Tuesday night the Fellows heard from Kushal Dave, CTO of Chartbeat. Chartbeat allows an incredible volume of real-time analytics, including how many people are on your site right now, which pages, how many are commenting, etc. Basically Chartbeat is to Google Analytics as IM is to snail mail.
Chartbeat is also part of the Betaworks companies, so Fellows got to hear about Betaworks’ energetic incubator-investor environment. Kushal’s talk was called “more than I wish I knew about storing data at web scale”.
Fellows were really engaged in hearing how their technical skills can be the make-or-break difference for a data-driven startup such as Chartbeat. Kushal went through the nitty and the gritty of how organizing your data properly can enable the kind of intuitive UI chartbeat provides for viewing historical data, and how organizing data the way you might have first thought (including, in Kushal’s case, trying to write his own database from scratch) can be a total nonstarter.
In the end the winning strategy was to work with 10gen, whose MongoDB framework saved the day! (The fellows will be hearing from Kristina Chodorow from 10gen in mid-July, so stay tuned. Hopefully we’ll also get to hear about the projects hackNY Fellow Chris Triolo is working on there this summer!).
That said, clearly the winning skills for Kushal were fluency in multiple languages/frameworks; an ability to abstract the problem to compare the different potential solutions; and the persistence to keep hacking until the winning strategy was launched.
The Fellows also heard Kushal’s observations about how the role of the technologists in a startup differs from his earlier experiences at two Big.Co’s: google and IBM. Fellows were very interested to hear about the experiences that encouraged Kushal to leave Google’s NYC office after 5 years there and join Chartbeat. Many of the themes echoed what the Fellows heard from Fred Brooks about large corporations and the difficult to design and execute a beautiful creation in an large corporation. Some of Kushal’s comments also echoed those of Martin Wattenberg in our first Fellows’ lecture this summer, on the subject of how a great creation can be edited, controlled, (or, in the case of Kushal’s experience at Google, killed entirely) based on the decisions of people on the product or PR side of a large multifaceted corporation.
Kushal did a great job spanning both the artfulness of being a technologist in a startup (there were plenty of jokes about B trees and key parsing) but also the human dynamics of being part of a small team — or even leading one, in Kushal’s case — vs. being a small cog in a large machine. It was great to hear how Kushal’s transitions since his time as a student had taught him so much and how he’s landed on his feet at a great gig.
We’re looking forward to hearing what his future holds!
pictures: Alex Qin (thanks, Alex!!!)