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Signing off on new technology

E-signature pioneer and alumnus Tommy Petrogiannis to speak at Homecoming
September 8, 2016
By Wayne Larsen

Submitting a contract or other official form over the internet used to be impossible — you had to print it out and sign it in ink because there was no other way to affix your signature. Yet that became old-fashioned a few years ago thanks to technology that allows us to securely sign legal documents with the click of a mouse. 

Tommy Petrogiannis, BEng (elec.) 88, Tommy Petrogiannis, president of eSignLive by VASCO, has simple advice for current students: it’s all about the passion. “Love what you do. Having that passion to focus on what you love is probably the most important thing because it will get you over any obstacle that gets thrown at you.”

One of the pioneers in that area is Tommy Petrogiannis, BEng (elec.) 88, president of eSignLive by VASCO (formerly Silanis Technology), the Montreal-based company behind eSignLive, one of the world’s top three electronic signature products.

eSignLive made headlines across business pages last year when it was acquired by giant VASCO Data Security International in a $113-million deal that helped to position eSignLive firmly in the international market. As Petrogiannis pointed out at the time, the acquisition was mutually beneficial, as it also facilitated VASCO’s access to the North American market.

The VASCO acquisition will likely be one of the discussion topics on Saturday, September 24, when Petrogiannis returns to Concordia to speak about his career and how he built eSignLive into one of the fastest-growing information technology companies. His talk will be presented as part of the Engineering and Computer Science Department’s Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series, one of the Homecoming 2016 weekend events.

A love of technology

Describing himself as a “die-hard Montrealer,” Petrogiannis grew up in the city’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Snowdon area. He attended Vanier College CEGEP before coming to Concordia, where he was able to indulge his love of technology.

“I guess you could say I was a tech geek who gravitated toward electrical engineering just because of that time of evolution in the industry,” he says.

“I was very fortunate to have grown up during the whole semi-conductor revolution, where we saw PCs doubling in performance every 12 to 18 months. Every time you thought computers couldn’t get any better, a year later they were way better. There was always something new around the corner.”

Petrogiannis co-founded Silanis with Joseph Silvester and Michael Laurie — the name is an amalgamation of their surnames — whom he met while working at Matrox Electronic Systems in Dorval, Que.

The problem of designing a secure electronic signature to facilitate internet transactions was a primary focus of the new company, which today serves several thousand clients worldwide, mainly in the government, banking and insurance industries.

Among these are the top 100 global banks, not to mention the United States Department of Defence, which, as Petrogiannis proudly points out, is probably the most security-conscious organization in the world.

Concordia offered hands-on experience

For Petrogiannis, the decision to get his degree in electrical engineering at Concordia was easy. “One of the reasons I went to Concordia is because I loved the hands-on lab work that was part of the program,” he says.

“I’ve always liked the idea of doing something rather than just reading about it. I’ve always liked translating theory into reality, and that’s what attracted me to Concordia.”

That hands-on experience would prove beneficial to Petrogiannis in the real world, where innovation often trumps theory. “When you try stuff out in the lab, you’re not going to come anywhere near the theoretical results you should get to,” he points out.

“So you end up being more creative and try to troubleshoot things differently than you could have if you were just looking at it academically.”

Tommy Petrogiannis presents the Engineering and Computer Science Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series on September 24, 2016, 3 p.m.–4 p.m., in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex, Norman D. Hébert, LLD Meeting Room (EV 2.260), 1515 Ste. Catherine St. W.

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