Often, when we're young, we face the question of what we want to do when we grow up, and this choice isn't always clear for most of the people.
In my case, it was different. For as long as I can recall, I knew for a fact that I was going to become a physicist one day, and this certainty guided most of my youth.
I never really knew for sure why I had such a strong belief about my future. I guess I've always had this profound connection and fascination with numbers and harmony in everything I did. I certainly remember feeling it every day while swimming - one of my lifelong passions -, where I'd immerse myself in counting strokes, searching for a sense of order.
Before long, I discovered that I felt the same way for music. I'd lose myself for hours on end, playing Bach or Chopin on my piano. What I didn't realize at the time was that this profound connection was anything but coincidental; music, as it turns out, is yet another manifestation of the concepts of harmony found in the realm of mathematics.
Either way, my youth certainty soon turned into a reality when I moved to London to study theoretical physics at King's College. For me, that marked the beginning of a time of great personal fulfillment. I felt in the right place at the right time, learning about the beauty of our physical world, trying to understand the mysteries of the universe. I could finally see how the elegance and harmony I had always been looking for would manifest everywhere around me.
It was during those years that I also had my first introduction to the world of software. In physics, software is used to create models and run simulations of experimental scenarios. I suddenly discovered that, with software, it was possible to build flawless virtual worlds that adhere to the perfect beauty of mathematical laws.
It was around that time when something clicked for me. I realized that my true passion wasn't just about diving into the cosmos's secrets and being a physicist. It was more about creating beautiful, elegant models for describing everything around me, not limiting myself to the physical world. It was about finding order and harmony in the chaos.
This newfound realization, along with my growing love for software, naturally attracted me to the field of artificial intelligence, which was at that time starting to uncover the revolutionary potential of the recent breakthroughs in deep learning.
So, after completing my theoretical physics studies, I went on to pursue a master's degree in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence at UCL. The whole degree was a collaboration between UCL, the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, and DeepMind: three of the most prominent AI research institutions in the world. During my studies, I had the absolute privilege of learning about this vibrant research field from renowned experts, including the AlphaGo team, responsible for developing the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion, one of the key cornerstones in the history of AI.
After my studies, I applied my knowledge of machine learning in the financial industry, working at a London-based startup focused on developing advanced stock market trading strategies driven by AI models. Then, after some time, I founded ”Twenty Watts", a company focused on creating AI models capable of predicting the consumption and intake of electricity from the power grid with extremely high accuracy, a vital piece of information for energy traders and large utility companies. Incidentally, this experience also brought me to the beautiful city of Rome, which was soon to become my home.
And this brings me to Exein. I joined Exein approximately 4 years ago. Back then, the company was just getting started, and it looked nothing like what it has become today. I still remember the first time I entered the office to meet the team: a small room with only 5 people, most of them newly hired. It felt like being part of an exclusive club for technology enthusiasts and visionaries, an almost surreal experience. Each one of us had a vision of this system we wanted to create to ensure the security of connected devices. A highly complex, extremely futuristic, and possibly unrealizable system.
These were the starting foundations for Exein: zero certainties and zero reference points as no one had ever created something similar before.
Surely there was no guide or someone to draw inspiration from, but there was a lot of imagination, creativity, and, above all, freedom.
This unique, almost scary atmosphere immediately exercised its strong pull on me. I could feel that everyone in that room was sharing my same innate attraction towards being able to understand something complex, building a model for it, extrapolating meaning from an endless stream of raw events generated by an embedded device somewhere on the other side of the world. Within a few minutes I had no doubts that was the right place for me, and I decided to join this mysterious club of nerds as Head of Machine Learning. Over time, my position evolved, ultimately making me the CTO, responsible for leading the technical development of the company.
What I appreciate the most about Exein today is the preserved pioneering spirit that has endured over time. At Exein, creativity and entrepreneurial mindset are highly valued. People here are not constrained by predetermined patterns or strict orders from above; instead, we value ideas and commitment to the company.
From a technical perspective, this translates in a unique approach. None of us is allowed to believe they are the expert in every topic we confront ourselves with on a daily basis. Instead, we highlight and trust each team member's unique experience. Everyone is encouraged to actively contribute in areas where they have the most expertise. This creates an open environment where all ideas are discussed.
Regarding my role, it is one of responsibility, and I have always carried it with a sense of pride. My role involves making strategic decisions and communicating with investors and customers, often acting as a bridge between the company and its external stakeholders.
Being a Chief Technology Officer isn't for everyone, as it demands significant sacrifices and discipline. I think that all engineers find their drive in actually building things, whether it's temples, bridges, or software. There's always this irresistible desire to create tangible, hands-on work.
However, this is a temptation that a good CTO, in my opinion, needs to be able to hold back. In my daily job, I often find that it is much more valuable in the long term to take a step back, to stop coding and to start thinking about the technology we are building and how it relates to our customer problems, to the market needs and to the overall business.
For those aspiring to pursue this career, I recommend becoming familiar in small steps with the challenges associated with it. This can be achieved in various ways, such as proactively taking on increasing responsibilities within your company, working on strategic planning, practicing team leadership and staying up to date with technology trends. Public speaking is also an often overlooked, yet crucial skill that should be regularly practiced.
However, above all, it is important to have a genuine passion for whatever it is that you are building. Passion is the only way to stay focused and motivated all the time, through all the highs and the lows, and is the key ingredient that allows you to prioritize your project’s future over the irresistible urge for building.