Actual Interview Text

There is an interview with me floating around the internet. It was modified quite a lot for publication on NYU’s site, especially in question #4; here’s what I actually said.

My Journey into Ad Tech

Interview with Aleks Navratil, Data Scientist, Collective, Inc.

What did you study in school?

I was an undergraduate double major in Engineering and Mathematics, and my graduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering.

2. But you’re a Data Scientist at Collective…how are those degrees related to what you do?

Computationally, the toolchains and techniques are very similar. During my graduate research, my title happened to be “mechanical engineer,” but I was really doing something very close to data science. I worked in an aerospace technology lab, researching things like the friction and wear of aerospace materials. And the computational tools used in that research turned out to be similar to the ones used in this industry. The mathematics doesn’t know what it’s being applied to. It’s the same whether we’re counting ad impressions or turbojet compressor revolutions.

3. What was your original plan for your career?

During school I had a lot of internships and worked on a bunch of projects: startups, government research, tunnel boring machines, a Fortune 500 business, academic research. And pretty soon I realized I was cut out for computation science more than mechanical engineering. 

4. What made you want to get into Advertising?

Basic research is a long-cyle business, and I’m really better suited by temperament for more applied work. Had I stuck with aerospace research, my work wouldn’t have come to fruition for 20-30 years. I knew that in industry, my work would effect the business in near real time. Also it’s interesting to see how advertising works from the inside.

4. What made you join Collective?

Collective was recruiting on campus, and they invited me to come in, meet the team, and see what their technology and culture were like. It was a great experience from square one, and I realized pretty quickly that the tech org was filled with smart people who had very rigorous technical backgrounds: physicists, mathematicians, engineers. People were (and are) very excited about their work and about solving problems in an elegant way. It had the laid-back, fun culture I was looking for. It felt like I’d find the computational and intellectual support I’d need to be successful working on interesting problems. But the thing that sold me the most was actually more philosophical than strictly technical. Collective’s tech org had a very particular design ethos, a sense of craftsmanship that pervaded the systems they’d built — with a keen understanding of the roles of minimalism and simplicity in good design.

5. What advice do you have for students looking to join Collective?

The most important thing is to have the kaizen mentality, wherein at all times you view the current state of your skills (or knowledge, or whatever) as a starting point for a process of improvement and growth. Your rate of improvement is more important than your current position.

Also, being comfortable with having detailed creative control of your work is a huge plus; we definitely aren’t one of those huge organizations who have a commanding officer telling you what to do every minute of the day.