It’s safe to say George Zhao has a full plate, but he’s yet to bite off more than he can chew.
Zhao, a client insights analyst at AppNexus, is helping the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) push boundaries, save lives and expand reach while moonlighting as the lead developer of the AppNexus Alert Hub, an ad-tech system that helps FIA deliver geo-targeted warnings and alerts.
“Truthfully, because (FIA) is a passion project, it often bleeds into my evenings and weekends,” Zhao said. “But I’m happy to spend time doing something that, for me, feels meaningful.”
Zhao’s work continues to be instrumental in growing FIA’s scope. For the last several months, he’s worked on bringing real-time warnings and weather alerts to Canada, a project that went live in July.
“After the first phase of integrations that were mainly directed at the National Weather Service, Canada was the next obvious choice to integrate,” Zhao said.
Setting up the expansion into Canada, however, presented some unique challenges.
One issue Zhao needed to solve was how to map Canadian locations. In the United States, the National Weather Service operated on the FIPS code system, which identifies counties and county equivalents throughout the country.
In Canada, those don’t exist.
Instead, Canada uses its own set of codes (the SGC), for which reliable conversion into Canadian Postal Codes were not available. AppNexus targets on postal codes.
“We were a little stuck on that point until (FIA President) Jason Bier was gracious enough to have the FIA budget help us procure a mapping database from Statistics Canada that we could leverage to complete that task,” Zhao said.
“We’re now covering all of Canada for a whole bunch of different alerts, which is pretty great,” he said.
The lack of mapping codes may not be an issue moving forward thanks to another addition to the platform. Zhao added the ability to target geo-fenced areas by utilizing the latitude and longitude data passed on from the CAP alert. He was able to upgrade the geo-targeting system using some “very beta parts” of AppNexus’ core platform to enable this functionality.
While this feature is only available for mobile devices sending latitude and longitude data, it should make alerting much more accurate for these devices in the future.
Zhao is especially excited about this new capability. This allows FIA to target a very local geo-area when an emergency strikes.
“It’s been a fun couple of months,” Zhao said. “At the end of it, we’ve come out with a system and made some tweaks to make it even more extensible in the future.
“I’ve always been interested in doing something meaningful that felt tangible with technology and this was the perfect opportunity. So when I had the spare bandwidth and time, I could dedicate myself to it.”
Zhao credited his managers and colleagues at AppNexus for allowing him to be flexible during work hours, enabling big launches such as the Canada project.
“Our managers and staff around the company have been super supportive with helping me allocate time to pursue this,” Zhao said. “AppNexus as a whole, and I’m not just saying this as a corporate push, we do have a genuine drive to really do these kind of projects we see good in.”