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I saw in APN, and its new mobile initiative, the opportunity to contribute to a truly relevant and new concept, with real investment and the potential to become big. I forwent all my other responsibilities at Mindspark and made the lateral move to APN. I gradually hired a team of 8 engineers in New York, with specialties varying from web backend and front-end to Android and iOS. I later augmented the team with additional 5 staff members from our West Coast offices and together we built and launched Offercast Mobile, a mobile advertising network for app developers. I architected the entire suite of products, including a public website, a partner dashboard, an ad server and native SDKs for Android and iOS, and was often an active developer working on our RESTful API and Android SDK projects.
Within a few months after the unveil of Offercast Mobile, it became apparent that growing with that business model would be a challenge for our organization. We took a step back, scaled down the effort and started working to refine our strategy. In the meantime, I was recruited to assist another IAC brand, nRelate.
In mid-2014, the competition in the content advertising space, led by Taboola and Outbrain, was fierce. nRelate came in the third place, but irrespective of its admirable scale, with over a hundred thousand publishers and a few billion ad impressions every month, the company needed a bold plan in order to remain competitive. A strategy as devised and a very aggressive roadmap was set in motion. In my role, I was responsible for guaranteeing that engineering wouldn't fail to execute. I eliminated process inefficiencies, augmented the team (once again with additional staff members from our West Coast offices), decoupled aspects of the stack to enable more initiatives to move in parallel, worked to improve overall availability and reduce the number of production incidents, and re-focused the team so we could effectively tackle our roadmap. In under 6 months we delivered several new products (e.g. related search, public API, mobile-optimized units), many enhancements (e.g. ad quality and collaborative filtering) and a number of tests. However, in spite of such tremendous team effort and impressive execution, the new strategy didn't suffice to turn the company around. On Dec 31st, 2014 it was decided that nRelate would no longer operate as a stand-alone business.
nRelate was a tremendous experience for me. As an acquired startup it differed significantly from APN and IAC, both from a culture perspective as well as from its engineering practices perspective. On the tech side, my first impression was that every language and technology had been used in some capacity. The list included: PHP, Python, Java, Scala, MySQL, Cassandra, MongoDB, SOLR, Memcached, Hadoop, Storm and much more. Working with the team I had the opportunity to learn a lot and step up and be hands-on on various occasions, for example with SOLR, while researching alternatives to improve the relevancy of our contextual recommendation algorithms, and with Chef, while attempting to improve our Chef practices and use Chef with Vagrant to ease the pain of setting up any development or test environments. I had to dust off my SysOps skills to contribute meaningfully to discussions and to our ongoing datacenter migration. I have also finally had the opportunity to get exposed big data and machine learning applied in a real product.
Ask Partner Network (contd.)
In the second-half of 2014 we pivoted our mobile initiatives and focused on building white-labeled Android applications catered to serve the monetization needs of device manufacturers. We tested with a new APN search widget and found very encouraging traction. It was time to ramp up again and tackle the opportunity. I've restructured the engineering team to match our new focus on native Android development. Hired new and supported training existing employees. I have also prioritized spending more time developing features myself with the goal of further advancing my Android skills and of offering guidance based on actual hands-on experience. As of this writing (Mar/15), in my new role of VP of Software Engineering, I am very engaged with our evolving products and several promising new ones yet to be announced.