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From Rural Israel to the Cutting Edge of Automation: Meet Kognitos Engineer Ziv Kennan

What made you want to become a Software Engineer?

That actually goes back to when I was very young. I grew up in Israel and moved to the US later while still young, but when I lived in Israel in the 1990s it wasn’t like it is today. The area I grew up in was relatively rural. My “playground” was literally a bunch of appliances that my dad dumped in our front yard. Stoves, microwaves, all sorts of things. That was my first “Sandbox”. So from an early age I was playing with devices; taking things apart, putting them back together, making things up. That got me interested in mechanical engineering and my father was also in the Tech industry so I was around computers from a young age. Once I moved to the US I learned how to program and build computers out of scrap parts. By the time I got to college I knew I wanted to go into computer engineering so I could get exposed to both software and hardware but I eventually settled on software engineering. The thing I like about software is you can build whatever you dream up, which is amazing.  

From Rural Israel to the Cutting Edge of Automation: Meet Kognitos Engineer Ziv Kennan

Before Kognitos you were at another high growth startup (at the time), Nutanix, what led you there?

The short answer is that it was chance, but it was fortuitous chance! I knew I wanted to be in Silicon Valley so I just showed up with no concrete plan and started interviewing. I got connected to a recruiter at Nutanix and the culture really stood out. I knew nothing about storage & HCI but the people really drew me in. I got to learn a ton about the technology and worked with people who pushed me. There was also a very very strong customer focus and I don’t think companies succeed unless that is in place – at Nutanix engineers had regular opportunities to interact with customers and I really enjoyed that.

From storage to automation is a big leap. What led you to Kognitos?

I knew Binny from Nutanix and his leadership style really stood out to me. Not only is he very sharp, but he has always had a lot of empathy as a leader which is very impressive to me. Binny pitched me on his idea, and his vision was very well aligned with opportunities in the space based on my research. I was also ready to move to a smaller environment where I could make more of an impact – so a fledgling startup was the perfect fit.

What about automation has you excited?

The potential for efficiency. That’s what draws me both to automation and smaller companies. When I was researching automation I realized I had a classic view that many people have who are not familiar with the technology. That “classic view” is that automation is generally a net negative for society due to its effects on the livelihoods of individuals. But the historical record shows the opposite – in countries that have adopted lots of automation the trend has been that quality of life increases. I had to think through this because for me I have to believe that the company I work for will make the world a better place. As I was wrestling with this, I realized that a lot of the work people do is mundane – tasks people don’t enjoy doing. After I thought through that it opened up my view on this space. By automating the mundane we are giving people more opportunity to do the things they love. That’s what I’m working towards.

Kognitos is built differently than most other automation tools. It’s built on LLMs and leverages technology like GPT3 and others. What have you learned that you didn’t expect having built the product for over a year now?

Our core component which we call the “Brain” is fascinating how in some ways it reflects the human brain. We’ve figured out a fundamentally different way of thinking about software and what it means to run a process. That’s what the Brain embodies. That has been very interesting and challenging. Often we think about building processes and code in a way that is standardized, but the Kognitos Brain is built in a very different fashion. It has to make processes work in a way that is resumable and handles exceptions easily. It’s almost like a mix of cognitive psychology and software at the same time.

We are seeing massive improvements in LLMs and other models, and through this we can get the best of both worlds. The question is how can we integrate these models and use them in the Enterprise. That’s the problem Kognitos is solving. How to get the reliability and auditability of traditional software with the creativity and generative capabilities of these new models. The system we are building allows you to automate in ways you couldn’t before. We are bringing the agility of startups to the enterprise through automation. This fundamentally lets you think differently and frees up enterprises to automate more quickly without too much up-front discovery and fear of negative consequences. It will bring a level of joy to automation that isn’t available to people today. I want people to say, “I have joy in automating this process.”

In your opinion, what defines Kognitos’s culture, and what would you say to someone interested in joining?

I have a few thoughts –

  1. Everyone here is curious, which is critical to learning, adaptation, and frankly being skilled at anything in life. Everyone’s curiosity here is off the charts and that’s embodied in the culture.
  2. People are at the top of their game. This helps drive everyone forward.
  3. People compromise. The team is open to new ideas and each person’s viewpoint.

On top of that, I’d say the special thing is: if you have a dream, you wake up that morning, and if you can relate it to what we are working on, you build it the next day. You can’t find that anywhere else.

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