Should engineers pursue opportunities in the online ad space?

Although online advertising can have a negative connotation among engineers, there are many positive aspects that make it a career path worth considering.

Online ad space is an emerging industry is something that engineers should look into, according to Robert Fan, CTO of Sharethrough, a social video advertising company based in San Francisco.

I had the chance to ask Mr. Fan some questions about this space that, historically, engineers have been reluctant to get into. Here are my questions and his answers:

1. Why have engineers historically shied away from pursuing opportunities in the online ad space?

Advertising can have a negative connotation among engineers mainly because they just don't like ads for the most part and because of the perception that there is a lack of true engineering challenges within the advertising industry. Historically, advertising has not stood for innovation to engineers. They also think there is a lack of opportunities to do work that one would be truly proud of. This is unfortunate, because many of the negative aspects of advertising, such as irrelevant persistent ads, are the result of the lack of sophisticated engineering

2. What are some of the myths and false understandings about working in this space?

When it comes to digital advertising, there is a misunderstanding about the complexity of how ads are shown.  Engineers typically shy away from the advertising industry because at first glance it appears to be too easy or too simple for them to stay interested. The reality is quite different though. For example, ad servers need to figure out what ad to serve given criteria like number of ads running, ad impression volumes, ad campaign lengths, user browser/combinations, frequency capping, user demographics, number of publishers, publisher verticals, and more.  It's a really complex prioritization/queuing challenge.  That doesn't even account for ad inventory forecasting.

Additionally, the forms of media being used in advertising are becoming significantly more complex and interesting. Interactive video and rich media campaigns are constantly pushing new technical boundaries, but the perception of many engineers is still that digital advertising means boring, irrelevant banner ads that just annoy consumers.

3. What role would engineers play in this space?

Engineers are key to helping digital advertising realize its potential as a consistent source of entertainment and information. This will be achieved through building scalable systems that can process huge data sets and by using emerging technologies to create new, rich media and social experiences. Ads are something we deal with everyday and by improving the overall experience for users you are contributing to making the internet better as a whole, which is something that inspires me.

Google is recognized as of the best engineering companies in the world, but many engineers overlook that they identify themselves as an advertising company. They are a prime example of what effective advertising can produce;  without advertising revenue, Google couldn't have created innovations like Google Maps, GMail, or Google Docs.

Talented artists like directors and designers go into advertising because they have the opportunity to make groundbreaking creative pieces that will be seen by millions. Similarly, engineers should realize that digital advertising is a premier industry for pioneering technologists to work, innovate and have a real impact on the way people experience the web.