CTO Sessions: Hisham El-Halabi, Auctify

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? “The CTO has the responsibility of combining their technological expertise and understanding of product development with their involvement in the business decisions and goals of the company.”


Name: Hisham El-Halabi

Company: Auctify

Job title: Co-Founder & CTO

Date started current role: August 2019

Location: Toronto, Canada

Hisham El-Halabi is the Co-Founder & CTO at Auctify. El-Halabi is an entrepreneur and experienced engineer across multiple industries. Prior to Auctify, El-Halabi held engineering positions at Huawei and RB&W Manufacturing. Previous experience includes designing machine learning models that generate individualised workout programs, satellite design, and autonomous robot design, with specialised skill sets in machine learning, mechanical, and computer engineering. El-Halabi majored in Biomedical Engineering in the Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto.

What was your first job? I was the youth coordinator at the Arabic Cultural Club of Ontario, where I organised fun events and fitness classes to bring together the youth community and expose them to Arabic culture.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I’ve always been fascinated by technology and took every opportunity to learn more about it so I could apply it to my own projects as I grew up.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? My major was Biomedical Engineering in the Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto, but I also took several extra courses in robotics, machine learning and business. I am also a certified personal trainer, since fitness is another passion of mine and I wanted to help others achieve their athletic goals and stay in good health.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My career in engineering started as I explored a variety of different fields, I’ve worked as a mechanical engineer at a manufacturing company called RB&W, I’ve worked as a computer vision engineer at Huawei, and I’ve even worked on the design and assembly of a satellite to be launched by the Aerospace team at the University of Toronto. My broad range of experience gave me a lot of the skills I needed to work on and integrate the different areas of development for Auctify.

What type of CTO are you? I’m the kind of CTO that loves talking to users and early adopters to get a better understanding of the problems they’re facing and what they would want our product to help them with most. This way I can be sure the technology we’re developing is what users actually need, and design around the constraints that matter the most to them.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? As a biomedical engineer, I’m most interested in tech that improves people’s quality of life, health and personal development. More specifically, I’m excited to see the development of robotic prosthetics and wearable technology.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Any technologies that are not designed to solve specific problems are overhyped in my opinion. For example, the inclusion of AR technology in smart glasses could have multiple useful applications, however we often see it used to deliver no more than what your phone already does. In contrast, a good use case could be using AR smart glasses to display the names of the people around them for people with Alzheimer’s or those struggling with memory loss.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I’ve introduced several initiatives to promote company fitness and nutrition, including seminars, team workouts (all led by me of course) and an office gym.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? By developing Specs at Auctify, I’m giving people the opportunity to transform their efforts to stay on task and achieve their goals through an efficient digital platform that tracks their progress and motivates them to stay productive. On average people spend 5-6 hours per day on TV and social media, and by making people aware of their time and using psychological strategies to help them decide what their time would be best spent on, Specs could give people over 2,000 extra hours per year to spend on what’s most important to them. I believe that high operational efficiency and a good employee experience is essential for keeping the team motivated and making consistent progress, which results in a high quality product for users and revenue growth.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Everyone struggles with procrastination and staying focused. This is a result of the psychological phenomenon called delayed discounting, which means people tend to prioritise short time reward over long term benefit. Specs use proven psychological strategies such as mindfulness training, to help people re-evaluate how their time would be best spent, and use audio cues as real time feedback to notify users as soon as they get distracted so they can stay productive and focused.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? My role at Auctify is very interdisciplinary, so I have a very clear understanding of our business goals in addition to the functionality and development of our product. Working very closely with our CEO, Arthur Nguyen-cao, we can design our technology to help us achieve our business goals.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Our top priority is aligning the technology in our product with what our users need and what our users would use. I am happy putting effort into communicating with our early adopters so I can learn about their problems with productivity and how I can design Specs to accommodate them. This way we can develop the technology that will lead to a successful and useful product.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Very clear objectives and constraints that align with the business goals of the company and the problems users struggle with, innovative solutions that easily integrate into the lives of users, an organised development timeline, and flexibility/adaptability in prototype and idea iteration so the market ready product is as refined as possible.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The CTO has the responsibility of combining their technological expertise and understanding of product development with their involvement in the business decisions and goals of the company. A big part of the position is being able to communicate the progress and limitations of tech development to the employees and executives of the company in other departments, and communicating the business objectives of the company to the engineers. The CTO requires a broad and diverse skill set so they can tie together the main company objectives and engineering sectors.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Founding Auctify and being the first to develop activity tracking and productivity boosting smart glasses.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Nothing, I’ve learned the most from the mistakes I’ve made, and they have ultimately led me to where I am now.

What are you reading now? Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz.

Most people don't know that I… am a black belt in Karate, and I’ve been training with my dad who’s a second degree black belt since I was 4 years old.

In my spare time, I like to…workout. I love everything to do with fitness, and passionately train to achieve advanced skills in calisthenics, gymnastics, increase my strength in weightlifting and improve my flexibility.

Ask me to do anything but… don’t mess with my diet or workout schedule.