Getting to Know Yale Leaders - Kiran Keshav

May 16, 2019

Kiran Keshav ProfileKiran Keshav, Executive Director of the Yale Center for Research Computing and Senior Director of Research Technologies is helping researchers advance in various disciplines at Yale, including the sciences, medicine, social sciences, digital humanities, and engineering. The center provides researchers with a sustainable state-of-the-art computational infrastructure that supports both computationally and data-intensive research.

After graduating with a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and a M.S. in technology management from Columbia University in New York, Kiran moved on to become one of the four founding employees of betterment.com, as their chief technology officer. Today, Betterment is one of the world’s leading robo-investment companies.

Kiran, his wife Kate, and their two children live in Hamden. To help us get to know him a little bit better, Kiran recently answered a few fun and interesting questions.

What was your first job?

Programming telephone switches in the language ANSI C during an internship with Ericsson in Denmark. When you are that young, everything is fun and new. Working there made me realize I really liked engineering work. (Ericsson is a multinational networking and telecommunications company headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.)

What are some of your hobbies?

I really enjoy cooking, gardening, and playing sports, particularly tennis, basketball, and windsurfing. I grill 12 months a year, no matter the weather. If you came over for dinner, I would grill asparagus and onions in tin foil and likely some sort of fish such as salmon–barring any allergies.

What is your idea of a great weekend?

Being out in the yard with my kids. But honestly, I’d love to take my wife and kids to Rome for a long weekend. I adore Rome. Some years ago, before we had kids, my wife and I were there for Thanksgiving weekend, and it was great. I think what I enjoyed so much, besides the history, was the food. In restaurants, I loved listening to all the plates clanking and hearing the Italian language spoken. I can’t wait to go back.

What was the best advice you ever received and from whom?

It was from my wife’s late grandfather. He was the CEO of an airline company for many years before he retired. He said, “regardless of the success of your profession, don’t forget your moral responsibility to society.” We used to have great conversations about that sort of stuff.

What is the biggest challenge today of working in IT?

The biggest challenge is to avoid the “shiny pebble syndrome.” In other words, trying to solve a problem with a new technology—the shiny pebble—without really understanding the problem.  We need to really look at problems and take the time to understand what the actual problems and potential solutions are—which may not always be technology related. Today, we seem to be moving in a direction of shorter attention spans, and it’s easier to default to the quick solutions. I think issues that require real solutions take time, discussion, and critical thinking. The right solutions don’t always happen quickly. Start with the real problem you are trying to solve, not the technology problem. Technology is a tool that should help us not distract us.

If you weren’t working in IT what other job would you have?

I think, in my next life, I would like to be a detective. I am interested in the thought process that goes into getting to the solution, instead of just the solution itself. I believe that is what detective work involves. Also, I am a big Columbo fan. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up and she loved watching Columbo. I vividly remember sitting with her on the couch and watching weekly episodes of Columbo.  Now it is available on demand!

Mac or PC?

While I’m currently using a Mac at work, we have PCs at home as well which I also use.  I like them both, although I have noticed a trend in new cables being released every few years.  It’s hard to keep up with the accessories!

Do you have a favorite quote?

“What we have here is a failure to communicate” from the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke.” Today, there is so much happening and the methods and forms of communication are many and varied—phone, text, email, Facebook messenger, Instagram.  But, now more than ever, things get lost in translation, even though ironically, we have all these different forms (technology generated) of communication. 

I’ve often wondered if I could do a no-tech week here at my office to see if that aids in having better communications. People would have to talk to each other, face to face.  This would be challenging in our area, but it would be interesting to see what the result would be with a week without any telephones, cell phones, or emails.  My sense is you would get more people talking about things and coming up with great ideas.  It’s worth a try …

If you could solve one world’s problem, what would that be?

I think inequality, across the board.  Inequality of income, access to food, education, clean water, and human rights. I think that inequality creates tiered societies, which is not good for humanity in general.