Career Tip: Dr. Mike Stonebraker, World’s Foremost Database Authority

"Take a fling on a startup.  Experience will be invaluable.  If it fails, you will have gotten valuable training for your next job."

Dr. Mike Stonebraker, Founder and CTO, StreamBase Systems

  • Professor at MIT
  • World’s foremost pioneer on RDBMS; founder of INGRES, POSTGRES, Mariposa, Illustra
  • 2005 IEEE John Von Neumann Medal Winner
  • Computer Reseller News Top Five Software Developers of the Century
  • Forbes Magazine: Top 8 Innovators
  • 1992 ACM System Software Medal, 1994 ACM Innovation Award

I was recently dialoguing with Mike and he provided this great career tip. His tip resonates with me since with startups you develop a multitude of deep skills. You have an opportunity to be involved in all stages of technical development, within a framework of project management, collaboration and integration. Moreover, you can develop a business plan with: executive summary, vision, mission, smart [specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound] objectives, tactics, business opportunity, market size, business model, target markets, delivery models, product/service, technology, management team, competitive landscape, SWOT analysis, marketing strategies, revenue model, financial projections, investment usage, profit estimation, asset estimation.

You receive deep insights into leadership, business strategy, financing, branding, and marketing. I have been involved in many over my career and several even in the past year. It’s a great environment to sharpen your skills and it is one area recommended by Gartner to build your versatilist skills (multiple “deep” skills combined with business knowledge).

If starting a new venture interests you, I have a podcast I did last Friday with legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur and now Venture Capitalist, Guy Kawasaki. Guy provides some great tips on startups, and also on blogging.

Stephen Ibaraki

Comments (8)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I read Graham’s blog "What’s a Versatilist" where he rather eloquently expresses his thoughts about the…

  2. Sue Laury says:

    I read with fascination your discussion of startups. We studied Dr. Stonebraker’s work with I was working on my Masters so it’s a great recommendation. I have some ideas to launch my own company. Will you define further a SWOT and write a blog on business plans?



  3. Sally Hues says:

    Mr. Kawasaki is really well known in Silicon Valley and amongst my crew, we think he is cool. When will the interview appear?

  4. Stephen Ibaraki says:

    Sue, you would have a good appreciation for Mike’s work.

    Mike has iconic status in the computer science and database world which explains his IEEE recognition which is akin to a Nobel Prize in computer science. Mike is the 14th recipient of this prestigious prize which includes past recipients, Gordon Bell, Fred Brooks and Carver Meade. You will find his recent contributions on real-time SQL-like analysis of live data streams is fascinating. His work will revolutionize the handling of data streams allowing real-time message correlation/analysis and queries on data flows. This has a substantial impact and 150 times performance improvements for applications in financial services (analyze multiple stock feeds), military battlefield intelligence, industrial control, weather tracking, data tracking from RFID tags and sensors and individual performance monitoring (Casinos). Anywhere one needs SQL joins, aggregates, and information correlation without storing the data and the ability to process data from multiple streams, all in real-time. Moreover, using supplied tools, years of application development compresses to days. This is the focus of his latest startup, StreamBase.

    With regard to your request for a blog on business plans: this could be an overview blog series since it has its complexities. I’ll have to think about if this will work in this forum. I should mention that the links I provide from the Guy interview has great information in this area.

    On your question about a SWOT analysis: SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. I have completed quite of few of these in the part year and presented on Strategic Planning (which includes SWOT analysis) at the Networld+Interop Vegas Conference 2005 NPA AGM. Strategic Planning is an essential process for organizations and a SWOT analysis is a critical component. One key area of business success is Porter’s (from Harvard) model which consists of: differentiation (uniqueness), cost advantage (low operational costs), and/or focus (on a particular market segment where you can more easily dominate). I would link to this list: added value, continual innovation, competitiveness, and successful collaboration. A SWOT analysis is one tool to support these success areas and it something that should be done regularly with overall organizational involvement.    

    So what is a SWOT analysis?

    You assess your companies internal Strengths, Weakness—this is the SW part of (SW)OT. A strength could be your strong brand recognition or a very strong and widely known management team with a long proven record of past successes. A weakness could be high operational and labour costs or poor financing or weak revenue.

    You also analyze external Opportunities and Threats—this is the OT portion of SW(OT). When I say external, I mean coming from the environment external to the organization. External opportunities are events, trends, changes occurring that can allow your company to be more successful (you work to take advantage of them). Lower interest rates, a growing economy, an aging population, a more environmentally conscious public, the growing online community and need for people to be involved in social networking, the growing pervasiveness of the internet, consumers looking for better value and service, businesses looking to reduce server sprawl and reduce their IT operating costs—these could all be opportunities. Threats are disruptive external (to the company) forces that can stall your company. A new government, recession, fragmented industry, strong competition, changing behaviors of the public, weakening IT budgets—these can be threats. The key is to match internal strengths against new external opportunities. Microsoft’s strong ability to produce business solutions is a strength they are using to service the opportunity where businesses want to lower their operating costs and reduce server sprawl. Microsoft is doing this through their Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2. Using this MS solution, businesses can reduce the number of servers they have by virtualizing multiple operating systems on one server and making more effective use of server utilization.

    If there are new opportunities that you can’t take advantage of since you don’t have the required internal capabilities then these lacking capabilities are weaknesses. I recommend working on overcoming these weaknesses so they become strengths. You also should work on reducing or countering external threats. A threat could be growing strong competition and your answer is to more clearly differentiate your company and add to the perceived value you can offer, to counter this threat.  

    I would be happy to answer more questions…

    Thank you,

    Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.

  5. Stephen Ibaraki says:

    Good to hear from you Sally. That’s a common reaction. Last month, I was talking to two graduates of the UVIC software engineering program who started their own company and they follow his blog to get insights–same words they used too, "cool"!

    Expect the interview to appear next week–the week of April 3rd.

    Thank you,

    Stephen Ibaraki

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is the next blog post in the career tip series from noted IT professionals. The last one was from…

  7. Anonymous says:

    I received an e-mail yesterday if I could share some of the roles I have undertaken and then provide…

  8. Anonymous says:

     I thought, “What a great blog!”, after reading Graham’s piece on management. It brought to mind Colin’s…

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