Alum Q&A: OptioLabs’ director of research talks software, Vandy life, fun office space

Hamilton Turner, BE'10, right, speaks with potential interns and employees at September's Engineering & IT Industry Career Day. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

Hamilton Turner didn’t require much assistance while recruiting at the fall Engineering & IT Industry Career Day – the 2010 computer engineering alumnus knows his way around just fine.

But his ties to Vanderbilt University run deeper than that. As a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech, his doctoral adviser was Jules White, now a Vanderbilt assistant professor of computer science. And White’s own Ph.D. is from Vanderbilt.

The two still work together. Turner is director of research for OptioLabs, the cybersecurity company White founded, with offices in Nashville and Baltimore.

They’re celebrating a recent partnership with high-performance computing company AMD, which will integrate OptioLabs’ PrivateEye software with its new AMD PRO A-Series processor.

Also within the last month, OptioLabs has released new versions of that popular PrivateEye software and of Kodomo, a mobile app that alerts parents to their children’s whereabouts, plus provides a newsfeed of everything the kids are doing on their devices, among other features.

In an interview after a busy career day, Turner, 27, talked about his time at Vanderbilt, his job and his unusual office space.

Some parents we talked to about Kodomo called it a game-changer. How did OptioLabs come to produce it?

Fundamentally, it’s a monitoring app. We’re a security company, so we have a large team of people who know a lot about Android and iPhone security. We leveraged our security knowledge to determine how to monitor the phone at a very, very low level and built a client-facing product. Most of our work is enterprise facing, serving big companies with big requirements — like meeting HIPAA requirements – but this is a far easier-to-understand, consumer-facing product.

We have been getting what we think is a pretty good response. But we’re very happy about the response we’ve gotten to all of our products.

Both big companies and individuals might want PrivateEye. Could you talk about the demand for that?

Essentially, the whole time you are using your computer, it is looking at your face and making sure it’s you. When you walk off and leave it open, the screen blurs and locks. Even if someone knows my password and types it into the computer, it’s still locked, because they don’t have my face.

The other thing it does is constantly look into the background. If someone looks over your shoulder, it locks your screen and pops up a picture of the person who is looking. If you’re attempting to be a security-conscious person in a security-conscious environment, you may have to tell a colleague to stop looking at your screen. PrivateEye eliminates that uncomfortable interaction.

The same goes for if you’re working remotely – on an airplane or in a coffee shop. Our technology can insure enterprise-grade security there, too.

What does daily life look like as OptioLabs’ director of research?

A big component is staying on top of security news and making sure the company is up to date with all the latest security announcements, laws and fixes. I ingest and filter that for the company. When the company looks at new technologies, I’m frequently called in to provide technical expertise on whether it adds value to our game plan, how it fits into the industry at large and whether or not it’s going to be effective.

The final major thing is leading development of new products. There’s a small team working for me – they’re the guys who just hide somewhere for a couple of months and come back with a shiny new piece of technology and say, “This will address a new problem in the security field.”

Where did you grow up?

I’m originally from the Knoxville area and came to Vanderbilt on a very generous scholarship. I often tell people that who I am today is the person who developed in Nashville.

How do you mean?

I think it was the range of people I met at Vandy and the heavy focus on scholarship. If you have the ability and your essay and test scores are good enough, and you work exceptionally hard — you will be able to attend the university regardless of your personal financial situation. That resulted in an atmosphere where I was exposed to a large range of peers from diverse backgrounds. When you are exposed to that many people with that diversity in points of view, you can’t help but broaden your world view.

Vanderbilt’s focus on providing adequate funding for all of their students really changes the makeup of those students in a way that impacted me personally.

You’re enjoying an interesting office location these days, we hear.

It overlooks Camden Yards in Baltimore. We’re in the same building as the Orioles’ management.

Has that made you a fan?

To some degree. I haven’t been here long enough to be fully assimilated.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering