Interview with: Dr Ryan Carr
CTO and VP Engineering at Enveil
With experience in leading engineering efforts at institutions such as the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Dr Ryan Carr’s fields of expertise include large scale analytic systems, distributed algorithms, AI, game theory and social learning, and applying cloud computing techniques to simulate and analyse complex interactions among large numbers of autonomous agents.
His research in these areas has been published in highly competitive venues such as Proceedings of the Royal Society, AAAI, and AAMAS. Ryan holds a PhD/BS in Computer Science.
Can you tell us about your role and responsibilities?
I oversee Enveil’s engineering department, and am responsible for ensuring that the technical strategy is executed in a way that supports our business objectives. I’ve learned that my role as startup CTO requires fostering wide-range of skill sets including technical visionary, strategy advocate, team leader, deligator, motivator, educator, company spokesperson, and recruiter. It was tough, but necessary for me to realise that I won’t always get to spend my day doing what drew me to the field in the first place: working with interesting technologies to solve hard problems. There is still time for that occasionally, but I typically need to divide my between a much broader scope of responsibilities.
I also consider training and knowledge transfer a critical aspect of my role as CTO. This is something that can be easy to overlook, especially when moving at the pace of a startup, but it is critical to ensure new technical staff can get up to speed and make contributions quickly. This means a strong onboarding process, good technical documentation, and investing time in building personal relationships on the broader team so everyone is comfortable asking for help.
What is your point of difference as a business?
From a big picture perspective, we’re helping our customers overcome barriers that prevent them from most effectively leveraging data. The ability to securely and privately use the data you need allows organisations to make better, more efficient decisions across a wide-range of verticals. We enable our customers to share and collaborate between entities, jurisdictions, and other data silos in ways that are otherwise not possible because of regulatory or security restrictions.
It’s been really interesting to drive the formation of a new category around the use of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) because I think we’re only beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the value the technology can deliver. I would argue that not only are we solving direct customer needs, we are also helping lead a digital transformation.
What technology are you most looking forward to using more of?
The most exciting developments in my mind relate to our use of homomorphic encryption (HE) and secure multiparty computation (SMPC). Both are accelerating at an incredibly fast rate, allowing people to work across numerous datasets they otherwise couldn’t utilise. This means we are constantly seeing new use cases and ways to help people across multiple industries.
When I started at Enveil in 2016, the promise of HE sounded impossible to me: imagine being able to ask a database a question and get an answer, but the database does not get to see what you’re asking or what the answer is. The fact that this technology was at the foundation of the company was a big draw for me — I wanted to figure it out. Having seen what it can do, I’m confident that HE is going to be everywhere in 20 years. I often compare it to working with databases in the 80s: people had just started to use them, but now they’re central to most business processes. I really believe this kind of cryptography is going to have a similar impact.
What has been your highlight in your current role?
I’m really proud of the work I’m doing today. I like being at the forefront of a new category and working with technologies that only a handful of teams in the world are leveraging for commercial applications. It has also been a privilege to help build something from the ground up. The progression we’ve seen in terms of both the technology and the broader market over the past six years has been incredible to witness.
What exciting plans do you have coming up as an organisation?
We’ve recently been focused on an encrypted training capability for our ZeroReveal Machine Learning product, the first version of which was released in June. This capability allows our customers to train machine learning models over datasets that reside in environments they wouldn’t normally trust to see the model, and allows data owners to let external parties train over their data without exposing the underlying data. This delivers an unmatched ability to derive insights from data without the need to trust other parties during computation. It’s a capability our customers have been asking for so I’m excited to see the ways it will add business value for ML and data science use cases.
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