Q&A with Our New Co-CIO and CTO
In this Q&A, we catch up with Marco Argenti, who will become the firm’s Co-CIO this month, and Atte Lahtiranta, who will also join Goldman Sachs this month as Chief Technology Officer.
Marco and Atte talk about their backgrounds, their love for technology and what drew them to Goldman Sachs.
Tell us where you’re from, and where you’ve lived since?
Marco: I was born in Italy – in La Spezia to be precise – a small town in the Italian riviera right next to the better known “Cinque Terre.” I founded my own startup, Dreamware, in the '90s doing early Internet work, which ended up being acquired in 1996 by Microforum Inc., a company headquartered in Toronto, Canada, where I moved as part of the acquisition. I moved back to Italy in 2001 when I was asked to be the CEO of a mobile company called Wireless Solutions, part of Dada group, and then moved to the New York in 2008 with Nokia, and then to Seattle in 2013 with Amazon.
Atte: I am originally from Finland, and moved to California in 2006. I was working for Nokia, and we started to focus more on the US market and new opportunities. I spent some time in Boston for a few years, and the company offered to relocate me to its Silicon Valley campus. I’ve been on that journey since.
What drew you to a career in tech?
Marco: I’ve had a passion for programming since the age of 10, when finding computers to program wasn’t easy. I remember writing my first game, a lunar lander, on a TI programmable calculator. I somehow convinced an architecture studio in my hometown to let me use their Apple IIs after office hours, where I taught myself how to write more complex programs.
The idea of having computers perform human tasks at incredible speed – and freeing up people from repetitive tasks – fascinated me, because it allowed them to focus on more value-creating activities and achieve more freedom. I see technology not as a means to an end, but as an enabler for people and companies to do things that they were not able to do otherwise, and a way to pass knowledge to future generations, enabling them to move faster, be more competitive, and set bigger and bolder goals for their businesses – and their personal lives.
Atte: It started early. I was always driven by building things, and have always been an avid Lego builder. As you think of Legos, there is always things that someone else has prepared for you to build, but the most rewarding thing is when you can use your – and your friends’ or colleagues’ – innovation and create something new.
For me, technology offered opportunities to build things in ways I had never even dreamed of. I was a geek, and it’s a dream come true to be able to combine my hobby with my career.
Why the move to Goldman Sachs?
Marco: My team at AWS has helped several companies in many industry verticals go through a journey of digital transformation, embracing technology to increase the pace of innovation, reduce cost and become more competitive. I’ve always been attracted by the prospect of helping drive digital transformation from the inside. In each industry being disrupted, a leader emerges that takes a bolder approach than others, is willing to embrace transformation as the most strategic objective in their agenda, and ends up driving its entire market segment. When talking to people at Goldman, I was inspired by the bold vision and determination to transform, and was honored to be given the opportunity to be part of such a journey.
Atte: To me, the firm represents something that I call 'innovation through heritage.' Goldman Sachs has an amazing brand – and people – combined with huge market opportunity filled with multiple technical challenges. That also means an opportunity to learn. Among us techies, Goldman Sachs is an unbelievable brand, and the team I have met through this process has proven that the firm also has the incredible engineering talent needed to continue the disruption and re-innovation, to serve more clients and ultimately, win more business. At Goldman, we have world leading talent and together we can continue to excel also in the tech space.
What do you love most about your current company that you hope to bring with you?
Marco: Amazon’s mission is to be the most customer-centric company, and one of its most central leadership principles is what’s called “Customer Obsession.” It translates into several mechanisms, including the way we design products. Product design is executed via a mechanism that we call the “Working Backwards” process – working backwards from the customer’s point of view, that is.
When a product is conceived, we ask ourselves five questions: who is your customer; what’s the customer problem or opportunity; what’s the most important customer benefit; how do you know what the customer needs or wants; what does the experience look like. Then we write a one page “Press Release” containing customer quotes that show how the product would be seen by customers if we were launching it that day, and a long series of FAQs, including customer FAQs and stakeholder FAQs – and hard questions that we refer to as 'rude FAQs.'
This set of FAQs is constantly refined to reflect our lessons learned and the questions we want each team to ask themselves on behalf of the customer. My team has launched over a dozen brand new services and hundreds of features over the six years I was at Amazon, and in each case we went through the Working Backwards process, as every other team does at Amazon, and obsessed over each word in the document until we had a crisp mental model of what we wanted to build, and why. This has been an incredible mechanism to ensure the entire team has a clear vision – and ultimately has a higher chance of building better products that customers love.
Atte: Technical excellence. I always follow a few principles, and two examples are 'you get what you measure' and 'customer first.' The first is very important as when you agree with all stakeholders on the right metrics, the results are most likely aligned with the expectations. And thinking customer first allows you to solve problems with a rule – and when that rule is applied often enough, it helps the business.
Verizon is a true software company with global scale. Touching close to a billion users every month taught me to think consumer first with a scale mindset and make sure our technologists—we called them builders—had the best tools available to them. In engineering, there are lots of requirements for excellence, like code reviews, automation, trust and safety, as well as the removal of unwanted duplication. The engineering culture must be there to support solving these and many other similar problems.
What technology are you most excited about right now?
Marco: It’s easy to get excited about artificial intelligence given all the hype around it. But looking past the hype and into real applications, one soon realizes how AI is impacting businesses and people in a meaningful way. I’m particularly fascinated by how AI can help make deep expertise scalable.
For example, Fender used to employ—and still does—experts to align wood for creating the body of guitars so that the paint would not crack under different temperatures, operating extremely complex and expensive mechanical equipment. With a combination of computer vision and a trained AI model, they were able to achieve better results with a $10 camera, commodity hardware and a cloud service. Or a large car manufacturer used to require deep expertise to operate large presses optimally, to transform sheet metal into a car door, for example. Experts can look at and optimize 10-15 parameters at a time. But when assisted by an AI, they can look at hundreds of parameters that can influence the outcome of a job, and end up operating with a much higher accuracy, while getting results faster.
Specialized AIs are revolutionizing security, fraud detection and process optimization, and reducing repetitive tasks, making more accurate predictions. The line between practitioners and data science is blurring. The democratization of AI from the domain of the few to mainstream technology available to any business in different consumable forms is one of the big disruptors that we are witnessing, and, if managed wisely, can create unprecedented business opportunities for companies and benefit for people.
Atte: Sounds like a cliché, but data driven architectures, such as machine learning, are really disrupting not only how software systems operate but also how we actually build software and distributed systems. Machine learning (ML) will impact everything we do.
Just a couple of examples are security and trust where ML algorithms and automation allow us to better detect, defend and mitigate against various threats and do it at scale where human monitoring would not be possible. Another is operations where correlations between systems, root causes and impacts is not always so clear and by combining lots of logs and insights together, we can truly build more robust and scalable systems.
You’ve grown up and worked across different geographies. Any lessons learned?
Marco: Great talent is a global phenomenon, and some of the smartest and high performing teams can be found and formed in many parts of the world. Often remote teams carry the risk of becoming isolated and I’ve noticed over the years that there are common patterns that characterize remote teams. One is culture: having strong leaders in place that can transmit and preserve the company’s culture and ensure that global groups share the identity of the company as a whole. Another is focus and identity. The most successful remote teams, in my experience, are those who have a focus and feel ownership of a particular product or service, and feel proud of it.
To the engineers outside the US, I say: try to build bridges with the rest of the firm – get involved with global initiatives, and at the same time focus on what makes your team unique. Seek opportunities to have an experience in a different country, to then bring back the learnings and help establish a culture and sense of identity.
Atte: Innovation lives everywhere. Most companies have a global audience and customer base, thus there is no ’single location’ you must be in to have an impact. Diversity in all levels, including geographic location, helps to build better products and serve customers better. And this is the key for impact.
How do you spend your weekends?
Marco: I have a 15-year-old daughter that I love spending time with, when she lets me. I am a classical music fanatic, and recently joined the Seattle Symphony Orchestra as a board member. I am the lead guitarist of a band called Element47, which I founded about 4 years ago – having played guitar for most of my adult life. Element47 is a hobby, but also a vehicle to help a cause that’s dear to me, having lost one of my best friends and bandmates two years ago from pancreatic cancer. My band donates proceeds from shows to pancreatic cancer research.
I am an avid runner, having run 5 marathons and several half marathons, and as much as I can, I try to keep to my routine of running a 5K every other day and a 10K every weekend. Running helps me stay healthy, clear my mind and I often get my best ideas while running.
Atte: I am a true geek and I really spend lots of time learning more about different technologies and systems. But I also love nature and my favorite free time activity is hiking and camping – with family and friends.
In general, I am also a metal head and love all sorts of metal music. Rammstein’s Du Hast is one of my theme songs, it’s interesting as it has dual meaning and the first reaction when listening to it may not always be the correct one.