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The Big Reset with Petar Staykov: “You Can Be Part Of Creating Technology Instead Of Complaining From The Existing One”

The Big Reset is a series of video interviews where we explore the new ways of doing things after the global slowdown as a result of the pandemic, we look at challenges and at opportunities.

Often enough when we speak about the future of work we tend to go to the CEO or the founder of a company but we often leave out the perspective of the early employees and the people who joined the company after it was created and have to either co-shape or adapt to what is already established. 

So we decided to change the perspective a bit. Petar Staykov is working at one of those global product companies that we hope to attract to open real R&D centers in Bulgaria. AtScale is a US intelligence data virtualization company that has attracted $95 million of external capital and last year they decided to invest 25 of them in their engineering office here in Bulgaria. Petar Staykov is the first senior BI architect in Sofia in a team of 40 people. He’s also the first person that was working on the intersection between technology and business but the interesting twist here is that he just joined the company right before the COVID situation, leaving a secure corporate job to join a startup.

Trending Topics: Actually, you joined AtScale in March and at that moment it was already rather clear that the COVID situation will bring around some challenges, and moreover you left the corporate carrier for joining a startup. What was your motivation for such a step in these times?

Petar Staykov: For the last 12 years I’ve been working for a big enterprise in the food and beverage industry. I started my career as a software developer, I took several different roles and until a few months ago I was leading a department of 40 business intelligence consultants, 8 engineers, data scientists, developing and supporting one of the biggest data warehouse implementations in Europe. We were delivering reports to the business to Dublin on the west to Vladivostok on the east. We needed to spend weeks and months gathering data, massaging, orchestrating it, moving it from one location to another, and finally, delivering a business insight, which may not be valid anymore. We were limited by the technology of an old fashioned data warehouse and concepts. 

One evening I went out with my friends and they told me they had started to work at a new US company that is building a virtual data warehouse. And they wanted my advice on several topics. I said to myself at that time – “good luck to these guys who are trying to achieve the impossible”. Really, at the time for a hardcore ETL developer, working with hundreds of terabytes of data, this sounded like a kind of utopia. Two days later I had a meeting with the VP of engineering at my friends’ company. Seeing the passion in his eyes and also the motivation of my friends I could say the decision was quick. I don’t mean it was easy, because leaving a team I was developing for so many years seemed unthinkable. But that itching in my stomach was telling me “take this challenge and become part of technology creation, you need to grow and scale”. AtScale really solves many of the problems I have seen in the past. It is a virtual data warehouse, reducing the time needed for heavy data movements. It is data platform agnostic, meaning no matter where your data resides – AtScale can connect to it. It is also a BI tool agnostic, meaning data citizens can consume the data with their tool of preference and not the one selected by their IT department. Many companies are suffering from the so-called data silo problem. Sales departments have their own set of platforms, tools and reports, financial departments have their own, etc. And when the CEO asks a simple question e.g. “how many products I sold this year versus last year, or which are my most profitable customers”, he or she receives as many answers as people he asks. The universal semantic layer of AtScale solves this problem, the autonomous data engineering layer reduces the time to market of the report significantly. And AI-driven acceleration structures ensure performance. The more I deep dive into the AtScale platform the more I change my “no way” state of mind to “we are disrupting the big data market’. We are allowing businesses of all sizes to become data-driven at AtScale and this is really exciting.

How did the onboarding process work for you, given the fact that you have a rather management role and probably a big part of this whole onboarding was in remote mode? What was the first experience with remote working processes at AtScale?

This is the best part of working in a startup or scale company. There are no processes that are telling you what to do and respectively put you in frames. You are fully agile. And agile is not only a software development methodology. Agile means being able to adapt to the constantly changing reality and become better and better every single day. Just to mention here, working from home was widely adopted in AtScale long before COVID times. We are a distributed team all over the world and when you work remotely the world teams stand in front. When you are innovating it’s a mindset that always takes more than one to get the job done. We are maintaining something like AtScale academy, where we store how-to documents and the video tutorials. But the most important thing is that no one feels alone or lonely. You slack a question and everybody’s trying to help you according to his knowledge and experience. The sentence “it is not my job” is out of the AtScale’s vocabulary.  

As mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, you are now part of the company that is exactly the type of a company we want to attract to Bulgaria and to the local ecosystem – product-oriented, innovative. What’s the benefit from your point of view of having such companies in Bulgaria? Are they transferring knowledge that’s important here, some interesting know-how, and what kind of?

In my previous role I saw the technology limitations and the frustration of the business by the slow and expensive IT department and I was asking myself – what I can do to change that. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t change the perception of the business and there was no technology on the market that could help me speed up the process. So, I said to myself – why don’t you be part of creating technology rather than complain from the existing one. My favorite definition of business intelligence is BI is all about the tools, the processes and the mindset, which are turning data into information and information into knowledge. AtScale’s vision is to liberate that market and make it available for companies of all sizes, there is a tremendous business opportunity here. They think the world is growing exponentially and only data-driven companies will be successful in the next 3 to 5 years. I recently read an article about the sexiest IT careers. Guess what: the top three were data scientists, business intelligence consultants, and data engineers. This reflects the need of the business to understand their data and be better in the decision-making processes.  And we have a product that will disrupt that market and give one powerful weapon in the hands of those guys in order to help business with more and more data-driven insights. 

Your role is right on the intersection between business and technology, from what we observe in Bulgaria, products and business talent is what is rather missing here. How can we close that gap and what is the startup approach actually?

Everybody thinks there is a sea of talent and you just cast a fishing rod and catch it. In reality, companies need to build this talent, not to try to search for it. Our strategy is to find people who have the right innovation mindset, who are fast learners, who want to step out of their comfort zone, whose ideas will be heard and taken into account. The startup approach is teaching that we are missionaries  not mercenaries mindsets. Teamwork and learning from each other is the only way to close the gap between business and IT. The freedom we have, the mindset that you’re responsible not only for your domain, gives us the opportunity to work and look at the bigger picture and connect the dots. I’ll give an example here. A couple of weeks ago, during an all employees call, organized by our CEO, a colleague of mine, hardcore developer,  gave the idea to have AtScale COVID-19 data model, giving all possible multidimensional view of the main big sets available around the topic. Couple of days later, a joint effort between Boston pediatric hospital and AtScale team resulted in a data model, which is exposed to the whole world for analysis. The more high-value technology companies, like AtScale are in Bulgaria the more people will have the chance to develop those skills. Once our CEO Chris Lynch said “Success at AtScale in Bulgaria will be measured by the startups born out of its team”. This is the mindset that is driving the innovation.

Startups, especially when they come from the US are known for their strange perks, but I kind of have the feeling that it was a huge topic in the past years it is beginning to change and to shift, moreover given the new reality, there might not be so much space for strange perks. What do you think of the work and employee benefit that will matter from now on and tomorrow?

If you’re looking for a free beer it’s not the right place. Of course, we are having a glass of beer every time we finalize a tough task in the yard of the office. But luxury is measured by the time we can set aside for ourselves. That’s why we give everyone home office options not limited to only a few days per month. We are proud that in these tough times  we are following the market shrinking trend, but on the contrary, we are expanding the AtScale team. Since the lockdown we have managed to increase the team in Bulgaria with 15% and we are even more optimistic about the future hires. Personally, my biggest benefit is the opportunity to work with truly fascinating professionals with impressive backgrounds and a clear vision for the future. This working environment is like an incubator where best practices, ideas, beliefs, values are shared, and this empowers each of us to grow and learn more. To illustrate this I will refer to a recent chart, published by Forbes. It was a great pleasure to find out AtScale is recommended at a top place as a big data company to work for. But what was even more inspiring?  The list was created based on the opinions of the employees who work for those companies. I started the conversation honestly, admitting that I thought AtScale’s vision is impossible to be achieved and I will continue this way and with the change of my mindset. Now I believe Dan Brown – everything is possible, the impossible just takes longer and what is even better – in AtScale reality it doesn’t even take so long.

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