Zoom Events, ‘Zoom-bombing,’ and security, as well as why the firm is unconcerned about Apple’s FaceTime Links, are discussed in an exclusive conversation with Velchamy Sankarlingam, Zoom’s President of Product and Engineering.
We’re still glued to our webcams for virtual meetings while the second wave of the Coronavirus outbreak continues. Zoom expands and meets the expectations of a fast-changing world by releasing more tools and capabilities in security, collaboration, development, and other verticals. At the same time, competition in the teleconferencing industry heats up.
Zoom was started by Eric Yuan in 2011 and saw massive adoption around the world during the pandemic in FY2020, with fresh talents like Velchamy Sankarlingam, President of Product and Engineering, joining the team.
“I’m someone who loves to go into the workplace and work,” the Tamil Nadu-born technologist says of coming to work at Zoom amid a pandemic. I was the first one in the office and the last one out at VMWare, but I knew everyone there. Except for Eric and a few others, I didn’t know many people when I moved to Zoom. I’ve never worked in a Zoom office as an employee, but I realised that I’d have two levels of work interactions if I did. The in-person working relationships would be one tier, while the virtual working relationships would be the other. But now that I work remotely, I know hundreds of people.”
The Hindu interviews Sankarlingam on the evolution of the service, which has seen its free user base expand 60 times in India compared to 30 globally in the previous year, despite a Ministry of Home Affairs recommendation stating Zoom was not a secure platform.
Excerpts from an interview:
Let’s start with the upcoming Zoom Events: event planners can create a branded event hub where they can virtually manage ticketing and registration while using one dashboard to administer user access and allowing attendees to network during the event, whether it’s multi-day summits or multi-track conferences. Could you elaborate on the research and strategy that went into developing this platform?
Businesses were initially concerned that COVID-19 would force them to close or go out of business. Physical constraints constrained them, but they rapidly realised that this opened up virtual boundaries — they could cross borders.
In terms of Zoom Events‘ commercial side, most conferences, such as Oracle OpenWorld or Dell Technologies World Digital Experiences, had a small virtual component. Companies want to release products, communicate with consumers, and network even during a pandemic, so they began relocating these activities to virtual venues, where they realised they could reach a larger audience while holding these events at a lesser cost. However, no single product could meet all of the demands of such a large-scale event.
We felt we were in the best position at Zoom to create an end-to-end platform for these gatherings. We sought to find a way to answer the issue, “How can we further empower these small enterprises and consumer-oriented firms?” Because they aren’t e-commerce enterprises, they require a payment engine. We wanted to concentrate on the enterprise side of things since these events will continue to expand.
However, in other regions of the world, individuals are gradually returning to work. How will Zoom evolve to remain a valuable asset to these businesses as they return to the physical workplace?
During this time, a lot has changed. While some businesses are returning to work, others are considering a hybrid approach. Working from home is a viable alternative! Working from home used to be a perk that certain companies offered. Companies have realised that productivity is higher in the WFH space and that they can hire individuals from anywhere. Even if they return to work, businesses will need to restructure their offices to accommodate physical separation and additional capacity requirements.
So we use several functional frameworks with Zoom; for example, with Zoom Rooms, we have an added feature for when some people return to the office, and others work remotely, so the experience is consistent. Instead of a single screen in a conference room, we would show them individual panels to people in the office. Linking the Zoom Room to your smartphone, environmental sensors, virtual receptionists, and more are among the other features.
Remote work, as you indicated, is now fairly common. There’s also the issue of security to consider. Zoom has teamed up with VMWare Anywhere Workspace to provide more robust security procedures for remote workers. Can you explain this security component from a technical standpoint and what vacuum it fills that hasn’t been filled before?
I came to Zoom from VMWare (laughs), so I’m familiar with their product line. Because you are no longer on the corporate network, VMWare assigns IDs to all of your machines. VPN connections have always been available to many workers worldwide who work remotely or live a digital nomad lifestyle.
We’re collaborating with VMWare to help secure your mobile device or desktop, ensuring a single sign-on and access for only you.
Can you talk about the speed with which Zoom has to introduce new features and tools as the industry becomes more competitive?
For us, the speed has increased. Things usually slow down when you recruit more people and get larger. As we bring on more individuals from around the world, wherever the talent is, one of my goals is to guarantee that we don’t lose agility and innovation. And, of course, maintaining a high rate of innovation to keep up with infrastructure.
Since our last conversation, new security capabilities such as “halt participant activity,” “securing a meeting using encryption,” “activating a Waiting Room,” and others have been added. However, Zoombombing is still a problem! Is there anything special being done to combat these increasing threats as disruptive players discover new loopholes?
People believe that while there are many nasty players in the physical world, there are none in the virtual world. It’s the equivalent of leaving your door unlocked when you don’t know the code.
When we first started giving Zoom away for free (the product was initially designed for corporations with an administrator modifying security settings for a meeting place), we realised that schools and houses don’t have “administrators.”
Eric Yuan (Zoom’s CEO and creator) agreed to work on all of these security enhancements for 90 days – and we did! We made sure that every meeting had either passwords or Waiting Rooms as a default.
However, we’ve seen people distribute meeting links on social media in the hopes of attracting more participants, but this has a negative side effect. We will notify the host using social media scanning techniques that the information has been made public.
On this, we also have a whole Trust and Safety Team that monitors all activity. When you use the Freeze tool in a meeting, they will search the room for a bad actor and remove them from the platform. It is all part of the process, and we make sure that everyone has access to education.
As a result, we want to ensure those meeting interruptions are avoided or kept to a bare minimum. We make sure that it is a combination of technology and user education.
Are there any industries in India or APAC that Zoom is interested in as the pandemic continues?
We’re doubly focused on education and healthcare, making sure Zoom fulfils all of their needs and collaborates with other partners that have Zoom-compatible technologies. We have several ongoing integrations with a variety of providers in the education market.
We will never have enough resources to tackle every viable business, in my opinion. However, we are developing an ecosystem where we supply entire video and audio software development kits (SDK) to developers and partners who wish to incorporate a Zoom client into a vertical.
We’ve also added several Zoom Apps to the platform to allow for more integrations.
Finally, Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled FaceTime Links during the keynote address at the Worldwide Developer Conference 2021. Regardless of what computing system they are using, anyone can join these linkages (Windows, Apple, Android). What are your thoughts on the implementation?
Apple is a close partner of ours. They recently debuted Centrestaging with their iPad Pro, and we were the first to collaborate with them on it.
In terms of competition, Zoom launched in 2011 when the market was already crowded. The focus is on improving the product for our customers and on ourselves as a company daily. Our focus isn’t on a single rival, and – no offence intended – that’s how the firm is structured, and Eric operates. We’ve got enough plans to keep us busy for the next five years!