My Journey Into Ad Tech

Interview with Aleks Navratil, Data Scientist, Collective, Inc.

 Aleks Navratil is recent graduate who has worked in ad tech for his entire professional career. He is an avid alpine skier, and grower of excellent mustaches. He survives almost entirely on spicy Thai food and croissants. When he’s not writing code at Collective’s worldwide HQ in midtown, he can be found getting his dunk on at the 21st street basketball courts or knee-deep in literary fiction at the New York Public Library.

 1.     What did you study in school?

I was an undergraduate double major in Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and my graduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering.

2. But you’re a Data Scientist at Collective…how are those degrees related to what you do?

Computationally, the toolchains and techniques are very similar. During my graduate research, my title happened to be “mechanical engineer,” but I was doing something very close to data science. I worked in an aerospace technology lab, researching things like the friction and wear of aerospace materials. The computational tools used in that research turned out to be the best tools for working with large-scale data, which is what I do here. The only difference is that instead of an aerospace application, it’s advertising. The mathematics doesn’t know what it’s being applied to. It’s the same whether we’re counting ad impressions or turbojet compressor revolutions.

 3. What was your original plan for your career?

Throughout school I had a lot of internships and worked on projects for widely different industries, but I still didn’t have a set plan for my future. I figured the best thing to do was to talk to a lot of smart people who were excited about what they did, and who were having a good time while doing it. I wanted to be where they were. And the more I spoke with people, the more I realized I was actually a Computational Scientist, not a Mechanical Engineer.

 4. What made you want to get into Advertising?

Basic research is a long-cycle business, and I’m better suited by temperament for applied work, perhaps development instead of research. Had I stuck with University research, my work wouldn’t have come to fruition for 20-30 years. I knew that in advertising, my work would affect the business in real time. And for someone who has spent most of his life tinkering with machines, it’s a refreshing change to participate in our cultural narrative. Advertising is everywhere and shapes our lives in so many ways; it’s been very interesting to see that process from the inside.

 5. What made you join Collective?

Collective was recruiting on campus, and they invited me to come in, meet the team, and see what their technology and culture were like. It was a great experience from square one. I realized pretty quickly that the tech org was filled with smart people who had rigorous technical backgrounds. People were (and are!)  very excited about their work and about delivering real results. It had the laid-back, fun culture I was looking for. I could tell they would provide me with the computational and intellectual support I’d need to be successful. But the thing that sold me the most was actually more philosophical than technical. Collective’s tech org had a very particular design code. There was a sense of craftsmanship that pervaded the systems they’d built. They paid close attention to detail to ensure balance and simplicity in their design. It’s a real pleasure to work in an environment where everyone walks in the door knowing there’s as much art as there is science in any design problem.

 6. What advice do you have for students looking to join Collective?

The most important thing is to be able to view the current state of your project, as a starting point for a process of improvement. You should come with a positive outlook and be results oriented. Always work to increase your productivity. Most problems don’t come neatly packaged so you’ll need to be relentlessly resourceful to work through them. Be comfortable with creative control of your work as there’s no Big Brother managing everything you do. And be ready to have fun! We work diligently but enjoy ourselves while doing it.

Interested in learning more?

Check out more information about Collective  and Alex Navratil.