The five minute CIO: Patrick Mee, AdRoll

9 Jan 2015

Patrick Mee, vice-president of engineering, AdRoll

“I’m a big proponent of agile methodologies and that’s all about pushing responsibilities in the direction of the engineers,” says Patrick Mee, vice-president of engineering at online ads giant AdRoll.

AdRoll established its EMEA headquarters in Dublin last October with plans to create 100 jobs by the end of 2014, and has reached this target already, with plans to exceed it by year end.

In June, AdRoll doubled its office space to more than 20,000 sq-feet at Burlington Plaza and increasing hiring plans to 220 by the end of 2015.

Growth of over 300pc in Europe has far exceeded expectations since the region’s launch last year. The company currently has over 2,200 customers in more than 64 countries across EMEA.

AdRoll, which closed a funding round of US$70m in April 2014, recently appointed Mee as vice-president of engineering across the company to help build the engineering team, platform and data infrastructure.

Mee, a Dublin native, is responsible for managing the company’s rapidly growing engineering staff which has quintupled in size over the last year. He has worked in Silicon Valley for 20 years, working in well-known companies like Claris, Source Forge and Marc Andreessen’s Ning as director of engineering.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

We want our people to use the best tools to do the best jobs rather than pigeon hole or force them to use tools that aren’t quite the right ones just so it makes it easier for us to keep track of them. It is more important that the teams use the best tools to do the best job possible.

Our engineers are testing stuff all the time and we encourage them to swap in the new tools if they think it’s the right thing to do.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

I’m pretty good at going from the strategic end of things to the tactical really, really quick. To me the main focus is ensuring the teams are landing the business as effectively as possible and trying to make sure that roadblocks are cleared before they get to the engineering team

I’m a big proponent of agile methodologies and that’s all about pushing responsibilities in the direction of the engineers, the people doing the real technical work.

I believe management should set goals that need to be achieved, albeit with some constraints around what you can and can’t do, but within that empower them to do whatever it takes to get things done.

To be able to do that effectively you need to be working at a strategic level, working with the board and the CEO and VP of product to make sure we can articulate our goals to the people doing the work.

Ultimately it is about making sure there is alignment between the long-term goals and the actual execution.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Even though we are in the ad tech space, we consider ourselves first and foremost a data company. We pull in 150 terabytes of data per day and we have up to 10 petabytes stored, that’s a lot of data.

The challenge is also an opportunity: what kind of innovative products can we make using all of that data that puts us head and shoulders above our competition. That’s the exciting thing.

The environment is shifting very fast and we believe we can get ahead of our competition by looking for signs and signals in our data and building products we think our customers would find useful.

I’ve heard and read that a lot of people browse and peruse on their mobile devices but very few convert. They will finish the transaction on their desktops. Facebook’s recent announcement that it’s about people and not cookies makes sense because they can get away with that because they have the people logged in all the time. They know where they are and what they are doing.

The challenge for people like us who don’t have that information is we have to come up with innovative ways to match data that comes from different sources and triangulate that across different devices.

That will be challenge for the next year and the key to that will be what kind of products we can build on that.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

I have currently about 60 engineers working for me and we have about 12 product managers. At the heart of what we do are big datasets and data scientists and engineers using machine learning to take models and implement and test. The interesting thing is our DNA comes from the SMB world, we actually have a self-serve tool and when we started we were going after the smaller companies. While most other ad tech companies were going after the top 500 brands we built a self-serve application.

I have a team of Javascript developers and Python middleware developers to build this top class self-serve app to allow people to create and manage campaigns.

Another important thing in ad tech and marketing in general is metrics, performance, how much you spend, return on investment and we have teams that generate that data and then render it on a user interface and get that out to account managers to they can talk to their customers and send them to customers.

We have nearly 500 people in the company most of whom are sales and account managers looking after the mid-market and so I have a team that is building tools for our internal customers so they can manage campaigns on behalf of other advertisers.

The whole point of self-serve is you can run campaigns that go on Facebook’s NewsFeed or Twitter or you can put it on Google’s ad exchange or Apple’s iAds platform.

We endeavor to hide as much complexity from the users. Most marketers don’t care where the ads are as long as they get performance and we can show that the News Feed is working and take the friction out of it for them.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

We are one of Amazon’s largest customers, and we are in the same building in Dublin and we know the guys down there. Our CTO is considered one of Amazon’s six super heroes in the world .

We are involved in future product discussions in terms of Amazon Web Services (AWS). The beauty of using something like AWS is you can focus on high-level production problems and not be worrying about swapping discs out, cabling or anything like that.

We can focus on making our systems more robust, remotely alerting and monitoring as opposed to having people driving up and down to data centres.

Using AWS allows us to move our content all over the world. If you are in Europe you are hitting a Dublin data centre as opposed to making a call across the ocean to America.

We are very much dedicated to AWS in the cloud.

Our applications are a combination of Python and Javascript, the two main langauges. Our data services team are using a lot of Java to manage the infrastructure and our real-time bidding engine and our data scientists use the D programming language, so it’s a very diverse set of technologies.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years