DataGrail’s Employee Spotlight series highlights the person behind the professional, digging deep and discovering what drives our team members.
This week’s spotlight features Ignacio (Iz) Zendejas, our Co-founder and CTO. Ignacio has a decade of experience in software development including working on large-scale machine learning.
What is your role at DataGrail and how has it been shaped over the past 6 months?
I’ve worn several hats. First, I’ve been serving as tech lead responsible for designing (architecturally) and developing our products. It's also my responsibility to set a technical vision that will help us scale for years to come.
More recently, I've become focused on building our engineering team, doing less development and sharing my architecture design knowledge to ensure our team is well-equipped to build quickly and effectively to meet our customer demands. As we scale, I've been serving scrum master duties as well. Scrum is the agile process I learned from an influential former manager, Rob Day, that has served us very well. With it, the team has started to fire up on all cylinders—it's been a great to watch.
It's been interesting to develop less, but I'm excited to build a great team and finding people who can fill several of those roles better than I possibly could.
What does your family think you do?
They know I’ve co-founded a company and are very supportive. But it’s difficult to convey the day-to-day and the technical stuff to my parents because they grew up very impoverished in rural parts of Mexico with access to a primary education only. Needless to say, this gives me an immense appreciation for the privileged opportunities I’ve had thanks to, in great part, their many sacrifices and unconditional support.
What is the most rewarding part of building a company, and what challenges have come with this role?
The fact that our business is aiming to provide data privacy and transparency around personal data use all while getting paid is most rewarding. When we got our first non-relationship based customer, it was a great feeling. At the same time, we're hoping to do our part to strike an even balance between protecting individuals and their privacy while helping organizations that are scaling their businesses.
As a founder, the biggest challenge is and will continue to be managing the uncertainty and risks that arise from trying to do something entirely new. Being meticulous about gathering enough data to make better decisions is a key challenge that I'm focused on helping us address. I've flown blind before. I'm not doing that again—it’s insane.
What is one unique engineering challenge that DataGrail faces and how has it been handled?
The proliferation of SaaS and PaaS offerings over the last decade has made it easier for businesses to scale. This in turn has led to personal data being stored across many of these services. We're effectively working to re-centralize all of this personal data to enable our customers to seamlessly comply with regulations like the GDPR and CCPA, which call for timely access and/or deletion of personal data. This means we're building connections to dozens of these services via their APIs and webhooks, for example. Those challenges are compounded by custom integrations, depending on our customer needs. So architecting our products to scale for many customers will become increasingly complex across all parts of our stack.
What has been the most interesting project you’ve worked on in the past?
In the first part of my career I focused on understanding the topical nature of text so that one could understand people's interests and better organize information. Beginning with my work at HP Labs, I became fascinated with the idea of making sense of text using knowledge bases like Wikipedia. A large portion of NLP research ignored this space for a while, which was kind of crazy because making sense of languages is very contextual. That's gradually changed and I've since moved on, but a lot of those learnings have stuck with me, particularly the hard-earned lesson of starting with problems not solutions.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
I want to become an effective leader. Over the years, I've accumulated my fair share of scars and stories from prior management, and look to use this experience along with new learnings to lead a great team. I won't always be the smartest person in the room, and I prefer that, so I’m just excited to help talented individuals build something others find valuable.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy time with my wife and two sons, aged four and one (soon-to-be two). We love to take impromptu trips to a park, the coast, zoos and other cool places that have renewed the novelty of the world via their experiences.
I love traveling, also. I have a personal goal to visit a new country each year and so far I’ve made it happen. Our most recent trips include Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Norway and Iceland. Of those, Norway has been my favorite. Norway’s fjords are simply majestic.