Sramana Mitra: You started doing programming work for this one company. What happens after that?
Sadek Ali: Once I had gotten that particular gig, the actual relationship lasted about two years. It happened to be with OpenText. This is where I got immersed with search technologies. I fell in love with them at that time. My brother and I took a look at how to deal with large data intractable problems. We looked at image processing and environmental systems. That led me into doing my Masters.
Sramana Mitra: You got the business going while you were doing your Masters and PhD.
Sadek Ali: Yes. I think it’s important for people to recognize that you know you’re doing the right thing when you’re learning and not feeling that you’re pinched for time. You have to be focused and relentless in your pursuit of who you are and not necessarily jumping over some bar that someone has put in front of you.
Sramana Mitra: People waste a lot of time doing irrelevant stuff that could be better utilized to becoming who they are as their authentic personas.
Sadek Ali: It really hits on what I see as leadership. If you cannot take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others. As I started to look into these different problems, there were real research problems. My Masters was about figuring out the power composition for different renewable technologies in order to power cities like Los Angeles in 1977. It’s way back.
The Masters side gave me insights into the environmental movement and how you can do powerful modeling. This is where we were developing different types of processors to deal with these data. They were very crude and coarse. You had so many limitations on the hardware and the software.
I’m looking at all the search technologies and we got this amazing opportunity. Another startup was doing content management, which I loved to write an indexer for. Once we got into it, I realized that they were building something quite new. It was an extension for Windows which would thumbnail and categorize documents. They were looking for an application for it. I was writing all of the indexing.
Sramana Mitra: This content management company was your client for the business. You were doing your Masters in parallel. You were doing software work a bit?
Sadek Ali: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: Does that continue in that mode until the end of your PhD?
Sadek Ali: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after that?
Sadek Ali: I’m going to touch on one brief thing along the way. There was a period of 14 years between finishing my Masters and PhD. During that time, I had traveled to Silicon Alley and started to learn about working with startups. I worked with about 14 to 15 startups.
Sramana Mitra: In a service capacity?
Sadek Ali: Normally to produce new products.
Sramana Mitra: The companies that you were working for were building products, but your business was providing services to these product businesses.
Sadek Ali: Initially. I ended up helping that content management company to build their product and take it to market and help them raise venture capital.
Sramana Mitra: In what capacity?
Sadek Ali: I wrote the code and conceptualized the product. I worked with their investor relations and got in the room with investors themselves.
Sramana Mitra: But you were still a service provider for this company.
Sadek Ali: We ended up joining and getting shares.
Sramana Mitra: Did you become an employee of that company?
Sadek Ali: Eventually.
Sramana Mitra: So you were no longer running your own business.
Sadek Ali: The other business was still running. There was more than me working on it.