November 17, 2020Employee Spotlight: Peter Dolan
“The journey is more about what life serves you, the way life happens, and meeting the right people at the right time, more than a focussed career execution.” How does one make the transition from working in film to working in tech? Today we are proud to introduce you to Momchil Michailov, VP of Global Engineering at AtScale.
What is your role at AtScale?
A: I am responsible for engineering R&D and I am the general manager of our European operations.
How long have you been at the company?
A: This week I approached my two-year mark with AtScale.
What does a typical “day in the life” look like for you?
A: A typical “day in the life” really depends on where we are in the quarter. Some days are streamlined and everything functions as they should in an engineering organization. Other days not so much. We’ve tried to establish a process that delivers both quality, work productivity, and a cadence that people can easily adjust to. That is what a typical “sprint” looks like from a development standpoint. Some days and some weeks function like that, and then some days are like hurricanes. You’ve got customers, deadlines for deliverables, patches, or new releases. Sometimes the work days get really long and intense, but no day is ever dull. I wouldn’t say each day is the same because every day has its little twist. We’ve transitioned and changed the organization a lot within the past couple of years, so that definitely adds a little spice in the day-to-day operations.
What is it like working with both our US and European offices?
A: We work as a well-functioning, respectful team. When I joined AtScale, the company was completely based in San Mateo, California. Now we are in Bulgaria, Boston, and San Mateo. I have to give a huge amount of credit to the team for being open-minded, accepting new people, and working with them. There have obviously been challenges with different languages and time zones that can span a ten hour difference around the globe. There was a period of time when people got acquainted with each other and figured out how to work together, and now we’re at that stage of respect across the whole organization.
Being a team, you do have to trust other people, you have to communicate well, and you have to work together. I think the team has done an excellent job with that. Most of our challenges are around scheduling these days. Getting the right systems in place such as Confluence and Jira as a form of communication, and as a way to track and hand over things between offices, time zones, and teams has helped. Getting new releases of AtScale’s solutions is a team effort and everyone has been awesome at pitching in and enabling that kind of workflow.
Can you share your journey from being a film producer to now serving as VP of Global Engineering at AtScale? What drew you to this industry?
A: It’s a funny question when you ask it, isn’t it? The journey is more about what life serves you, the way life happens, and meeting the right people at the right time, more than a focussed career execution. I started in film and video. I went to film school first, became deeply involved in the industry in the early 90s, and that was when the digital transformation in the media happened. I was lucky to be one of the very first people to work with digital video and non-linear video editing. The process of moving from film to videotape, then to digital formats, presented a whole new form of challenges in terms of storage, the performance of the computers, and networking. So, throughout the late ’90s, I moved from production to more of the technical and infrastructure challenges, figuring out “How can we make this happen?” The economic shift was massive and it made the most sense to move down the digital path, although the technical challenges associated with it were huge.
I started a company called Number One GM out of Boston, Massachusetts that focussed on creating systems to allow workflow of digital media production from the time footage gets shot in the field, to the time it’s edited, adding graphics and special effects, all the way to broadcasting. We built that company into a fairly successful product set that was ultimately acquired by Autodesk. The product was centered around the idea of being in a workgroup and being able to have multiple video editors, graphic artists, and audio artists work at the same time. But, the common denominator in the whole thing is data. All of these people need to have access to the same data at the same time. This is a huge problem. When you think about it, it’s like building a house without a foundation. If you don’t have the data, you can’t get that wonderful workflow you want.
After selling Number One GM in 2000, I convinced my wife that I need about three years to solve the data problem. So, we started a company called Sanbolic. One of the instrumental people in the starting of Sanbolic was Iva Vitanova, who now runs the entire Bulgarian operations at AtScale. We started developing a clustered storage solution, a file system that would allow multiple people to access the same dataset. Early on we had the opportunity to work with Motorola Computing Group, who built their telco NOC’s and that gave us a glimpse into their plans for the future and how data would be used in distributed data center environments. Today that’s known as cloud computing. Instead of the three years that I told my wife that it would take, it actually took 15 years. Throughout those 15 years, we built out Sanbolic and had tremendous customer success. In 2015, we sold it to Citrix Systems. I worked at Citrix for about a year running the converged infrastructure business there. After that, I basically retired.
Part of what brought me to AtScale was the passion of the founders and the fact that the original product idea came from a real life problem they had run into in their careers. In Silicon Valley, there’s a fairly good amount of craziness. It’s a good craziness. The typical story of a founder looking for funding after taking a shower in the morning and getting a “Eureka” moment about this groundbreaking app they want to build and then becoming a billionaire off of it a week later… it gets tiring after a while.
So, about two years ago, I was talking to Chris Lynch, Scott Howser, and Peter Perrone, whom I’ve known for many years. Chris was telling me about this wonderful opportunity he was getting involved with. I went to lunch with Peter Perrone and David Mariani and Mariani was a big advocate for technology that really came from a customer need. I listened to Mariani discuss the challenges he experienced at Yahoo!, and what he built to address that, which became the foundation for AtScale.
The opportunity to work with Chris, Scott, Peter, David Mariani, and Sarah Gerweck was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I called my wife and told her I was looking into a company and the next day at eight in the morning I was on my way into the office in San Mateo. My journey to AtScale was more about life, opportunity and circumstances, as opposed to a laser-focused career decision process.
What makes AtScale and our solution unique?
A: The people in the company are absolutely incredible. That is by far my favorite part. It’s tremendous and super fulfilling every single day. I think what makes the product unique and special is one of the main reasons why I joined the company. It’s a real business problem that every small, medium, and large company encounters a different magnitude. That is what really drove me to come out of retirement, to see a product that addresses such a fundamental need in a market this big is hard not to get excited about.
The product helps our customers run businesses better, make smarter decisions, become more optimized, and understand their business. Once you get the basics of the business, it’s that fine-tuning, understanding the data, and the fundamentals of the business that need business intelligence and analytics. Coming from a data background, I’ve always said it’s not about the infrastructure, it’s not about storage, servers, or cloud services. It’s about the data! The number one most valuable thing that our customers have is their own data. Being able to help our customers analyze that data, understand it, and make smart decisions because of it, is what makes AtScale such a special place.
Having the ability to talk to the customer and see how their eyes light up is amazing. A sign that we’re on the right track is when you have end-users join the company because they understand the benefits of the product. It’s a sign that the value we’re able to deliver to our customers is huge. Petar Staykov joined us recently and became the leader of BI practice at AtScale. He came from Atos, which is a Coca Cola company. I loved seeing the excitement in his eyes about what AtScale does to the business processes and how it could benefit a company the size of Coca Cola. Having someone with that level of expertise and knowledge join us is validation for the product, and enables us to drive massive amounts of innovation, delivering even more value to our customers. This is the most rewarding part for me because we’ve built something and we are seeing the output and the value it creates.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: Thats a hard one… from a practical standpoint starting the workday at 4 o’clock in the morning is a bit of a challenge sometimes. Two years into it, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me. I enjoy my coffee and work, which is especially nice during these “work from home” days.
From a professional standpoint, perhaps the most challenging part of the past year has been scaling the team as fast as we have been able to. The actual process of scaling: bringing everyone up to speed and training them, making sure everything works properly, onboarding new team members, opening and enabling three development locations and defining all of the processes provides some logistical challenges. The credit goes to the team, they made what most would view as a huge challenge, into a breeze and success.
The most rewarding?
A: These challenges were alleviated beyond what I expected since I’m fortunate enough to be part of a team of self-driven individuals. They are all so incredible to work with and have made this a fun, rewarding, educating, and successful process.
Describe AtScale in three words.
A: Rocket during takeoff!
When you’re not working, where are people most likely to find you?
A: In either a very windy spot windsurfing, or on a high mountain powder skiing.