CTO Sessions: Gal Shaul, Augury

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? “With the increasing pace of innovation, CTOs will need to get better at disrupting their own products.”

Headshot of Gal Shaul, Co-Founder & CTO at Augury

Name: Gal Shaul

Company: Augury

Job title: Co-Founder & CTO

Date started current role: August 2011

Location: Israel / USA

As Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Machine Health specialists Augury, Gal has extensive experience in signal processing, software engineering and embedded systems. Augury is building a world where people can always rely on the machines that matter. Augury supports its customers by enabling Digital Transformation through superior insights into the health and performance of the machines they use to make products, deliver services and improve lives.

What was your first job? I was a very young fencing instructor but that was more of a barter arrangement. My first real paid job was as projectionist at a cinema – very Cinema Paradiso style. It was actually very intense trying to change the reels on time. I must have watched Face/Off around 500 times. But what I remember most is eating too much popcorn.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. I was in the navy for seven years. I was a running instructor for a while. I worked for an NGO with kids for two years. I’ve been in tech now for around 14 years. It attracted me for its ability to have an impact on people’s lives – to inspire real change. Through the rapid innovation we see in the tech industry today, we can have almost immediate impact. But yes, Augury took 10 years to make a real impact on the market. I thought it would take shorter. You learn as you go. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I graduated from the Naval Academy. Later, I got a BSc in computer science at the Israel Institute of Technology – The Technion. That’s it… Oh, and I’m also officially certified as a running instructor.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I see it more as a jungle gym than a career path. I was always very interested in science and technology and read a lot about it. I was also always curious about people, which attracted me to look at leadership roles. I ended up going back-and-forth between management and science a lot – for instance, I also spent a few years as a firmware developer.

But once I teamed up with Saar [Augury Co-Founder and CEO Saar Yoskovitz], I quickly realised that starting a company is very different from being a developer or a manager. I must say that I’ve learned much more in the last 10 years than all the years before.

What type of CTO are you? I like to think of myself as a very operational, hands-on CTO, but I’ve always have a soft spot—and set aside part of my daily schedule—for new innovation. At Augury, we believe that innovation is the main driver of growth – whether it’s the technology, the product, the business or the culture. So, I am not just helping lead the tech innovation side but also to foster a culture of innovation.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I’m really excited about the movement around AI, especially edge AI that can actually work at the endpoint and use models as accurate as those using data from a platform. It will enable us to make many new transitions in the market. 5G is fascinating as well; it enables so much progress around IoT and what Augury is building. I think in just a few years, the tech we use will look so different, we won’t be able to remember a time when we didn’t have them.  

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Augmented reality, unfortunately. There’s huge potential, but the tech is still unable to live up to the dreams the world had for it. While it’s easy to imagine use cases since it could be so helpful in contextualising environments, it’s harder to imagine AR’s use in daily life – where kids are jumping on board. For that kind of change and broad adoption, AR needs to be either very seamless, or so transformative that people are willing to go out of their way to use it. But we’ll get there. AI also had these hype cycles that included long gaps whenever reality hit.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? Augury is working on a new use case, which involves machines that we haven’t worked with before, so that’s exciting. People were very sceptical that it could have an impact, but it actually showed real value very quickly.  

On a company level, it was moving to a hybrid work environment after Covid hit. Augury is growing fast and we hired 50% of our team during Covid – so we haven’t met a lot of our new employees in person yet. Augury was always a people first company focused on fostering relationships and we wanted to make sure that we kept that in a hybrid world. While it’s still challenging to collaborate in a hybrid mode that works for everyone and respects everyone’s location, it is working! I think it’s about creating situations where you can still build these relationships, while also not being afraid to call out what isn’t working and changing it.  

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? At first, our entire machine health business was centred around digital transformation in manufacturing. But as we connected with our customers and became more aware of the problems manufacturers were facing, we realised that our product was about making a business transformation more than anything else. So now we focus a lot on change management so we can better help balance this new world of data science with traditional manufacturing and combining them. Realising that we could actually provide big pieces of the customer’s strategy as-a-service was very transformational for us.  

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Helping customers see the value of adopting this kind of technology on their factory floors. Customers are sometimes hesitant to take the initial plunge in tech adoption, nervous that it won’t help their bottom line. But for them to see the value that Augury can bring to their business and how we’ve helped other companies, helps with this transition.  

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? First of all, we work in cross-functional teams that are each working towards a specific business goal from a specific offering. Secondly, we align the company’s architecture – or marketecture – with how we believe the ecosystem is heading. Finally, we try to optimise flexibility not around the app but around the platform so we can shift to a new business goal as they arise more quickly and with less of a hump.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Sometimes it’s hard with the time constraints. First you have to understand where the technology is headed, and then it becomes a race to get there. Of course, you have a vision on what would make the perfect product, but are you able to achieve that with the current time that you have?

Sometimes you need to put faster iterations to the market at the expense of being more flexible. These are hard decisions that impact a lot of people and sometimes they impact the pre-work that needs to be done.

What makes an effective tech strategy? I think it’s the balance between short-term and long-term, between being able to be flexible while meeting business needs and creating robustness for the future. An amazing tech strategy also works to educate the customer on what their platform could or should look like. It comes down to having a good take on where both the market and technology are headed.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? With the increasing pace of innovation, CTOs will need to get better at disrupting their own products. CTOs will need an internal infrastructure that’s flexible enough to allow these disruptions to bubble up to essentially kill the existing offering, in order to make it better. It’s not a process to be afraid of, CTOs should support and embrace it. Because if you aren’t constantly looking for the faults in your product and trying to improve them, someone else will.

What has been your greatest career achievement? The first machine breakdown that was saved solely by AI – without any human in the loop. This happened in early 2019 and it’s the day I remember the most. For the customer it was just a regular day and proof that Augury’s tech worked. They were looking at the platform, saw a machine fault detection and saw what they had to do to repair it – with enough time to still be home on time to take their kids to Little League. But for Saar and I, seeing how integrated Augury’s tech was and the impact it had not just on the factory floor, but in our customer’s life, was amazing to see. It was what we were driving after for a long time and it was exciting to see our product come full circle.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? We could have been more aggressive on scaling our business in different directions, like hiring faster and go hybrid faster. We could have started earlier and come out with more conviction to grow even faster. But even though it’s our bread and butter, predicting the future is hard.

What are you reading now? Here are some titles that I’m reading right now: Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair by Kim Malone Scott and The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.

Most people don't know that I… I’m into philosophy. Most people also don’t know I work from a forest every Thursday morning. I also don’t like sleeping. I understand it’s important but I still don’t like how we lose eight hours a day. I try for four but it doesn’t always work out.

In my spare time, I like to…Spend time with my kids and running and hiking in nature. I love sitting in bars listening to rock music. I also love sailing, but rarely have time for it these days.

Ask me to do anything but… Bureaucracy. I’ll do anything else. Like with sleep, I understand it’s important and I appreciate other people who can do it. It’s just not for me.