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Welcome Q&A with Ryan Prichard, Knewton CTO

Posted in Knerds on August 13, 2012 by



Ryan and his family

Knewton recently welcomed Ryan Prichard as our new Chief Technology Officer (CTO). We’re really excited to have Ryan on the team, and thought we’d throw him a few “get to know you” questions before he got too settled in.

Where are you from?

I’m originally from the Jersey Shore. That’s right, I belong to the “we don’t pump our gas, we pump our fists” crew and I couldn’t be more proud.

Where did you go to school?

I was recruited to play soccer for Carnegie Mellon University my senior year in high school. I hadn’t heard of CMU but both my parents strongly urged me to look into it since they knew I wanted to go into engineering (I’m still thanking them to this day).

I visited the campus during Carnival weekend, had a blast, and knew that this was the place for me. My freshman year, I was amazed at what the other kids in my dorm were able to do with a computer. I was turned on immediately to programming and hacking. I spent the next four years learning about software development and majored in Information and Decision Systems with a minor in Computer Science. During my time at CMU I also played soccer, volleyball… and cheerleading, yup, cheerleading.

Can you talk a little bit about how you began your career and how it evolved through the years?

I interned for a startup in Silicon Valley my senior year of college and connected with a Director at Agilent Technologies (formerly Hewlett-Packard) before I left. They offered me a job as a software engineer and I started right after my last semester at CMU.

I spent six years developing device drivers for Agilent’s V4x00 family of flash memory testers along with compilers/visual debuggers for their custom ASICs. During this time, I attended numerous advanced computer science courses at Stanford and ultimately received my master’s degree in software engineering from CMU’s West Coast campus.

Six months prior to graduating, my wife moved back to the east coast to start a Ph.D. program in Baltimore, so I moved to be with her. I began working for a company called BillMeLater in Timonium, MD. I was one of about seven engineers working on various aspects of their system (credit decision engine, self service web site, customer service websites, etc.).

Soon after I started, I got into management (something I always knew I wanted to do) and began running the development of BillMeLater’s enterprise services platform (the SOA layer that powered all of their customer facing applications). In 2008, BML was purchased by PayPal and from there I started to manage more of the PayPal core development within the Payments and Credit organization. Working at BillMeLater/PayPal was an amazing experience, not only because of the great people I had the opportunity to work with, but because I learned how to manage highly performant systems that were engineered by people all over the world.

How do you see your experience at PayPal informing your work at Knewton?

Building and managing PayPal’s engine (a 24×7 financial system with over 110 million customers) requires focus on software quality, discipline around process, constant attention to performance as the user base grows, designing modular systems that enable modifications without requiring a system wide outage, and most importantly building a scalable organization.

Our goal at Knewton is to build an adaptive learning platform that every online course in the world will use. In order to achieve that goal, we’ll have to approach our system in much the same way. We need to go beyond cutting-edge technology and create software in a way that’s never been thought of before. I love challenges like that.

What attracted you to Knewton?

Wow, where do I begin?  To name just a few:

  • The people that work here ― every group here has extremely talented individuals.
  • The ambitious goal that the company has set us out to achieve. I have two young children (and one the way), and would love nothing more than to positively contribute to their educational experience.
  • The atmosphere. Anyone who walks into our office immediately feels the passion that everyone has to change the world of education forever. Combine that with an amazing culture and you have a pretty awesome place to work.
  • The kegerator in the kitchen… it’s just awesome.

Any hobbies?

My main hobby is playing with my kids (Hudson is 4 ½ and Hadley is 2 ½) during my free time. When I’m not doing that, I’m playing golf (preferably with Hudson) and watching Steeler games with the whole family (as well as the rest of Steeler Nation… here we go Steelers, here we go! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. :) )

Favorite book, TV series, and movie?

Everyone who knows me knows my favorite movie is Fight Club. I think I’ve seen that movie over 50 times. Favorite book is “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, although I’ve been reading “I’m a Shark” a lot with Hudson so that would be a close second. :) My favorite TV series at this time would have to be American Horror Story.

Any other startups you’re rooting for?

Taxi Magic. They’ve got a great product and great people working there.

Have more questions for Ryan? Find him on Twitter @prichcmu.