The importance of keeping current: A conversation with Webtrends Optimize’s Sandeep Shah

Hi Sandeep, thanks for chatting today! Could you introduce yourself, where you work, and where you are from?

Sandeep Shah: I work at Webtrends Optimize, one of the original AB Testing & Personalisation platforms, as a board-appointed Director of Product and Presales. I started almost 10 years ago in 2012, and now basically guide the team on what to build, why, and how to explain it to potential customers. I’m Gujarati/Indian, but born and bred as a Londoner, having lived here my whole life.

Tell us a bit about your career path and how you got to where you are today.

I almost stumbled into the industry, being headhunted by a recruiter fresh out of university for a job at a company I’d never heard of, to be a Web Developer at Webtrends building experiments.

Over the next few years, I took on all leadership roles and any opportunity I could find – training new developers, then clients, managing various teams, working with sales, running the product, and am now responsible for all product development and technical activity within the company, as well as being a more public face to who we are and what we do as a business via. social media posts, webinars, events, etc.

Today, I’ve got the company to a state of being more of a “tech company” than a martech vendor – the team often builds niche things that solve real problems for customers, and that’s come from spending considerable time studying modern cloud platforms.

As someone from London, what is the Experimentation community like there?

Pre-pandemic, the scene was quite interesting. Both in terms of events that were run, such as CRAP talks, and the volume of jobs available. As one of the biggest tech hubs in Europe, there are a lot of very large companies in London, and so plenty of roles both then and now.

It feels like we’re getting back to that place now after a couple years of downtime, with one big event in the bank last year and another large one in April. Hopefully not too long before we start to see each other more regularly, and share experiences in person. 

I thankfully also manage to stay in touch with a group we call “the optimizers”, who are all former colleagues from the experimentation world, and we regularly “talk shop” on whatsapp and meet in person. These things help to provide some perspective on problems too, with people you trust and have known for many years.

Nice! What events and people do you recommend people check out in London?

The next big one is Experimentation Elite, and I’m sure many others will follow as the rules loosen-up in the UK and people gain confidence in the ability to gather again.

So, the word on the street is that you’ve been named CRO Memes’ Funniest CRO of the Year. How does that feel and what will you do now with your newfound fame? lol

Best award ever. I think the next step is to 3-D print the crown they photoshopped onto my picture, so I can wear it in real-life.

Photo of Sandeep wearing a crown
We think Sandeep looks great with a crown.
The world of Experimentation and Personalization is constantly evolving. What’s the importance of keeping current and how do you figure out what features your teams have to build?

Good question. Primarily, being embedded in as many conversations as possible helps here. Sales pitches, talking to existing customers, talking to our team, supporting our agency partners – everything. Sometimes I’ll hear something in a meeting, and start building or fixing it on the train ride back home.

Some of it also comes down to having a good grasp on technology – small R&D projects help with this – so that I can guide the team on what’s even possible, or feasible with the resources we have. Without that base of knowledge, it would be very difficult to stay ahead of the curve. For example, we’ve built a Website Search / Merchandising tool, Social Proofing, various Recommendation Engines, etc., all through this stream of R&D and “I wonder if that’s possible” conversations.

Beyond that, I absorb a lot of content on platforms like Linkedin and Twitter (probably too much!), but this really helps you find people who very vocally are looking for something different or better, or are just questioning something which you may have the answers to.

We’re not often looking for marginal improvements in the product, like helping take 5 seconds off the time to build a test, so these more extreme ideas are usually the ones that come to the forefront although we do smaller bits every now and again too.

“We’re not often looking for marginal improvements in the product, like helping take 5 seconds off the time to build a test, so these more extreme ideas are usually the ones that come to the forefront although we do smaller bits every now and again too.” – Sandeep Shah

Speaking of keeping current. What are the major Experimentation tool trends that you’ve seen recently?

There’s been a huge push to Server-Side Testing (sometimes called Full-Stack), often as a result of either struggling with Single Page Apps or onsite performance (e.g. Flickering, Core Web Vitals, etc.).

Delivering more personal experiences has been on the forefront for many years, but it still continues today. Customers are doing it better, with more research, trying to align data better (integrating tools together), and thinking more broadly about where to personalise and how to do it.

Beyond that, the biggest shift we’ve seen is Digital Transformation – as customers become more accustomed to asking us what’s possible, we realise there are huge “business problems” we can build technology to solve.

Do you folks use your own product to optimize itself? I’ve always wondered.

We do, but perhaps not quiet in the traditional way. We’re trying to deliver large-scale change, having released a branch new UI about 3 years ago, so we don’t test copy, layouts, buttons etc.

We use Optimize to deliver campaigns on login pages, working out how to guide users better in the app, and then experiment on the infrastructure side to guide what works best for our users. Does server-size impact speed, does code X work better than Y, etc.

Let’s change gears. It’s time for the Lightning Round! Describe yourself in 5 words or less.

Direct, patient, capable, willing.

Frequentist or Bayesian?

Both tell you something important. Scientists make judgements based on data – more is better.

If you couldn’t work in Experimentation, what would you be doing today?

Probably a rapper, or a failing standup comedian.

What do you have going on that you feel our audience should know about?

Personally – the Sunny Chicken podcast will be hitting the airwaves soon (I’m “Sunny”, a mate is “Chicken”), with cool stuff to follow under that banner.

Work – our next gen of Reporting went live last week. We’ll be bombarding socials about it soon – it’s awesome.

Let us know when the podcast is up, and we’ll definitely share it with our audience! Finally, who should we interview next?

Founders. I’d love to hear more about the challenges they face, and the crazy things they’ve had to do to eventually be successful. Or Jonny Longden and David Mannheim – could listen to them all day!

So could we! Founders, I love it. We’ll see what we can do!

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