Q&A —20 Questions for Mina Naguib, CTO Hivestack
Q&A with Mina Naguib, CTO Hivestack
Name: Mina Naguib
Job title: Chief Technology Officer
Date started current role: February 2022
Location: Montreal, Canada
Mina joined Hivestack in February, 2022 to lead the long-term strategic direction of the organization’s overall technology function. A tech industry veteran since 1997, his expertise spans many areas including data center and cloud infrastructure, low-level system development, web and application development, and distributed systems. Prior to joining Hivestack, Mina held numerous key operations engineering roles, one of the most notable being the Chief Architect at Samsung Ads.
At Hivestack, Mina is in charge of establishing technology standards to direct strategic design, manage and implement an enterprise-wide technology infrastructure, and plays a key role in recognizing and analyzing trends and innovations that would directly impact the company’s products and performance. In 2022, Mina was also appointed as the Chair of Prebid digital out home (DOOH) Taskforce, a committee that aims to simplify and drive transparency across the DOOH programmatic supply chain.
- What was your first job?
My first job was as a teenager, doing technical support at a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Toronto. These were the days where most people were just learning what the internet was and connected via a dial-up connection. The software and the hardware on both client- and provider-side was nascent and dodgy on the best of days. Lots of tech support was needed, and there was lots of room for learning and improving.
- Did you always want to work in IT?
Absolutely. My parents bought our first computer home when I was around 10 years old, and it was love at first sight. The desire to cheat on game highscores led me to dive into the data, then into the code. I quickly became passionate about software development, then networking and networked software, with the growth of the internet scaling all of that.
- What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?
I actually went to college to pursue an art degree to complement my self-taught tech progress at the time. In reality however, everything I know about designing and building the types of systems you see in adtech was hard-won through my experiences in different jobs over the last couple of decades.
- Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss.
I’ve always primarily written software, however, the function of this has varied throughout my career. From working within telecommunications companies, then moving through advertising agencies, I have focussed in the last decade specifically on advertising technology (adtech) companies. As I’ve matured, I’ve discovered that I also enjoy non-code portions of growth, be it systems design and architecture, team design and leadership. I’ve also developed a love of public speaking!
- What type of CTO are you?
I’m strongly technical at heart. I care deeply about the engineering challenges that exist in the adtech space — the high volume, low latency, and idea of “spending money live” through the capabilities of programmatic ad buying is both demanding and exciting. This drives my CTO approach to growing teams and individuals within the company, and challenging them to build the best systems they can, as well as occasionally going hands-on for my personal satisfaction.
- Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of?
It’s pretty clear at this point that machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to surprise us. While many companies have benefited from these technologies to support back-end systems, it’s extremely exciting to see the size and frequency of developments that are directly consumer-facing — for example AI consuming and producing visual and textual media.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that some of these leaps are happening way too fast for societal and policy retrospection, support and adjustment. However, I’m certain that a new equilibrium will be reached.
7. Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why?
I like the idea of publicly-visible verifiable ledgers for some use-cases, for instance where there is institutional alignment and push for information transparency. If you actually take a step back, it’s not particularly new — engineers have had access to similar data structures for decades.
I’m less of a fan however of manufacturing value via tokens such as crypto coins or NFTs, and backing it on the above technologies to bolster their appeal. The environmental impact of the early generations of these technologies, and the financial risk of many products (especially to novice investors), have been too high.
8. What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of?
I’m proud to have implemented, and continue to work on, several efficiency and scalability initiatives. Especially given the current climate, I see “efficiency” and “cost” as two sides of the same coin. Engineers love to work on difficult problems. Being able to deliver high levels of service using less computational resources, therefore lowering bills, is immensely satisfying.
9. Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasize customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two?
Hivestack’s platform is a SAAS that we build and operate for our customers, and it’s been cloud-native since day one. By doing this we’ve been able to build technologies and approaches that balance revenue growth and operational efficiency for our customers into our DNA. It’s simply in our nature as a company to do so.
10. What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment?
The DOOH advertising ecosystem is, to an extent, following the path of online advertising at an accelerated pace. We now see a strong need for supply-side consolidation from media owners. We’re helping our customers to harness new features within the Hivestack platform, as well as spearheading a future where some features are standardized and available as open-source under the Prebid organization umbrella.
11. How do you align your technology use to meet business goals?
Technology without business drive looks a lot like a hobby. It’s not a bad thing — many people, including myself, derive genuine enjoyment from doing technical work. Within an enterprise, there is no ambiguity on why technologists are needed: to use their skills to solve business problems and deliver business value. This means that technology’s primary mandate derives from the business direction. So long as there is clarity in what that focus is, that’s all the alignment that’s needed. If you’re lucky, the above two points overlap nicely and you reach a westernized version of the Japanese “ikigai” concept.
12. Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy?
This discussion often ventures into an inevitable fork – how do you prioritize business (aka functional) work versus engineering (aka non-functional) work and tech strategy? I’d argue that technologists and CTOs should be seen as product owners themselves. It’s a healthy dance between product and engineering.
13. What makes an effective tech strategy?
As long as the planned strategy and non-functional investment makes sense and aligns with the business desired outcome, it becomes simply a matter of clearly articulating and communicating that work and resourcing internally. It’s also worth having a few battle scars and experiences, and developing both an open yet skeptical view on brand new technologies when it comes to investment and adoption.
14. What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future?
I feel the role has dramatically shifting responsibilities depending on company maturity.
In a startup, a CTO or lead engineer acting-as-CTO will have a lot more technologies available to them to choose from — it’s both a good thing as well as mildly terrifying if it’s your first rodeo. The “full stack” is getting much larger when you consider the complexities of back-end, ML, front-end, security and compliance, and business growth pressures.
In a more established organization, CTOs shine when they’re balancing external portions of their job such as learning and advocacy with the internal ones — including direction-setting, business alignment, staffing, and rallying the troops. Different CTO personas and backgrounds tend to lean more heavily to one of the areas but investment in the other areas continues to be an important part of the job.
15. What has been your greatest career achievement?
Leading the entire “end-to-end” build of the technology in a tiny adtech startup, going through an acquisition by a large multinational, and then supporting the tremendous growth. Both the business as well as the technology aspects of that journey have been quite remarkable.
Slightly less corporate, in the early 2000s I volunteered to build out a free WiFi organization to benefit the residents of Montréal. Rich in hippie vibes, the software and framework we built ended up seeding significant growth in governmental and community initiatives in multiple countries.
16. Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently?
I’ll use this to remind myself and everyone to take care of themselves. Your career should not look like a sprint, but a marathon — ideally matching your life rhythm and working with it. Invest early in diversifying your skills and interests, both on the professional as well as a personal one. The dividends this pays in your professional acumen can’t be overstated.
17. What are you reading now?
Going through my first non-technical book in a while – “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared”. I’d highly recommend it if you’d like something lighthearted that makes you laugh out loud.
18. Most people don’t know that I…
I moved to Montreal for the abundance of good cuisine and for my wife.
19. In my spare time, I like to…
Cook for my family and friends and run regularly in a stubborn attempt to outrun my diet.
20. Ask me to do anything but…
Don’t ask me to do karaoke. I will always chicken out of doing karaoke.