From Privacy Theory to Identity Practice: Hossein Faghihi, Lead Encryption Engineer

Find out about Hossein’s path from PhD to a crucial place on our data team.

May 25, 2023
Our MediaWallah Careers Q&A offers one-on-ones talking MediaWallah, career paths, and life beyond work with MediaWallah teammates. Today’s guest: Hossein Faghihi, Lead Encryption Engineer.
What’s your role at MediaWallah, and what do you do in the day-to-day?

As Lead Encryption Engineer, my role is to work on an array of Data Science projects, and to maintain MediaWallah’s underlying code for MediaWallah’s data clean room and encryption capabilities – including in our core Snowflake and AWS instances – to maximize these projects’ performance and output.

Before recently moving to MediaWallah full-time, you split your time between completing a PhD and working for MediaWallah part-time. Can you talk a bit about that journey?

I started in February 2022 as a PhD intern, focused on implementing a Private Set Intersection (PSI) protocol for the company. In a PSI protocol, two or more parties want to find the intersection between their datasets without revealing anything about their private inputs beyond the intersection. A PSI protocol uses cryptography techniques to achieve this goal.

The PSI project was an opportunity for me to use my knowledge in Cryptography and Secure Multi-Party Computations in practice in real products – especially MediaWallah’s clean room capabilities. 

Has working at MediaWallah helped make you a more well-rounded computer scientist?

Absolutely. Working at MediaWallah, I was able to bring the theoretical approaches I was working with and apply them to industry. Working on real-world projects was a great way to look at different aspects of designing and implementing a product. At the same time, I was able to dive into technologies and tools that are used in industry, all while gaining exposure to adjacent fields like Machine Learning. 

And it’s not just about the programming – the people have been a great way to learn too. I’ve developed new skills by interacting with knowledgeable colleagues from different backgrounds and working with them on projects that I did not have much experience with prior.

What’s a new development (doesn’t need to be tied to MediaWallah) in data, computer science, tech, or marketing that you’re excited about? Why is this cool?

This might be a bit technical, but seeing that some of the theoretical results in Computer Science and Cryptography are becoming practical is very exciting for me. For example, Secure Multi-Party Computation Protocols and Zero-knowledge proof protocols can help with privacy preserving computations without a trusted party or secure hardware for large-scale data. These are areas that started as completely theoretical and are being applied now in the real world.

What are some things that excite you most about working for MediaWallah? 

First and foremost: the coworkers. From my experience, everyone is dedicated to tasks assigned to them and when you are working on the same task with someone else, you can easily communicate and share ideas and comments. Also, everyone is very positive, and you can hear good news in the weekly meetings.

Another good feature about MediaWallah is the option of working remotely. It helped me a lot when I was doing my PhD at the University of Rochester. I could easily have access to my university’s resources after I was done with my day at work.

What advice would you give to someone looking to advance their data science career?

I’d recommend three things:

  • Practice and keep learning. Data Science is a rapidly evolving domain. Staying up to date with the new techniques and tools can help significantly with improving necessary skills. 
  • Develop your own approach to learning – gaining experience and insight into how to study and process data can be crucial to navigating the complexity. 
  • Collaboration is very important for professional growth in this field. Of course I learned a tremendous amount through coursework and developing my PhD thesis, but at the same time the learnings I gained from working with colleagues has been game-changing.

What’s something people might not know about you?

Usually, people are surprised when they learn that I made two big changes a few years back. I switched to Computer Science after obtaining my M.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering. My M.Sc. research and my interest was in Cryptography, and I realized that I can learn more Encryption-related concepts in Computer Science. And on the hobby front, I switched my main sport I play in the off hours: from soccer to volleyball mostly because my friends here were playing volleyball more often. ◆


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