November 17, 2020Employee Spotlight: Peter Dolan
AtScale was born from one vision; a vision to give users the flexibility to use, store, and analyze their data so they can lead their teams with confidence. Seven years later, this vision has become our mission – one that our team lives everyday. Today, we are proud to introduce you to one of our co-founders and Chief Technology Officer who helps bring our vision to life, Sarah Gerweck.
What is your role here at AtScale?
A: I’m the Chief Technology Officer at AtScale. My role is to help provide a unified technical vision across both the product and engineering efforts as well as helping communicate our technical vision to customers and prospects in the market.
You’re one of the co-founders of AtScale. What was the inspiration behind the company?
A: When we looked at the space, what we saw was that the way companies were using data was rapidly changing and expanding. We were seeing a quick transition to private clouds and data lakes inside the company using technologies like Hadoop and others. We were also starting to see the expansion of public clouds into traditional enterprises. It just seemed that the way that people were using, storing and accessing data had fundamentally changed. The amounts of data that people were using had grown much larger, the types of insights that companies needed to make data-driven decisions were changing.
Although people felt that a lot of problems were solved in the space of business intelligence and analytics, we were starting to see that that was no longer true. I worked with Dave Mariani—another AtScale founder—and we found that we couldn’t buy products to solve the problems that we needed to solve. If it was that hard for us, it must be hard for everybody. There were these big gaps that people weren’t seeing yet.
So, there was a real need for AtScale?
A: Absolutely. It was becoming clear that both the scale of data and the way that data was stored has changed so much that the existing technologies couldn’t deal with the demands of a modern business.
Can you talk to us about the experience of creating a startup? What was that like?
A: It’s a lot of hard work. You are starting from a blank piece of paper and trying to build something that is useful and valuable to large numbers of people. When starting, you have to be really clear and confident about the vision that you have for the company- what problem you’re solving and how you’re going to stay focused on that. You have to have a lot of insights into how to start making the trade-offs: who you’re going to hire, what sorts of architectures that you’re going to use in your technology, who your early customers are going to be.
For us, it was clear what we were going to do and what we weren’t going to do. If you look at some of the early decisions that we made, we wanted to be the “Swiss Army knife” of data. We didn’t want to be locked into a specific platform. We could’ve built our own query engine or insisted on our own visualization layer, but we felt that those limitations would be a mistake, as our hypothesis was the democratization of data. Data was going to be in more places, it was going to be used in more ways, and it was going to be used at larger scales.
We really focused on being an enablement system that would let people use any of their data however they wanted with any tools they wanted, stored anywhere they wanted and mix and match where they saw fit. We learned a lot along the way, but I think that it’s still consistent with the vision of the company today.
Prior to working at AtScale, you worked for Yahoo! as a lead architect. What responsibilities came with that role and what skills that you developed over there, carried over into the role that you have now?
A: I was the architect for a project called “Advertising Insights from Yahoo!” as well as some other analytics projects. In that role, I got to see the world’s largest SQL Server cube in action and see both what its strengths were and some of the weaknesses that it had. I got to work with MicroStrategy at Internet scale and got to see some of the world’s largest Hadoop clusters. I could really see the way that data was changing and the ways that people were working with that data was evolving. The experience of first trying to buy a solution to solve the data intelligence needs of the advertising and analytics group at Yahoo! and learning from building our own in-house technology was clarifying. If it was such a challenge for one of the largest tech companies in the Valley at the time, it seemed likely to be even harder for sectors like banks, retail and finance. Although they’re technically sophisticated, they are not software development companies.
What makes our approach unique?
A: AtScale is the “Swiss Army knife” of data. There are a lot of products out there that tie you to a specific data engine or a specific visualization layer. What’s unique about AtScale is that we have a broad virtualization strategy where we can connect anything you have to anything else that you have—whatever your favorite visualization tool is, whether your data lives on a private cloud, a traditional data warehouse, a public cloud, or some combination of those. We can connect you across those things and give your users access to your data using the tools that they love already. That vision is unique to AtScale and it’s something that we do well.
Rather than locking people into an existing stack or technology, we give our customers a way to be flexible and continue to evolve as they move from on-prem to cloud or moving from one cloud to another or even from one type of on-prem deployment to another on-prem deployment, we just let people mix and match from wherever they need to.
What does it mean to be “data-driven”?
A: “Data-driven” means making the most of the data that you have available about your business and using it to make decisions. Any modern enterprise has lots of data about their business, whether it’s the behavior of their users or their customers, the details about their supply chain, how their advertising and marketing is working in terms of impressions and collision; modern businesses have access to lots of data. You get much better insight into how a business really operates—what works and what can be improved—if you are able to leverage that data to see quantitatively what is going on. I think that taking the approach that it’s essential to measure and look across all available data to make the best decisions that you can is what it means to be “data-driven”.
Describe AtScale in three words.
A: Flexible data insights.
Describe the San Mateo office in three words.
A: Clever, cutting-edge engineering.
Where do you see AtScale in five years?
A: I hope to see AtScale enabling data access at all of the world’s enterprises and helping people navigate the complexities of their data environments of the insights that they want to develop in a manner that makes their lives easy.
Do you have any advice for those who want to have a career in the data and analytics field?
A: I would say try to get some breadth in understanding the ways that people really want to use data, whether it’s by looking at different verticals like retail, financial and healthcare, by looking at different groups inside your company, or looking at different tools and technologies that are available. There are a lot of commonalities in the ways that people access and analyze data, but there’s also a lot of differences in terms of the specific ways that people want to measure things or categorize things or people want to group things. The more you can get that breadth of perspective, the more you can bring both the commonalities and the specific customizations to any problem that you come across.
When you’re not in the office, where are people most likely to find you?
A: For now, in my apartment. But usually it’s hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains or out eating dinner somewhere. We’re spoiled for food in the Bay Area: you almost can’t walk down the street without finding a great place to eat.