Appsembler Customer Spotlight: Arrikto’s Education Team
One thing Appsembler loves about our customers is when we hear and learn about their unique perspectives. It helps us understand their needs and we get to know some awesome people and chat about more than just work and technology.
We recently sat down with Alex Aidun who is Director, Education at Arrikto — a machine learning operations (MLOps) platform — to chat about the importance of his education “family”, their skills-based approach to learning, and the challenges of crossing the road and buying sheep remotely.
Can you give me a rundown of what your team at Arrikto looks like right now?
There are three of us right now. We’re a small but mighty band. I’m the Director of Education. I have over a decade of experience in adult technical education doing everything from remote learning to e-learning to workshops, conferences, coaching, developing programs, and working with customers.
Navneet Yadav is our e-learning and general learning lead. He is based in Bangalore and he has the same amount of experience in the space, although some of that is on the consulting side, having worked for Accenture for several years. Between the two of us, we’re good at both creating educational programs and customizing them for the specific needs of our customers.
Then there is Ben Reutter who is the team’s media lead. He has found a niche for himself in making engaging, fun, and playful, but informative and educational videos for technology, which can sometimes be boring.
This is the third time we’ve all worked together, which means we have a really good rhythm and we don’t have to learn about each other anymore. We simply know how we work and can go right into getting the work done.
So when you say it’s the third time you’ve worked together, where else have you been on the same team?
We worked together at a company called Qubole. I was there for five years and Ben and Nav were there for about two years. We also all did a short stint at a company called WorkFusion last year. Then in August last year — on my birthday actually — I started working at Arrikto and a few months later Ben and Nav joined. This is our little family. There are a few more people in the family that we don’t have here yet, but we’ll bring them on board one day.
And you work better as a family, as a team, right?
Yeah, my job is to make sure the team is successful and while they report to me, they really work for the customer. It’s more like I work for the team. If I’m not making sure they’re successful, the customers are unsuccessful.
What other factors do you think help you work so well as a team?
We don’t have egos and we have a desire to do a good job for our customers. We prioritize user experience and skill development, and none of that requires an ego. None of us feel like this is or isn’t our job, or this is below us, or this is your responsibility, not mine. I can trust them and I know that they have the best interests of the company and customer at heart. When they make a decision, I can hang my hat on that and back it. It has everything to do with what is the right thing for the customer.
What are you working on as a team right now?
The big thing for us right now is the Arrikto Academy, and what we’re really proud of is we’re taking a skills-based approach. I will probably sound like a broken record at a certain point, but the reason a skills-based approach is so important is that we want people to grow with our technology. We want our customers to understand how to apply our technology to evaluate technical scenarios and analyze and create potential solutions.
I think of our approach to educational tools as a bit like dating apps — they’re designed to be forgotten. So, if we do our job right, if you’ve gone through all the courses, then unless we create a new one, there’s not necessarily a reason to come back. That’s a utopic vision because, in reality, you need to reference information and you can’t remember everything. But the idea is to provide the reading, videos, and product sandboxes that enable them to do their job better.
How do you connect outside of work? Do you have shared interests and chat with each other about things other than education?
We’ve been working together for a long time and have developed great friendships amongst the three of us and our extended education family. And at Arrikto, we try to stay a bit playful.
I’m a big fan of recipe swaps. We’re from all over the world and we have different backgrounds, which makes it more interesting. Nav lives in India. I’m a New York boy born and bred, and Ben is Midwest/West Coast. I believe that there are three things that every culture shares: laughter, food, and music –and food is an easy one to connect over.
I’m also a big fan of discussing stuff in person. I’ve been to see my team in India. I haven’t been to Greece yet to see the Arrikto family, but that’s because of Covid. When you’re in the same room, you can understand each other and build up to something beyond just a working relationship.
How have you found managing a team remotely when you can’t meet in person because of the situation right now?
I’ve been working remotely for more than seven years, so when everyone else started doing it, I was like “welcome to my world.” I was in India in January 2020, so I got to meet the team right before COVID hit. I feel really lucky to have met them in person, so I could see their worlds and understand their lives better. That makes me a better manager. I got to share some laughs and food and music with them before lockdown, so it made that separation not as tough. The other people who came on board after COVID have all worked for me in the past.
Just a quick, funny story about working remotely. I have a sheep farmer friend in Ireland. They do these animal auctions where people get together and bid on sheep, cows, pigs, and other farm animals. During lockdown, they couldn’t do them in person, so they live streamed them. Cows were walking back and forward across the screen while people made their bids. It was so ridiculous.
Do you have any fun anecdotes from your time working together?
So, I was in India a couple of years ago and, for those of you that haven’t been to India, crossing the street can be a unique experience. And I’m saying that as someone from New York where we jaywalk plenty. I have a jaywalking ticket. When I was in India, they made a video of me trying to cross the street, and, unbeknown to me, they shared that video with Ben. Ben put a soundtrack to the video. Now there’s this hilarious video of me trying to cross the street.
That’s the nature of the people that I work with. We’re playful, and that’s a beautiful thing about educators. And I have no problem being the focus of the joke because it’s bringing people together. Everyone feels comfortable and can laugh together.