[Techie Tuesday] From supercomputers to matchmaking: Matrimony.com CTOIO Chandrasekar R’s tech journey
Chandrasekar R has witnessed the evolution of technology in India since the late 1980s. In fact, the chief technology operation and infrastructure officer of Matrimony.com has personally been part of some of those journeys.
It was the time of the supercomputer; India was building one and Chandrasekar had an older brother in the world of information technology as a mentor. He was hooked.
At the time, engineering or technology wasn’t as popular in a small town like Trichy, or in India for that matter, recalls Chandrasekhar, referring to his hometown in Tamil Nadu. He says, “I did my BSc in physics and Masters in computer applications. My elder brother told me about software, computers, and technology. It was all fascinating and interesting.”
Chandrasekar’s mother was a homemaker and his father the headmaster of a local school.
During his masters and for a while after that in 1991, Chandrasekar worked on an AS400 project for IBM Mainframe. The supercomputing work, done by IBM in the late ’80s and early ’90s, drew him even closer to technology.
Today, he is responsible for preparing the technology roadmap and strategy at Matrimony.com, where he has been working for 14 years.
“Technology is ever changing,” he says, “And it has been so from the late ’80s. There is always something new and different to learn.” Every new thing that came to the market kept him on his toes.
The early days of the internet
Internet-based technologies became popular after Hotmail arrived in 1997, says Chandrasekar. Before that, he says, “there was a strong focus on the workings of systems, especially mainframe. Technology was rapidly evolving and growing. I worked more on Cobol, Visual Basic, FoxPro, and client-server architecture.”
By 1994, Chandrasekar had moved to Mumbai and was working with Reliance. He was a core part of the technology team that supported finance teams on applications such as sales order process and investment systems.
In 1997, when Hotmail was bringing people online, Chandrasekar moved to Chennai for personal reasons and joined GE Capital. “It was here that I learnt a lot more about emerging technologies in the internet space. I had the opportunity to build a lot of things.”
Chandrasekar was responsible for developing GE Countrywide’s website, Year 2000 Initiatives, and technical support to the centralised service. “I was instrumental in setting up the web services. Today, it looks like a small thing, but in the late ’90s, it was big. I also set up the intranet.”
He understood the basic concepts of setting up technologies and websites. But understanding and learning the core technology wasn’t enough, he says. “What is important is internalising the tech and integrating it with overall organisational growth.”
The dawn of ecommerce, content distribution
Wanting to focus on the internet as core business, Chandrasekar moved to Sify in 2000. “It was an opportunity for me to work exclusively in the internet space,” he says. “I worked closely with the business team in launching all the new services and enhancing existing sites. I also worked closely with the system and database administrators to improve performance.”
It was here that Chandrasekar had his first brush with ecommerce. “At Sify, I focused on understanding the evolving client server architecture. Internet technologies were evolving and I just got hooked.”
Chandrasekar built the payment gateway systems as part of the team that set up the ecommerce platform, SifyMall. This was the pre-fintech era nearly two decades ago. “You had to work with simple technology and ASP.Net, MSQL server. It was then that I learnt more about ‘Board Vision,’ which was instrumental in building personalisation.”
Working on SifyMall gave him an understanding of the different aspects of integration and development. He was also responsible for building the news and content management framework. “This took time and effort, and it is what leveraged the legacy platform of the proprietary framework into open-source technology,” he recalls. “It was one of the early days of understanding the use and power of the open-source.”
By 2005, internet penetration in India had started increasing. “People were looking at video content,” he says. “That is when we focused on building video content on Sify. The content distribution and skeletons were built at that time. We didn’t have core technology, so it had to be built from scratch.”
He cites an example: “If customers were trying to access our website from Kolkata, they would complain of the slow response time. With Akamai and others, we worked on building systems that would locate the servers in the respective ISP (internet service provider) content and distribute to the end-user.” This would speed up the overall response time of the website.
The Matrimony journey
Around 2000, when Chandrasekar was building SifyMall and the content distribution platforms, Bharat Matrimony launched in the market. In those days, the platform was developed using the language software Perl, with flat files to help push data easily. Subsequently, this moved to PHP and MSQL coding platforms.
Chandrasekar joined Matrimony.com in 2006, looking to build something closer to the end-user side. He was responsible for developing the robust matchmaking engines and content distribution systems.
“By 2007, apart from the basic details of a particular profile on the site, people were looking for more stringent and detailed systems in terms of understanding the profile and having more information on the individual,” says Chandrasekar. To improve the overall customer experience, content distribution systems were brought in.
Chandrasekar also built Fplins, a search engine to improve the platform’s overall performance. This meant building robust memory structures to store and secure the data structures. At present, more than five million users conduct copious amounts of search on the platform.
“From 2006 to 2010, it was about implementing Fplins,” he says. “In 2010, the market started changing, the Nokia phones had started picking up. In 2011, we decided to work on our mobile application. It was tightly coupled architecture in the early days.” By the end of 2011, he also worked on building the application programming interfaces (API) to support the apps.
“We are now converting the tightly coupled architecture to microservices to make it a scalable and distributed application,” says Chandrasekar.
While Chandrasekar currently focuses on strategy, roadmap, and newly emerging areas, he keeps a handle on day-to-day operations.
Internet, the great leveller
While technology has evolved rapidly, its key driver has been the internet. “We don’t realise this today, but the internet has made everything so much simpler,” says Chandrasekar. “During my college days, we didn’t have any internet. Later, it was about mainframe developments and terminals: basic input operations and data processing. From there, it evolved into the client-server architecture, then the three-tier architecture. Now, it is on the next level of distributed systems.”
The internet has even made it easier to get practical experience, says Chandrasekar. “We had two hours of lab time to get work done. Today, younger techies can get access to content, books, practical experience, and can code from the early schooldays.”
What does he look for when he is hiring? How one applies what has been learnt to solve a problem, he says. Analytical skills are also important.
His advice to young techies: “There are a lot of options available today. You have the choice of different things within technology. Choose an area, pick up a tech stack, and get deep into it. Identify the core area and focus deeply on it and do some practical work and application.”
(Edited by Lena Saha)