Mathias Golombek is the CTO of Exasol, an analytics database management software company headquartered in Germany.
Founded in 2000, Exasol’s main product, which takes the same name, runs in-memory and is used in sectors such as retail, finance and sports analytics. The firm has more than 200 customers spanning across more than 20 countries.
Golombek joined Exasol in 2004 as a software developer, later becoming the head of the R&D team before joining the executive board in 2013 as Exasol’s CTO.
In this Q&A, the 28th in our weekly series, Golombek explains why he’s excited by GPUs, how data science has a way to go before being a true disruptor, and shares his childhood dream of playing for the German football team.
Rob Scammell: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?
Mathias Golombek: My first job following university was actually with Exasol as a software developer. I originally wanted to join one of the big German industry companies – such as BMW, Daimler or Bosch – but I discovered this exciting database company that offered one of the most complex software solutions in Europe. As someone who is passionate about technology and computing, I sent in my application, interviewed the next day, and signed the contract right there and then.
What’s the most important thing happening in your field at the moment?
There are two major tech trends that are having the biggest impact in the business today. Firstly, cloud infrastructure and software-as-a-service models are making IT projects more agile, reduce risk and are bringing power to business units rather than a central IT department.
Secondly, the rise of modern data technologies makes it possible to turn a company into a data-driven organisation – optimising and automating processes and decisions in order to gain a competitive advantage.
Which emerging technology do you think holds the most promise once it matures?
Once GPUs become more standardised and a commodity in business, they will be able to accelerate computations significantly. GPUs can also accelerate data science. Machine learning and artificial intelligence help us to solve optimisation problems much easier, to make better, more informed business decisions. That’s why Exasol added data science language support many years ago and improved our open data platform to leverage the power of any future language or library without any hassle within a centralised data warehouse.
How do you separate hype from disruptor?
You’ll read a lot of exciting marketing stories about hyped technologies, but the real disruptive technologies are those that are broadly adopted across business or society. For example, data science – it’s an emerging, exciting technology and some CEOs even believe that it’s more important than the internet. But so long as data science applications are applied in smaller lab environments and without any real business impact, it will be considered as hype. That said, I’m sure it will move to the disruptor category one day.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?
Our former CEO, Gerhard Rumpff, who is now part of Exasol’s advisory board, gave a piece of advice that I’ll never forget: if there is ever an issue, you have to either change it, leave it or love it. I have applied this in business and also privately. We spend too much time and energy complaining or feeling frustrated and in these cases, we should always think about whether we could change it, step away from it (leave it) or simply accept it (love it).
Where did your interest in tech come from?
Growing up, my dream was to play football for the German national team, but I was also interested in computers. I got totally hooked on computers at the age of 9 when my older brother was studying programming at school. Then came the release of the ‘Commodore 64′, which blew my mind and helped me learn how to programme my first basic code while I was in fourth grade. I suffered a ligament injury playing football when I was 16 that abruptly ended my dreams of becoming a professional footballer. However, it reaffirmed my interest in computers, and my passion led me to study computer science at university and I haven’t looked back since.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m pleased to say that, in my position, there is no “typical” day. A company evolves, the market changes, opportunities and challenges arise all the time – with that you learn and develop every single day. The only thing that might be typical about my day is that I’m constantly talking with bright and interesting people – from colleagues and customers to journalists and advisors.
What do you do to relax?
I like to spend quality time with my family and friends, and step away from the technical world that I work in. A perfect weekend for me is gardening with my children in my vegetable garden and going hiking with friends. I am happiest when I am with the people that I love.
Who is your tech hero?
Despite the fact that he had quite a “difficult” personality (to phrase it nicely), I was very inspired by the legacy and the attitude of Steve Jobs. He wasn’t interested in certain technologies because of the technology itself, but how it impacted people. He shifted the limits of what was imaginable.
What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?
I believe that we need to quickly find the right technologies to save our planet. Our society is not courageous enough to find new ways of creating renewable energy, or to stop polluting our atmosphere with traditional energy sources.