CTOs to Know: Meet Civitas Learning's Alex Victoria

by Kelly O'Halloran
September 13, 2016

Civitas Learning joined the Austin edtech scene in 2011, developing a cloud-based data analytics predictive platform that provides insight to educational leaders from student data. Years before Civitas launched, however, their now CTO, Alex Victoria, entered the Austin tech community in 1998 with a senior consultant engineer role at Trilogy until 2006, then nine years at HomeAway as their global VP for platform engineering. 

Victoria shared with us the key technologies behind Civitas and what his experience has been in moving from Pittsburgh to Austin nearly 20 years ago. 

What technologies power your business?

We use several that can be broken down into two components. The first is our data pipeline, which digests data from institutions, taking data from different systems into one workflow.  Then we predict student outcomes and scenarios, which a majority of the time is on Python and SQL. A lot of our data science tools are written in R and Amazon Redshift.

We also use a technology called Spark for data science. Based on data science we’ve done, we can run predictions and prescriptive analytics on whether or not students are at risk of not being successful, or why they are successful and why. Then we look for similar students to help predict platform data. 

What technologies are playing the biggest roles at your company this year?

Same as above plus Node.js. 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

Currently, we're in the cycle of planning. Most of our tech projects are centered on new features like adding capabilities to the Success Platform that will enable the predictive analytics to help students. One area that we are interested in is a direct-to-student platform, to get the information directly in front of students themselves.  

What are the biggest technology challenges you’ve faced in the past? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenges I've had previously was when I worked at HomeAway. I ran the platform technology, and while I was there the company acquired quite a bit of data platforms. There were over 10 different platforms that had to be merged into one. Piece by piece, we brought them all together and built our own, and while doing so, we had to keep everything up and running. It took 10 years and wasn't finished when I had left, but you work with what you have!

What are lessons you’ve learned about working in Austin that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

A lot of people come to Austin because of the tech scene. People think of the 90s as the tech boom, but it was here long before that. The biggest thing is that it’s a tight-knit community in technology. Once you’re here you never want to leave! The networks overtime all blend in; it’s merging. Leveraging that network is probably the key thing in Austin. We developed a college recruitment program at Civitas and gave 15 offers to college students this year. All 15 accepted and that's a testament to the mission of the company that we bring smart people into our program. 

What are the top characteristics you look for in a potential hire?

For me, the biggest thing I look for, and it’s sometimes hard to find, is what we call the finishing spirit. I want finishers. I want people who are willing to power through projects and finish it, and when they tell you it’s done; it’s really done. It’s something people learn with experience. Some people have the finishing gene and some people don’t. It’s not always aligned with how fundamentally smart you are. I’m looking for intelligence, but I’m looking for that spirit of life. Awesome finishers.

How would your team describe working with you?

I think they would say that I empower them to do great work. There’s probably some people who are different than me, that know I'm not trying to solve all their problems for them, but what I am trying to do is a build a team. Set a vision, give them what they need to be successful, empower them to build it and finish it. I've been pretty lucky to work with some great teams. I'm not a machine running expert, but what I'm good at is building teams that build software. 


Photo via Civitas Learning. Some answers have been edited for clarity and length.

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