In our new open-source section, we will be talking with CTOs or VPs of R&D, who will tell us a little bit about themselves, the path they took to get to the position, share professional tips and answer both professional and silly questions. And this week, our guest is Ido Gonen, CTO of the Israeli startup Exodigo. So, let's get started.
Hi Ido. First off, we’d love to hear about your life and the career path you’ve taken up until Exodigo.
“Like all of Exodigo’s founders, I also grew up in Israel’s periphery. I’m from Kiryat Motzkin, Yogev Shifman is from Yokneam, and Jeremy Suard is from Ashdod. I was recognized as a gifted student while in elementary school, and once a week I would go to a gifted program instead of my regular school. At the end of that year, however, I decided not to continue with that program. For high school, I went to Ort Motzkin, where I completed physics and computers with honours. In the IDF, I served in the Psagot Atuda Program (an elite academic program for promising students set to train them for core R&D positions in the IDF) at the Technion together with Yogev Shifman, the CPO of our company. We did a bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering, as well as all the courses needed for a master’s degree in computer science— all in four years. We had to maintain a Grade Point Average of 85 or higher to stay in the program.
Since I excelled in my studies, the Psagot program postponed my military service for another year so I could complete the Master’s degree in Computer Science, including research, which consisted of a thesis paper on Distributed Systems Security. When I returned to the IDF at the age of 23, I immediately began training at the officer’s school, following which I was assigned to the Software R&D Department of Unit 81. I participated in a project that won the Israel Defense Prize. This was a really meaningful time, so much so that to this day it still means a lot to me. After serving in Unit 81 for three years, there was some organizational restructuring, and my department was transferred to Unit 8200, where I served for an additional four years, during which time I had the privilege of leading two R&D teams in some of the largest and most complex projects ever taken on by Israeli intelligence agencies. I also had the honour of participating in the Edim Bamadim Program (Witnesses in Uniform– a program in which army officers travel to Poland for Holocaust remembrance), which was incredibly touching, since I am a third-generation Holocaust survivor.
During the last six months of my time with 8200, I led R&D teams, and their respective team leads to optimize R&D processes, which essentially cut down the amount of time needed to produce higher-quality products. I was nominated as the 8200 Candidate for the IDF Chief of Staff Technology Award, as were my partners in the startup. Jeremy actually won the award, and that’s why we decided that he should be the CEO. I’m just joking– we actually took the process of deciding who should hold what position very seriously. We looked at our strengths and analyzed which position each of us could best contribute to the company. When I finished my IDF service, with the rank of major, we all gathered together in Jeremy’s garage on January 1st, 2021, and started the ideation process full-time. For years, the three of us had been talking about starting a company together – we even made sure to coordinate when we would all be released from the IDF.”
Tell us a little bit about the product you're developing at Exodigo and the technology behind it.
“Exodigo is developing a non-intrusive subsurface mapping software. Our product is a revolutionary imaging platform that provides a digital geolocated 3D map of what’s happening beneath our feet without even having to come in contact with the ground. We’ve made this possible by fusing information from a large variety of sensors. The first market we are tackling is underground utilities since this is a serious challenge all over the world. Contractors are constantly hitting unexpected utilities under the ground where they're working, which leads to major damages and project delays. The cost of underground accidents was estimated by CGA to be about $30 billion a year in the U.S. alone. Exodigo’s first non-intrusive subsurface product was released earlier this year in the U.S., and so far, we’ve had great results.
The technology that Exodigo is currently developing for other markets is a non-invasive subsurface mapping software that can determine soil composition for the construction and mineral exploration industries. How do we accomplish this? First, we purchase commercial sensors to analyze all the physical properties of the underground area, like electromagnetics, magnetics, ground-penetrating radars, and seismic activity, to name a few. We integrate all of this data into a straightforward product that is easy to operate out in the field. Our product can be attached to a cart and used on the ground or mounted on a drone to be used in the air.
Operations personnel scan the ground, and then the information is uploaded to the cloud. Once in the cloud, a series of classic signal processing algorithms, in combination with artificial intelligence, carry out the decoding and provide the answer to the question of what is the location of the underground utilities that lie in the scanned area. This data is provided to the client in the form of a map that displays all of the underground infrastructures, and interfaces with the platforms that the client is using, such as ArcGIS.”
Tell me about Exodigo’s development culture and work method.
“Since we were so successful in using this method when I was in the IDF, I decided right from the start to integrate the Scrum software development methodology into our company, which is a particular type of an Agile development process. This is the main method used in R&D - and not just for software teams. We love using all the Scrum methodologies and love the Sprint Planning, Sprint Retrospective, Daily, Spirit Demo and more. During the demo, the R&D teams present the new tech or product results, highlighting any technological innovations or additions.
The cycles between the product development and the technology teams are very short, and our employees who oversee product management work closely with the R&D teams in a loop that is always being updated with new information– that’s how the Scrum process works. This leads to improved results and a more effective working style. Moreover, our product operations people out in the field using our products are also included in this loop, and they are constantly coming back with feedback and suggestions for how to improve our products.
We have lots of varied R&D teams that are working in several different technological fields – software, algorithms, mechanical and hardware engineering.”
What interesting and significant breakthroughs or developments have you led that you are proud of?
“The first time we were on-site at a POC in the U.S., with everyone watching to see if our product would work. It worked perfectly and this was a very significant moment for me. It was a dream come true. The R&D we invested in truly can solve a very complicated problem. Currently, companies that deal with subsurface imaging rely on a business model based on selling hardware, and most of the processing is done on the edge device. This is the way things have been done up until now. Our product is based on a completely different type of technology, which is more complex to implement, but is much higher quality and brings superior results. It’s been an absolute joy watching this innovation take shape.”
What tip can you offer to young developers and engineers just starting out in their careers?
“In your first job, aim to develop your skills as much as you can, and prove your value to your company. Don’t focus on your salary because that will come faster than you think if you become good at your work.”
Is there a product you created or code you wrote – something not related to work – that you made for the betterment of society? Do you have any hobbies?
“When I do something, I give it 110% of my attention, so I don’t have much time left over for hobbies. Nevertheless, in the little spare time I do have, I love to answer questions in financial groups on Facebook. This is a field I really connect with on a personal level. I even did a certificate study in Analysis and Valuation of Companies at Bar Ilan University.”
Aliens have invaded planet Earth and destroyed the entire Stack Overflow database. What’s the first thing you do?
“Restore from a backup. Our ability to recover all our data and systems is very important to our company. I believe it’s true for Stack Overflow, too!”
What’s your favourite podcast or a book you'd like to recommend?
“I spend most of my free time reading finance blogs by people like Nick Magguilli and Ben Carlson. There are a few good Hebrew blogs too, such as Mashkia-berech and Hasolidit. Finance groups on Facebook are a new trend gaining popularity, such as Financial Ninja and Money Talks. I especially love reading articles that combine the world of data with the world of finance.”
Which songs do you like to listen to while you're coding or working?
“I love listening to the Weekend, but I have a hard time working while listening to it…”
What are your favourite gadgets?
“Wow let’s see – I have an iRobot, Dyson, Bose, an electric scooter, and a computer docking station. And I just recently bought a jump starter for my car – I think that’s really important.”
What’s the first thing you will do after your company has an exit?
“We still have a lot of work to do before we reach that long-awaited moment. I haven’t given it much thought yet.”
And one last question: tab or space bar?
“Unfortunately, tab, since I’ve been told that space bar is more 'lit'.”