“Identify the problem you are looking to solve”

  • Identify the problem you are looking to solve.How are other technologies missing the mark?How will your technology solution simplify it for the consumers?How will it impact people and/or communities?Are there negatives or harm that your solution may impose?

  • In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajib Ahmed.

    Rajib Ahmed is the CTO of Meetup located in NYC with a global team. He is a technology leader with over 16+ years of experience in industries including automotive, eCommerce, government, health, media, and software. He loves to code, read technology books and articles, and is a mobile app first advocate.

    Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

    My family is originally from Bangladesh, and we grew up in Brooklyn, NY. We grew up in the neighborhood called Kensington which was a very diverse community. This really helped me learn and respect different cultural values at a very early age. My academic background is from public schools and the CUNY system; I learned most of my technical know-how in CCNY and Queens College.

    Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

    There’s so many to pick from, but personally it would have to be when I consulted for the Human Resource Administration for NYC. I started as an intern for RFCUNY which is a fantastic program and moved into a consultant role. I realized how the lack of moving technology forward had hampered the staff from understanding and leveraging modern technology, progress in modernizing system architecture and dependency on contractors to guide them for expertise vs growing it internally. It’s something that stays with me today as we make important engineering decisions.

    None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

    The person I am most grateful for would have to be my wife, Nubyra Ahmed. After my graduation I was working two part time jobs, one at a bank as a personal finance banker, and another as an intern for programming. The banking position dealt with sales and commission and I was doing really well. I was offered a full time position with a real salary. I had to choose between full time at the bank, or pushing on the part time intern and making my career in technology. Nubyra encouraged me to think of my future aspirations versus short term benefits which ultimately shaped my career path. I am very happy with that decision and where that has taken me.

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    The one that I constantly reference is the quote by Heraclitus, “There is nothing permanent except change.” As a technology and business leader, we have to adapt with the technology that is shifting constantly. If we do not innovate and acknowledge, we will be left behind. This is also a great way to ensure you are keeping the company’s technology modern, attracting new talent, and encouraging discovery and innovation.

    You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

    The three traits that are most important for me are ambition, flexibility and honesty.

    Ambition — During my early career, I was intrigued with really understanding the non-technical side of the business. As an engineer, building software gave me great pleasure but it lacked how I was truly making a difference. A desire to help shape that drove my ambitions toward moving into management and playing a stronger, more strategic role in using technology to make a difference.

    Flexibility and Honesty are key traits that I evaluate for in peers and building teams. Being able to state things openly, candidly and the ability to acknowledge that a change is needed are fundamental to driving positive change. I’ve found this to bring better results from building small teams to larger ones.

    Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

    The biggest problem we are aiming to solve today is helping our community find a safe place to meet up with other human beings. The pandemic has heightened the need to meet and interact with others both virtually and in-person.

    How do you think your technology can address this?

    Technology helps solve this by providing tools to help meet virtually, but also to shape our Meetup event organizers in conducting hybrid and in-person events in a way that interested parties can now feel safe and informed.

    Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

    This really started when we began hybrid meetings for many of our Meetup employees. We have a global workforce, and many folks in the tri-state area close to our NYC headquarters. As we looked to start meeting in-person, there were many questions of safety, vaccinations, rules and messaging. We quickly realized that having video and online event hosting tools were not enough if we were going to shift to the “new normal.” This inspired us to take our own learnings and reshape our product to help our community.

    How do you think this might change the world?

    As a global company, we understand that each country is shifting and managing adjustments with the pandemic in different paces. There are new full pandemic lockdowns, and elsewhere, cities that are fully reopening. Still, some people who use Meetup aren’t comfortable meeting in-person while others are. We have created safe mechanisms and protocols for all to continue to attend Meetup events online, safely in-person or in a hybrid fashion.

    Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

    There are definitely some drawbacks, but our goal is to ensure Meetup shifts with the needs of our community. They are our #1 priority. We are embracing how these shifts are and aren’t happening at a global scale and we plan to continually adjust accordingly to meet their needs.

    Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

    The 5 steps towards creating technology for a positive social impact, are as follows:

    1. Identify the problem you are looking to solve.
    2. How are other technologies missing the mark?
    3. How will your technology solution simplify it for the consumers?
    4. How will it impact people and/or communities?
    5. Are there negatives or harm that your solution may impose?

    Those are fundamental items that should be included when evaluating your technology, product and ideas. We always ask those questions, and the answers help us make the right decision. As we evaluated having online events in 2020, which was a shift in our platform that had been primarily in-person events for 18 years at that time. We recognized the importance and value this would bring for our members and organizers so they could keep connected.

    If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

    It is far more rewarding than you would expect. Having a role that can shift and make a positive impact on the environment and/or society, brings a different type of joy. It’s very inspiring and brings a different type of energy that just radiates positivity.

    Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

    It would have to be former First Lady, Michelle Obama. She has made changes that impacted our society, and it’ll be great to understand where she sees technology fitting into the future of it all.

    How can our readers further follow your work online?

    I can be followed on Twitter @ItsRajibAhmed or on LinkedIn @RajibAhmed. Meetup can be followed at @Meetup across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

    Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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