Welcome to Friday. We thought it was time to start getting up close with some of the folks shaping the dialog and driving the innovation around analytics. To kick it off, we are pleased to get some insight from George Spofford, lead architect building the computation engine at Tidemark.
George has been involved with many of the leading products in analytics over the last twenty years back to the invention of OLAP. With a nod to Craig Kilborn’s time on the Daily Show with 5 Questions, here is Five for Friday with George Spofford.
PM: George - you are both an expert and a veteran of building enterprise analytics. Tell us about your background and the products you have worked on.
George: At the heart of it, I find the whole problem space of sophisticated modeling and analysis very cool.
I've been lucky enough to work on analytics for my entire career, beginning with consulting for a startup when I was still in college, before "OLAP" was coined. My original goal was a job in electronic music (I wanted to make synthesizers) or analysis, and analysis literally knocked on the door. That grew into my first fun startup experience at Power Thinking Tools- we were right at the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit PCs and had a really interesting desktop multidimensional modelling/analysis product. I can't call it OLAP because it did much more than OLAP tools. I wrote most of the engine as well as having a hand in most of the rest. After an analyst at a trade show gave us the benefit of the doubt about our recalc speed, I started writing the minimal recalc engine on the plane back and got it ready in 6 weeks. More than a bit of fear involved, but it all worked out.
We got acquired to build an OLAP engine directly into a data warehouse engine at Praxis (the old Computer Corporation of America), and I got to work with a number of really smart and experienced database people to work on a cool project. I'd already gotten the data/analysis bug, this gave me a chance to learn a lot as well as grow a bit of a team in an existing organization.
With Dimensional Systems and DSS Lab, I got to work directly with the vendors as well as customers on technology as well as applications. This was an amazing opportunity for everyone involved. We had some enormous brainpower to apply with no competitive axe to grind, and we worked on and solved real problems of logical modeling, calculation languages, and integration capabilities for most of the largest vendors in the space.
We also got to work as a trusted party between vendors, for example with the now-defunct OLAP Council and the XMLA Council. I also got to build real applications for a number of end-user organizations and develop deep expertise in some technologies such as MDX, as well as prove and benchmark a number of tools and technologies internally. Directly working with the customers, teaching them cool stuff and learning their domain as I build something that makes their world simpler than before was always a gas.
At Hyperion, I got to work on model-driven analytic data integration and federated querying across a variety of sources. Reinventing the analytical model to blow past cubes and provide a sophisticated interface on top was a key part of it. Unfortunately, Hyperion got acquired before we could release it to the market.
PM: How do you think about innovation?
George: Innovation is hard. Questioning assumptions is really important, and the door should always be open to that. Sometimes the right innovation is a tweak to something already there or borrowing from somewhere else for inspiration. Sometimes it's a fundamental re-think and changing the way people think about the problem space. Getting the latter form to a wide audience is more challenging because it requires the large audience to go along with the change, but it's also frequently where disproportionately more value lies.
PM: Having joined Tidemark, what has been your biggest surprise?
George: Transplanting from the East Coast has been a learning experience.
PM: You are currently hiring development talent for your team. What is your ideal hiring profile?
George: Smart, gets things done, and is intellectually generous. These aren't easily reflected on a resume. The team needs to combine aptitudes and developed skills in distributed services, database internals, compilers, big data, text analysis, and various technologies of interest. No one that I've met combines it all, and that's fine because we teach and learn from each other. Prior experience with OLAP databases (internals or APIs) is helpful because we do dimensional modeling, but we're doing things somewhat differently than any other vendor so it's more of a useful reference point.
PM: When you aren't making the world safe for cloud analytics, what do you do for fun?
George: I spend so much time at a computer for work that I like to get out of Dodge and gain some altitude: skiing, biking and hiking are at the top of the list (shout-out to Tuckerman's Ravine), and I can't wait to get some time to go camping. Ping-pong is a competitive outlet but that's dormant until a table comes along somewhere. Kicking back and making dinner with friends is hard to beat when I'm still in Dodge. Would love to go sailing again.