PlatON CTO James Qu: I’m Always Excited about New Technologies to Make Existing System Run on New Rules by Leveraging IT
Blockchain technology, with its profound potential and ability to change the world as a platform for trust, is now widely recognized as the breakthrough and even revolutionary technology poised to change the world of commerce, business and product landscape.
Working in such a thriving industry, Chief Technology Officers have to face the dynamic and rapid changing challenges, from finding and raising unique technical experts, to breaking down and moving strategic business objectives to technical feasible ones; work with CEO and the whole team to define roadmap and deliver qualified products on time; provide breakthrough POC as an innovator, deliver brilliant products when we have real users.
From the very beginning, PlatON focus on using privacy-preserving computation to protect data value, makes data tradable on blockchain ecosystem. We feel honored to help push the research and development of world’s cryptography, information security and data privacy, and have delivered comprehensive solutions to industries that are sensitive about data such as health care, logistic, vehicle, supply chain finance, smart manufacturing, IoT, etc. Along the technology revolution of PlatON, James Qu, CTO of PlatON, is playing a leading role in setting the corporate strategy and driving overall technological infrastructure for PlatON.
About James Qu
James Qu, Chief Technology Officer of PlatON. Before joining PlatON, James was Co-founder, joint CEO and COO of Shanghai Genus, one of the most advanced algorithm trading platform in China.
James also worked for Morgan Stanley as Executive Director of electronic trading platform, and UBS Securities as Associate Director. He is also an Asia FIX Committee member. James has over 30 years of experience in developing, integrating and managing trading platforms for top-tier global financial firms, and 15 years of experience in managing multicultural teams.
James obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Beihang University.
Q: Can you tell me about your experience?
I am an antique technical personal from last century. I passed my child education during so called cultural revolution. The school life was unique with a lot of marches, writing political posters without understanding the meaning. It was a school life with very little homework, much less exams than today.
I was pretty much outstanding in middle and high school, ended up with starting my college life at 16. I picked Computer Science in Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Beihang University) because I believe that being a computer engineer in Aeronautics and Astronautics industry must be cool. The hidden risk was too young to fit the college life, as a result, I spent plenty of time on the basketball count while skipping homework.
I still clearly remember spending a month on a piece of FORTRAN homework in my college life. We needed to write code on paper, get the code translated on cards, then put them in a long queue for batch job by a IBM computer in the computer center. One card with a typo, or wrong card sequence will result in compiling error. At least one week needed to go through the homework life cycle including smiling to the lady of computer center to jump the job queue.
After graduating from Beihang University, I spent more than 8 years in Institute of Applied Mathematics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, as an intermediate researcher, where I developed mathematical model for mathematicians while got more time to play soccer and basketball with mathematicians, ranked 4th of Eighth Science Cup.
In 1993, thanks to the China-Japan Friendship Committee for the 21st Century between Chinese Academy of Science and Fujitsu, I was recommended by professors of research group to work in Fujitsu for two years with the public-errand program. Since then, I entered into the financial development area, and became the first generation of Objective-C programmer on NextStep, focus on C++ coding on HPUX for Nomura Research Institute in around 1996 by chance. I have been involved in a few big projects, like Bond MIS, SmartBridge etc. Really happy to see they are still alive.
The Japanese financial big bang had a huge impact on my career with which I decided to deeply dive into the financial field. I joined UBS Securities Tokyo as Equities trading developer in 2000 and then served as Associate Director till joined Morgan Stanley Tokyo in 2006. I served as the project manager of the popular FUSION cross engine, and built the first Asian electronic trading platform of USB.
In 2009, I came back to Shanghai, became head of CCS Morgan Stanley Shanghai and finally served as the Executive Director until 2015. In 2015, the global trading market had its bull run, I quit from Morgan Stanley, and begin my startup for A share algorithm trading in China. In Nov, 2019, I was excited about blockchain technology and aware of the huge potential, then I started Blockchain adventure and joined PlatON for a data infrastructure with blockchain and cryptography to enable a better and more secure world.
Q: How did you decide to do something, including PlatON?
When I got the chance to work for Fujitsu, I was excited and immediately accepted it without any hesitation because Japan is the most advanced country among Eastern countries at that time.
With Japanese financial big bang under “Free Fair Global”, I wanted to leverage IT in finance area to get in touch with western culture. Frankly, I’m much more fluent in English in Japan. Thus, I decided to join UBS, one of the world’s largest banks.
Then I joined Morgan Stanley to get close to the top-tier investment, get familiar with world’s top trading technology, as well as top-level development management skills.
As I mentioned before, I noticed the 2015 bull run. China has a very huge and potential market. However, there is a long road ahead in the development of China’s trading system. The trading volume was all input by human along with high error trading ratio and risk of broken regulation rules. The algorithm trading platform could dramatically reduce risk, and also free up traders. One PC could work as 200 human traders. It’s faster, more accurate and highly effective. With years of development experience in financial areas including bank, investment, etc. I decided to develop a A Share algorithmh trading platform for China market. Hence, I created Genus Finance Technology to provide the algorithm trading service under a high-regulated, relatively closed and tough financial industry. It was really a great experience to understand mainland China financial industry.
In 2017, as blockchain kept increasing the public awareness, I was excited by the DLT’s potential on financial settlement and clearing. It’s faster and accurate with dramatically low cost, and I was willing to explore opportunities to have an brand new cutting edge infrastructure to serve the huge financial market. Later on, I got educated by privacy-preserving computation. I believed that this is the future of technology, and with my previous experience, I have got fully aware of data value. Historical data and real time pricing data are the keys to get profit from trading. Furthermore, nowadays, mobile phones dominate our daily life, our data privacy that show our behaviors has been disclosed to the great extent. The value of data is needed to be protected and maximized. PlatON is just the perfect match with the goal of enabling a better and more secure world.
Q: How is a typical day of PlatON’s CTO?
It usually starts with morning team meeting, to catch up with the latest development status and short term plans. Then, I will talk with internal IT team leaders and project managers to come up with the directions for new projects; review and comment on plans and designs; make conclusion on bottleneck or tough issues; educate team with guide lines, announce clear policies, etc. There will be tough talks from time to time regarding team reconstruction, objective settings and performance reviews.
My daily work also includes meetings with external clients and IT experts, to catch external tech trends through brain storming and learning, then adjust our IT strategy accordingly; and evening call with North American experts to get feedbacks and suggestions for PlatON. Communication and technologies help us.
It’s usually late night when all work and schedules get finished. Before going to bed, I will check the latest news, competitor movements, community activities and internal management team recap.
Q: Lessons of working in a startup in such an emerging industry?
Working in a startup in an emerging industry means that you have to face a lots of challenges. First of all, there are brand new technologies you have to get familiar with. Secondly, you usually have a very diversified team with quite different talents. Finally comes with the problem that how to make a breakthrough with well-designed products to educate the market.
Q: Any difference between the development teams in startups and large corporations?
Large corporations have their market shares backed by reputations, well-paid salary, good life balance, strong campus recruiting and famous alumni. Every new employee will enjoy a paid training period up to a few months to get well trained for the job and all team members started at the same level. All mentioned above could easily attract good talents who will queue up for recruiting. Each member in large corporations is quite self-driven, thus, the management effort is also lower.
For startups, stuffs usually have a wide gap of education and experience background. It’s difficult for all stuffs to get common understanding. Managers need to educate, even show with examples step-by-step, repeat simple rules all the time to have team members fully and finally understood. Detailed quality control policy must be in place, and it has to be simple, easy to understand, easy to comply, easy to measure, and backed up with a clear punishment.
Q: How did you keep the team highly effective?
I think the best ways to achieve high efficiency are quite simple: SMART objectives and knowledge sharing.
Q: What are your biggest successes and biggest headaches?
We have a development quality control system to ensure the efficiency, consistency and quality of our development work, which is the cornerstone of the whole technical team. It is to be honest the biggest success. However, we still find it’s hard to find good PMs and team leaders to get the development strategy executed smoothly without much worries. Talents are the most valuable asset for a company, recruiting is the biggest headache for me.
Q: What are the things that are driving you enthusiastic?
I’m always excited about new and potential things. What drive me enthusiastic are brand new technologies to make existing system run on new rules by leveraging IT.
Q: As the chairman in PlatON’s development team, what do you value most? How do you motivate your team?
Firstly, honesty is most valuable. What you can achieve and deliver, whether you can fully understand the firm’s goal, must be 100% clear and transparent to me and the whole technical team.
Working in PlatON is wonderful and fulfilling. You will surely face challenges yet opportunities. Working hard with PlatON team will see the rare chance to compete with global big names. Besides, our infrastructure could change the world with a flourish ecosystem, then everyone could be happy with your achievements.
Q: What do you focus on right now in PlatON accordingly?
What comes first is to keep IT team in sync with the firm’s objectives; Then get the team fully aware of performance measurement. Lastly, understanding everyone’s strengths and fully leveraging those strengths to fit different roles and responsibilities are also vital.
Q: Can you share me the biggest strengths of PlatON that make it stand out in today’s and even tomorrow’s blockchain projects?
We dig into the details of every new breakthrough in blockchain technology, and quickly get to the bottoms of them, then construct a better one. A highlight of PlatON team is that we have a strong engineering team to implement our solution. Another important part is our quality assurance framework, including automated distributed test cases. After all, what determines is our leading cryptography position among blockchain technical firms.
Q: Can you share some exciting developments/moments in 2019?
1. In Oct 2019, PlatON delivered KeyShard, a KMS based on MPC, to a global major bank client.
2. In Nov 2019, PlatON core infrastructure development work is completed. We had a few rounds of internal tests, including extremely bad network and low hardware spec node, got good result on safety and liveness.
3. In Dec 2019, PlatON got official grant letter from Ethereum foundation to kick off project of current proof of custody construction as an MPC. A significant step to contribute to Ethereum community.
Q: Lessons of development in 2019?
1. Common understanding is the basic yet fatal point. Since blockchain is a new technology, different person has different understanding of the same terms, which caused the waste of development and testing efforts.
2. Keep in mind, simple means stable. IT team should avoid chasing the most advanced technologies and fancy ideas. When logical model gets more complicated, test scenarios will increase by 10 or 100 times, and the solution will NEVER deliver with limited IT resource.
3. Cost of nodes should be taken into consideration. When blockchain node supports very rich functions at the cost of storage, a relatively normal TPS will cause fast growth of disk space. Thus ends up with super high disk space cost, even higher than the profit of a node.
Q: Can you share the plan of roadmap in 2020?
Plan for PlatON in 2020 consists of PlatON network, WASM contract, Privacy AI and PlatONE.
The most important task in 2020 is to complete the development of our main net, which is expected to be delivered in Apr.2020. The test net of our WASM contract will be online in Mar.2020, and the main net will be announced in June. We will have our first privacy machine learning algorithm in Mar, 2020, and deliver the Beta IDO of private AI computing architecture. As for PlatONE, the consortium blockchain platform, there will be PlatONE Lite focus on user permission model, and an upgrade of PlatONE with CBFT_VRF optimized in June.
In Q3, we focus on the developer community construction of PlatON network, use cases of Privacy AI, BAAS platform of PlatONE; In Q4, we focus on cross-chain of data market and privacy contract.
Q: After Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement on supporting the acceleration of blockchain technologies in China, how do you think about it? Is it a chance or a challenge for the projects in China even around the world?
I took it as a sign of government endorsement for transparency and efficiency by using blockchain technology. Clearly, it is a chance for us. Challenges ahead will help us fully understand the regulations and apply appropriate logics into current infrastructures. Getting one high profile project landing in a real use case will be a good opportunity to certify and enhance our infrastructure’s capability.
Q: How do you think about the trends of technology development in 2020?
With 5G network went live, blockchain technology will also get impacted and get profit undoubtedly. There will be less network capacity limitation, but more pressure on storage. So how to further optimize storage will be on top of blockchain industry’s task list. Also, with more devices connected, more data flood on internet, data privacy-preserving will be required according to newly issued laws and even be mandated in many countries. An efficient privacy-preserving infrastructure is a must-have.