these experiments to measure the incremental causal impact of additional dollars of advertising investments on each marketing channel. Our groundbreaking methodology and technology was recently acknowledged by Harvard Business School as being a unique and effective solution. I’ll admit that it does take some industry knowledge to understand why this is such a big deal, but it’s truly groundbreaking. It’s a great example of how we are combining our backgrounds in science, math, and software with business acumen to solve real-world challenges for customers.
JG: How does the engineering team stay involved in the Boston tech community?
BS: DataXu’s engineering team is very involved in the broader Boston tech community. We regularly host meet ups at our Boston office, and are active participants and contributors to many local open source engineering projects. DataXu has become well-known within the advertising technology space for creating the industry’s OpenRTB standards—the prevailing global standards used to purchase over ten billion US dollars of advertising per month. What is less known, however, is that we are involved with TUGG and MITX, regularly do community service through our volunteering program called DataXu Cares, and employ disadvantaged local young folks through internships to help them grow and develop.
JG: What type of interests does your team have outside of work?
BS: I have noticed a pattern among the people who join DataXu. They each have become excellent at something in their life. DataXu happens to employ a wide variety of very interesting and accomplished people. One chief architect is a former internationally-ranked tennis player. We have highly skilled hockey players, soccer players and fencers on the team. One of our engineers always comes to our Halloween party with the most amazing and creative costumes you’ve ever seen. One of our product managers is an Ultimate Frisbee champion who travels for competitions. One of our engineers also runs a winery. One team member was a highly ranked professional video game player as his first job out of college. I truly believe that once you achieve excellence in one category, it becomes an addiction and it’s hard to have it any other way. And once you’re used to excellence, you also want to work with others who feel the same way.
JG: Want to dish the inside scoop on some of the perks DataXu offers?
BS: DataXu caters a delicious free lunch for our employees every Wednesday. We have summer company outings and table games around the office. We have education reimbursement for staff members and a rewards system for patent filings, where you can earn both cash and shares for your efforts. We provide high-quality laptops and equipment to all of our staff.
All material perks aside however, the biggest perk for me is the fulfilling work that we offer here. I think the biggest perk of working at DataXu is the respect we hold as a company for our engineers overall, as well as the quality of our work and the ownership we each are given while working here. Getting to learn from other accomplished people and also getting to share your ideas to contribute to something larger than yourself is a very rewarding feeling, and I’m proud to be able to offer that to all employees here.
JG: Complete this sentence for our audience: I love working at DataXu because…
BS: "I love working at DataXu because we hire people that know something that our org doesn’t already know. With each additional person who joins the team, DataXu as a whole gets stronger and better. I learn something new every day, and the more people we bring onboard our engineering team, the faster I get to learn!"