Getting to Know Ashvin Kannan
October 9, 2016
LinkedIn wouldn't be the company it is today without the engineers who built it. We have no shortage of talented individuals in technical roles across the company. They are the ones who create, build, and maintain our platform, tools, and features—as well as write posts for this blog. In this series, we feature some of the people and personalities that make LinkedIn great.
Ashvin Kannan is a VP of Engineering at LinkedIn, where he leads engineering for Marketing Solutions. His team is responsible for the advertising platform and products that marketers use to engage effectively with their target audiences. The team focuses specifically on the various forms of native advertising that leverage the unique strengths of the LinkedIn economic graph.
Prior to LinkedIn, Ashvin had senior leadership roles at A9.com/Amazon, where he was the Director of Ad Tech, and at Yahoo as Senior Director of Research and head of Performance Advertising Sciences. Prior to that, he worked at Nuance on commercial applications of Speech Recognition and Natural Language Processing. Ashvin did his BS from IIT-Roorkee, and MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Boston University in the field of Speech Recognition.
What are some of the coolest projects that you and your team have been working on?
Building Sponsored Content—content marketing via relevant, sponsored, in-feed articles—from the ground up and continuously innovating on it has been an amazing experience. It is the growth driver for our business and aligned us to take advantage of industry trends in mobile and native advertising. It required us to solve a number of new technical challenges as it grew by leaps and bounds. Since its launch, this remains the fastest growing revenue product at scale in LinkedIn’s history. Sponsored Content is our flagship product and our advertisers love it. Recently, we launched Conversion Tracking for Sponsored Content, which enables advertisers to better measure and optimize the effectiveness of their campaigns.
What other projects are you involved in outside of Marketing Solutions?
As an Executive Coach for the Apprentice Manager Program (AMP), I'm helping engineers transform from successful individual contributors into successful managers. One of the things I appreciate most about LinkedIn is our culture of transformation. Talent is our number one operating priority, and we strive to give every employee the opportunity to transform themselves, the company, and the world.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate the importance and value of having great engineering managers to scale technical organizations, especially as we experience high growth and new challenges on multiple fronts in a competitive environment. In most companies, there is typically little training for engineers to transition to management positions. But we've made this a priority at LinkedIn, where AMP participants undergo training sessions on managerial topics, role-play difficult situations, and have frank and thought-provoking discussions with Executive Coaches. I often pair with Greg for these sessions. It's a privilege for me to help shape the next generation of management leaders, as well as a humbling experience to learn from them.
Compared to other places you've worked, how do you like working at LinkedIn?
I relate to the clarity and purpose of LinkedIn's mission: “To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” This is a high-energy place, where I work with people with ambitious goals and high expectations. The engineering team is top-notch, empowered to make a difference, and works with a high degree of collaboration, given our scale. We operate with a lot of transparency, with the example set from the top—our CEO runs a bi-weekly all-hands for the whole company. In my team’s all-hands, we cover topics ranging from wins to issues faced and what we plan to do about them.
What do you love most about engineering for Marketing Solutions, and what tools do you use every day at LinkedIn?
To build a successful advertising business requires a team with a diversity of interests, opinions, and expertises. I find it energizing to work in an environment where we continuously innovate and challenge ourselves to be better. We have a strong partnership between Engineering, Product, Sales, and Marketing. On the technology side, we span many disciplines—from building intuitive user interfaces for advertisers, to high-availability and high-throughput ad servers, to machine learning and optimization, to making many key decisions in milliseconds in order to show a relevant ad.
To take us to the next level, I work on being a good listener, emphasize clear communication, set high expectations, and empower people to be creative in problem solving, and I encourage my team to do the same.
What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at the office?
I take every opportunity to explore and enjoy the outdoors with my family, friends, or my son’s Boy Scout troop. My interests include walking my dog, staying ahead of my daughter’s daily Fitbit step count, taking nearby hikes and week-long backpacking trips in the Sierras, and canoeing in the pristine Northern Minnesota wilderness, to name a few.
My wife and I are big fans of the US National Parks and it’s on our bucket list to visit each of them—we’re about halfway there. Each of these has been a memorable adventure, from my first backpacking trip to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (woefully unprepared but luckily successful), to a nighttime grizzly bear scare in the Denali backcountry despite being fully prepared and trained, to having our tent almost blown away by high winds at the Joshua Tree, to staying dry in a well-pitched tent through a relentless downpour near Kenai Fjords.