Chandler software engineer named Tillman Scholar SanTan Sun News

Chandler software engineer named Tillman Scholar

July 20th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Chandler software engineer named Tillman Scholar
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By COLLEEN SPARKS

Managing Editor

A seasoned Chandler software engineer, cybersecurity expert and Army veteran with a passion for problem-solving is pursuing a third degree at Arizona State University with a boost from the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Vivin Paliath, 36, was named a 2018 Tillman Scholar for his service, potential and leadership.

The 60 scholars around the country, chosen after a rigorous application and review process will receive more than $1.3 million in scholarships. Paliath will finish his Ph.D. in computer science with a focus on using artificial intelligence and machine learning to tackle cybersecurity issues.

Paliath works as chief software architect at a Tempe-based company, CYR3CON, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict and prevent cybercrime.

Born in India, Paliath was raised in the Middle East country of Oman and came to the United States in 1999 to attend ASU, where he already has earned two degrees.

He enlisted in the Arizona Army National Guard so his parents would not have to pay his tuition. After graduating from ASU, he was deployed to Iraq in 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A software engineer for 14 years, Paliath likes combining his practical work experience with his academic pursuits.

His Ph.D. advisor at ASU is also his boss, Paulo Shakarian, CEO and co-founder of CYR3CON, as well as a Fulton Entrepreneurial Professor at ASU.

Paliath is thrilled to have received the Tillman scholarship.

“I wanted to learn something more and I also wanted to solve problems,” Paliath said. “My practical knowledge and the academic perspective has a good synergy. I’m very relieved but also very honored and just kind of humbled by it – mainly humbled – and I just thought a lot of people apply to it. I didn’t really estimate my chances were very high. I was happy that I made it through and feel very humbled to get this award.”

U.S. service members, veterans and military spouses can apply to be Tillman Scholars to get financial support for higher education and keep their service going in the fields of medicine, business, law, science, technology, education and many other industries.

The Tillman Scholars program started in 2008 and supports the country’s active duty service members, veterans and the spouses of living or deceased military members by investing in professional development and education.

Every year about 2,300 people apply for the scholarships, which pay for full-time studies, said Jonathan Due, Pat Tillman Foundation director of programs and scholarships.

“We think of this as more than just a scholarship,” Due said. “This is an investment.”

He said those reviewing the applications had their “socks blown off” when they read about Paliath’s background.

“It’s the potential future that he offers and a passion about the future that really, really resonated with us as well,” Due said. “There was a couple things that really, really stood out. One of them is the fact that he’s a voracious learner. He described himself as a consummate problem solver. He has a proven track record of service to others. He has a clear scholarly and scholastic aptitude.”

He said Paliath’s passion for solving problems not just for himself but for other people was “endearing.”

Paliath said his love of computers began at a young age.

“My dad got me a computer on my 10th birthday and I basically never looked back,” he said.

Going to high school in Oman, Paliath was dissatisfied with the educational system, where students were encouraged to learn by rote.

His younger sister decided to move to California to live with their aunt and uncle and finish high school there, and he moved to Tempe at the same time.

“I’ve never had too much problem assimilating,” Paliath said. “Growing up in the Middle East, we had enough exposure to where it wasn’t so bad, that hard.”

In December 2000, he enlisted in the Arizona Army National Guard.

“It was just the discipline sort of attracted me to it,” Paliath said. “My parents were paying for (my) college; it’s expensive. I was uncomfortable with how much they had to pay.”

In Iraq, he helped mechanics, ordered parts and reported on the status of vehicles.

While deployed in Baghdad, Paliath wrote a custom code of his own to automate much of the work he and his fellow soldiers were doing and to “improve our reporting.” He streamlined and automated motor-pool operations and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

“When I was there, it was definitely a very long year,” he said. “It was a stressful year; you’re always alert and anxious the whole time. Now almost 13 years later, I look at it with a certain amount of fondness. Some of my closest military friends I met during my deployment.”

After returning to the United States, Paliath worked as a validation engineer at Intel, then at Infusionsoft as a software engineer. He worked full time while earning his master’s degree, graduating summa cum laude.

Paliath recently took the job at CYR3CON, where he and others explore the dark web to find forums where hackers discuss “malware and exploits people can use to target machines.”

“We provide intelligence to other companies to let them know, ‘Hey, it looks like hackers are talking about this particular vulnerability so maybe you should patch it,’” Paliath said.

He said he wants to continue doing the type of work he is doing now after he finishes his Ph.D. but “also branch out.”

“I just like solving interesting problems, especially if in doing so I can help someone,” Paliath said. “I’d like to have the practical application to help someone. There are many, many problems out there, many things that could be made more efficient.”

Shakarian is impressed with Paliath’s work.

“Vivin has a rare mix of intellectual ability and practical insights – which allows him to work on graduate-level mathematical models one day and then write mission-critical code the next,” he said.

Shakarian added that Paliath “made great strides as a researcher, publishing several scientific papers already.”

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