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Learning the Art of Building & Balancing with Shankar

February 17, 2022

His calm demeanour and charisma mask the enormous building and balancing that he does within Affinidi. He is Shankar Kanthimathinatha Pillai, Director of Engineering. Also known as our King of Analogies, Shankar is the person many turn to when trying to understand any situation or solve difficult problems - anything from tech to cooking! Join us as we learn how Shankar strives to add value to the organisation and make a difference to the world with his ever-growing tech prowess!

How’s it like being the Director of Engineering at Affinidi?

It’s a unique role where I have to engage the tech and business stakeholders and act as a bridge between the customer-facing team and the engineering team that works on the nuts and bolts of the business. I have an opportunity to leverage two different thought processes. On the flip side, I am often seen as a people manager, but in reality, I’m a technologist at heart and I work on a lot of architecture and engineering solutions. In fact, I draw a lot of inspiration from Steve Jobs for the revolution he brought about at Apple. His emphasis on design taught me to consider the user experience when building solutions for people. I’m also a big fan of technology pioneers/Computer Scientists like Dennis Ritchie.

On this note, any other people who have influenced or inspired you?

Besides Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie, my dad is the biggest inspiration in my life. As a part of his work, he was an engineer who spent all his career building dams, and this was anything but easy. He and his team had to go through thick forests that could spring surprises at any time. Plus, it required extensive levels of knowledge in science and engineering.He taught me these engineering basics that I continue to use not just at work, but also in my personal life. For example, while cooking, you have to put the thicker vegetables at the bottom and the thinner ones at the top to ensure that everything is cooked evenly as there is more heat at the bottom of the pan. This is science.

I can give you many other examples, but there is no denying that my fundamentals and my passion in this field were inspired by my father and his work. 

What excites you about working on the next generation of identity technology with Affinidi?

Affinidi is looking to achieve value creation from a business standpoint and I’m working on the nuts and bolts of what it is trying to achieve. In technology, the early adopters become gurus and the rest just Google it. Adoption and acceptance take a lot of time, especially when you’re leading a future-facing initiative.For the projects I’ve worked on in Affinidi, every day is a discovery. Often, when you build a tech solution, you are clearing a backlog of challenges and fixing the past. But when you are building the future like in Affinidi, there are many unknowns and this is what makes it exciting. 

What advice would you give aspiring developers?

Focus on fundamentals and the value proposition of what we’re building. The tech stack doesn't matter as long as we stick to fundamentals - Algorithms, Computational Complexity, Programming Constructs and Full Stack Skills (Web, Mobile, APIs, Modern DB, Cloud Platform) as well as design thinking that will help in solutioning. This will make anyone battle-ready for current day’s demands. That said, learning should come in bite sizes, and developers can look to online learning platforms and community engagement when they learn. Agile skills and having the right knowledge on processes and tools are essential too. Often, we do not leverage adeptly on the great tools we have. Knowledge on processes can be learnt on the job. 

What are the tech stacks you’re particularly interested in right now?

GoLang, Rust and the great JS Stack (NodeJS, TypeScript and the rest)!

What sparked your interest in identity technology?

It goes back to the value proposition part. I did some blockchain learning in 2018, so I’ve always wanted to do something that makes an impact on the technological side.  When I did the blockchain course, ID 2020 was pioneered through multiple organisations then. This was fascinating because identity tech can give respite to refugees or asylum seekers  who have lost or destroyed their identity and can provide them access to many life-changing things across all facets of their lives. This was what inspired me to work on identity technology, especially portable, verifiable digital identity. 

How important is data ownership and how do we educate people about it?

Being a digital native doesn’t mean you know how your personal data is being used by organisations. Once that strikes people, identity, selective disclosure and ownership will be what everyone starts seeking. In the meantime, organisations like Affinidi can work towards building digital communities where people can discuss, engage and learn about these topics. It is important to make learning an essential element, so naturally, people will come on board. 

Exciting stuff! So, if you weren’t in your current role (or anything similar), what would you most likely be doing?

Running my own startup related to computer vision-enabled technologies and robotics or drones. You would have already seen such examples including cameras in cars detecting people sleeping at the wheel. I would like to focus on such impactful technologies, build the value proposition and leave a legacy.

What’s the one thing that people don’t know about you?

People who have not seen me in the last 10 years may not know that I've taken an interest in appreciating food and culture e.g. cheese / dark chocolates, nuts and wine. I’m inspired to learn about food and spirits from a cultural perspective as well as from modern scientific medicine like how people fight diseases by building natural immunity through food.

Oh, and my comfort food would be something hot, crunchy, and salty.

If someone were to spot you outside of work, what would you most probably be caught doing?

Either buying groceries or dining with friends / family !

That was Shankar for you!

Written by
Team Affinidi

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