In The Trenches With Andy Schrader, Software Engineer At Accipiter

Today's In The Trenches subject, software engineer Andy Schrader of Accipiter, talks with MediaDailyNews about the challenges of working in a small Internet company and assuaging the privacy concerns associated with behavioral targeting.

SchraderStarting in 2000 with Engage, the advertising firm that spawned Accipiter, Schrader rose through the ranks. After Accipiter was sold by Engage in late 2002, staff was reduced, which boosted responsibilities for everyone, including Schrader. Today, less than 30 people work at Accipiter. In addition to leading several projects for Accipiter, including developing various components of its ad management products, Schrader spends a great deal of his time improving the firm's "Visitor Interest Behavioral Targeting Engine" (VIBE).

Support staff might catch a glimpse of Schrader in the mornings as he makes the rounds to determine what the day holds for him. But most times, Schrader--whose educational background is in computer science and programming--can be found working quietly in his own space, focusing his attention on the VIBE product.

What are your favorite online destinations in the a.m.? Why? I log on to the Web at home and check e-mail, hit the major news sites. I'm kind of a news junkie, so I check out CNN.com and Slashdot for tech news. I like to look at weather Web sites to find out the weather that day.

Because we're such a small company, though, everyone has the motivation to immerse themselves in things that aren't part of their job description. So I do visit industry sites. It helps me communicate with the customer a lot better.

What other sites do you visit frequently? Why? One of my favorite Web sites is The Onion.

I love the kitchen; I'm a huge cook, so I visit Cooks Illustrated a lot--it's a magazine and a TV show on PBS. It's like the Consumer Reports for cooking.

I'm also a huge sports fan, so I visit ESPN.com and other sports sites. I like college football. Also, when I have the time at lunch or on a break, I do like to listen to ESPN Radio, which you can stream over the Net.

And whenever we have disputes about movie trivia, we always jump on IMDb [The Internet Movie Database at IMDb.com].

What is the most challenging part of your job? Our size as a company. While we have to compete with our larger competitors, it causes us to work harder. But it also causes us to be creative and benefits our customers more.

What do you like best about your job; what keeps you interested? I like the creativity and problem solving....I talk to our customers directly and find out what their problems are, and then I'm able to take it and work on it directly, and not have to hand it to anybody else.

I think in other companies...you do kind of get lost in the shuffle. You talk to your customer, and then you hand your work off to someone else.

We have [account managers], but I do get brought into a lot of situations by account managers or the support guys who feel the problem needs a little more expertise from a developer.

Behavioral targeting is becoming more popular lately. Do you find that more people are interested in it? I think that when Engage started back in '98 they were on to something that [customers] couldn't get otherwise. People are excited about it now; it's kind of nice to see that good idea start to get popular.

Behavioral targeting used to be a dirty word [because of perceived privacy infringement]. Anonymity is the key. How you collect the data and how you target the data is the challenge there. You can't compromise the privacy of the users at all; otherwise you're going to face the backlash that DoubleClick and Engage faced.

What's the most divisive online policy issue right now? A lot of people still think [that with behavioral targeting] you're creating a database full of everybody's home addresses and ready to sell that information. Everybody who deals with behavioral targeting walks a fine line, but are also excited about the possibilities it brings.... It's great to see the excitement customers have about what they can do with it. It really makes this job worthwhile to find out how something you've been working on can do that.

We have to continue to speak the truth and make sure one of the first and last things we say is that we keep users information private. We [Accipiter] don't even collect that information. There's no way for it to be misused. We don't collect any information about a visitor that can violate a visitor's privacy.

MediaPost's In The Trenches profile series aims to honor the real troopers of the interactive ad industry, the up-and-coming creative staffers, the ad sales underling, the minds behind the technologies that make it all happen. Do you know someone who deserves a salute from MediaPost's In the Trenches? Let us know! Contact Kate Kaye at kate@mediapost.com.