Amin Shokrollahi, the founder and CEO of Kandou, is one of Switzerland’s most inspiring entrepreneurs. Kandou is a leading provider of high-speed, energy-efficient chip-to-chip link solutions to improve the way the world connects and communicates. Shokrollahi has been at the forefront of research in information communication for the last 20 years. He was Chief Scientist of Digital Fountain (now Qualcomm), a company specializing in the transmission of data on unreliable networks and inventor of Raptor codes, a class of codes standardized by 3GPP, DVB, IPTV and other standards bodies. An IEEE Fellow, he has published more than 150 papers, and has more than 150 granted and filed patents in information transmission. Shokrollahi is the co-recipient of the 2002 IEEE Information Theory Society best paper award, the co-recipient of the 2008 IEEE Eric E. Sumner award, and recipient of the 2008 joint IEEE Information Theory and Communication Theory Society best paper award. As well, he was presented with the 2014 ISSCC Jan van Vessem Award for Outstanding European Paper presented at the ISSCC. In 2012, Shokrollahi was awarded the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal. Check out our interview with him below:
What personal projects will you be working on this weekend? (Are you building anything cool? Any electronics or software projects, for example?)
I’m a problem solver and often spend weekends researching and exploring answers to mathematical problems.
What advice would you give to early-career engineers/people wanting to get into your vertical market/people wanting to start a company in the current climate/etc? (You do not need to answer each of these, please select the one you prefer to answer and delete the others.)
My advice is to go for something fascinating that fills you with joy. It will give you personal fulfillment and you will be sought after in your field of speciality.
What was your first job in the industry, do you think it shaped your career or did you learn something pivotal in that role?
My first corporate job was at Bell Labs. I had good ideas that I wanted to explore with the product team. The corporate machine got in the way and I realized I would be better off going to work for a startup. I left and became Chief Scientist at Digital Foundation that was built around my product ideas. I developed the Raptor codes, a class of fountain codes with linear time encoding and decoding and theoretical and practical improvement over LT codes, at Digital Foundation.
Google is a good example of how to leverage good ideas from clever employees. It factors in 20% of an engineer’s time to working on side projects.
What advice would you give to your younger self? OR What advice do you wish you had when you graduated?
I would tell myself to be more patient. I’ve learned to be patient and understand that things fall into place.
Who was (or is) your mentor? And, what is the best piece of advice you received from him/her?
My two uncles began teaching me the principles of mathematics when I was five and nurtured my love of math.
What personal technology could you not be without?
My monitor. I can’t be without it. It gives me access to the internet for research. I love movies and watch them on my monitor.
What book do you read over and over again? OR What book are you currently reading?
I don’t normally read books more than once. The exceptions and only recently are the works by Jules Verne. I’m now reading “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
It’s the development of the Raptor codes.
If you ask me again in 10 years, it will be Kandou because we achieved our mission to improve the way the world connects and communicates with our high-speed, energy-efficient chip-to-chip link solutions.
Who has inspired you most in your life/career?
Many different people at different stages in my life and career, including my uncles.
The one constant through my life is my mother who still lives in Iran. She is the engine. Every time I talk to her I learn something.
Have you taken up any new hobbies during the pandemic OR do you have any special hobbies?
No, though I exercised more and worked on my cooking skills. I have 15 or so Persian recipes in my repertoire that I experimented with during COVID to get more fusion flavors. I also watched movies.
Who is your favorite musician, writer, or artist?
Sting is my favorite musician. David Lynch is my favorite film maker and visual artist. My favorite movie is “Blade Runner” directed by Ridley Scott.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
The move from a purely academic and theoretical field to where I was developing technology felt like I was betraying myself and the direction toward pure mathematics laid out for me since I was five. Choosing one over the other was hard, but I couldn’t ignore the hunger and desire to bring technology to life.
What is something that would surprise people to know about you (do you have a secret talent, collect something unique, etc?)
I speak five languages: Farsi, my native language, German, English, French and Portuguese.