From Chief Technical Officer (CTO) to software programmer, CTO Austen Duffy takes on multiple roles at Citilabs. Duffy, who started with the company from 2011 to 2014 and returned in early January 2018, has been an integral part of our company’s growth these last 10 years. Take a read below to learn more about how his role has evolved since starting at Citilabs and how he believes the company will advance technology-wise in the next decade.
Citilabs (C): Can you tell me a little bit about how you started at Citilabs?
Austen Duffy (AD): I started working at Citilabs fresh out of getting my PhD in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Florida State University back in 2011. I think I had my interview maybe two days after I defended my dissertation. At the time, they were looking for a computational mathematician and that is what I had just gotten my PhD in. I thought it was spam at first because it is not a common job you would find in Tallahassee. I started working part-time while I finished out the semester before graduation. In that time, I built the prototype for what would eventually become Analyst Drive and they offered me the full-time position.
C: What has been your biggest success story since you started at Citilabs?
AD: Building Cube Analyst Drive. In many senses, this has been the biggest software accomplishment we’ve had since I started with Citilabs as it is a key component of what made Streetlytics possible. When I first built it, they didn’t believe it was actually doing anything because it ran so fast. At the time we were working with Transport for London on cutting down the original Cube Analyst run times in their LTS model which could take on the order of days; the new program could do it in minutes. After a lot of validation of the results, people finally believed me.
C: In your own words, what do you think success means?
AD: Success comes in many ways, but I would say hard work is probably the most important. You’ve got to keep up with things. You can’t just assume you are correct all the time, you must be willing to look at different solutions. Staying up-to-date with how technology is evolving is vital, especially when building software. And keeping an eye on what’s coming up down the road in order to remain successful is imperative.
C: Can you tell me a little bit more about your role at Citilabs since you returned in 2018?
AD: Since my return in early 2018, I am now the Chief Technical Officer (CTO), so I deal with a lot more of the day-to-day operations of the company from hiring of employees to overseeing various parts of the company to document preparation and more. I work closely with Charles McClendon who does a great job leading our engineering staff. We spend a lot of time working out problems and sort of formulating our ideas for moving our software products forward.
Since we are a small company, I still maintain my Computational Mathematician role as well. I have my own pieces of software that I develop and maintain (e.g. Analyst Drive), and on the R&D front I am currently working on formulating and prototyping our next gen assignment software.
C: How have you had to adapt in your role to be successful at Citilabs?
AD: I’d say a big part of my job is learning how to deal with a lot of intelligent people with differing opinions and diverse personalities. I think of it like this - you’re all trying to get to the same place, but people have different ideas about how you should go about getting there. You must learn how to adapt and handle different dispositions to achieve those common goals. Maintaining an open mind and trusting the people that you are working with is also key.
C: How has the company remained successful on a global spectrum?
AD: Well, we have a very strong global team when it comes to our technical, sales, and support staff. These guys are traveling all the time making sure that they get face-to-face time with clients and ensuring that users are pleased and successful. It takes a lot of emailing and checking in.
We also have a great product. There are plenty of transportation modeling software companies out there, but I think one quality that separates Citilabs is that our product is unique in that we’ve gotten all our modeling products under one roof if you will. We’ve been around for a while. People know us. We are reliable. Our software and our staff are consistent (both globally and in the United States) and our customers know what to expect from us.
C: Let’s talk about how Citilabs has grown tech-wise in the last 10 years. Any major advancements users should be aware of?
AD: Current and future users are going to be seeing a lot of advancements soon, especially with Cube 7. If you look at Cube 7 now compared to Cube 6, it’s a night and day technological leap in comparison.
Everything is going to be new in Cube 7, better graphics and a cleaner interface. I’m personally very excited to see this all come to light in 2020. New software updates are a major undertaking and we’re trying to get it out to our customers as quickly as we can.
C: And what makes our solutions so unique?
AD: A lot of the other transportation modeling software products put limits on what you can do, everything is a black box and a lot of sophisticated modelers don’t like that. We allow our customers to do very robust things. Our scripting language in Cube Voyager allows customers to have free control over their models, so if a user wants to, for example, test some newly proposed link cost functions or something similar in their model, then they can just script it up and run it which is not something you can do in a lot of other products.
C: Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish in the next year five years at Citilabs?
AD: One thing I think we will improve on in the next five years is speed of our computational software. In a few years all our computational software will run extremely fast and our clients will be spending a lot less money on their server hardware.