The Sound of Science

Anyone who has crammed onto a concert floor to be close to their favorite band knows the power of “the crowd.” Musicians thrive in front of a bobbing sea of fans, and the crowd thrives on thumping music.

For Victor Kovalev – a musician, software engineer, and Georgia Tech alum (MS CS ’07) – his path toward that same thrill has been as circuitous as a motherboard but undeniably powered by the crowd.

The aspiring musician is a self-professed “geek since birth.” As a child, Kovalev frequently competed for top honors in Math Olympics contests in his native Russia. The avid gamer also wrote a “home-brewed” version of the popular 1980s arcade game Arkanoid in BASIC.

In high school, he moved to the U.S., where he made Atlanta his academic home for six years thanks to Georgia Tech’s reputation. The computer engineering major gravitated toward artificial intelligence early in his undergraduate studies and conducted research with Associate Professor Tucker Balch on AIBOs (or robotic pets) for the U.S. Open Robotics Championship in Atlanta.

Along the way, he was diagnosed with a mild form of auditory-tactile synesthesia. People with auditory synesthesia experience enhanced sensations from certain sounds – or exceptional hearing.  Kovalev can notice subtle changes to a bass drop that most wouldn’t be able to hear, making him a valuable member of any band.

“Auditory synesthesia is technically a medical condition,” Kovalev said. “But I think it’s more like a superpower!”

Although Kovalev loved music and plays multiple instruments, he continued on the path to becoming a robotics researcher, then became a software developer for Authernative, a Silicon Valley IT security startup. Eventually becoming seasoned in all aspects of software development, his ascent would include stops at VMware and Yelp.

“I think this ‘climbing the stack’ experience gives me a unique perspective across the full stack and how it all fits together,” Kovalev said. “That definitely helped me in my career.”     

Music was never far from Kovalev’s mind, though. He planned to quit Yelp to help launch an incubator for musicians he had been involved with. So, Kovalev began researching crowdfunding options like Indiegogo to raise both funds and awareness. An Indiegogo recruiter contacted him almost simultaneously about joining the company. Living his musical dreams while leading Indiegogo’s software engineers was an irresistible idea; Kovalev had found a new gig.    

The now-vice president for engineering has been a major crowdfunding advocate ever since.

“When the Nepal earthquake hit, you could just see our online community rallying to help at amazing speed and scale,” Kovalev said. “And that's the point – whatever you care about the most, just search Indiegogo and you'll find how we are changing the world in that very area.” 

The musician incubator Kovalev is a part of is focused on making a similar impact. The Oakland-based non-profit Zoo Labs is working to create a musical band residency program that could shake the recording industry even more than it’s already been shaken.

“I really want to change the traditional model for musicians,” Kovalev said. “I believe they really get the short end of the stick and get taken advantage of by the labels and music industry as a whole.”

Kovalev would welcome that new model as his own band, Chief Vice Officers, attempts to break out. Self-described as “Eastern European-influenced electronic punk rock,” Chief Vice Officers is currently working on its first album. Kovalev has a goal of playing Coachella by 2019. 

Until then, he’s staying busy attempting to change the world through the power of the crowd.

“I am a big believer in personal evolution as I journey through life – so I'm looking forward to the exciting surprises the future holds!”