CTO Sessions: Mathias Golombek, Exasol

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? "I see the CTO position moving closer to top-level strategic leadership and away from day-to-day operational management."

Name: Mathias Golombek

Company: Exasol

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: January 2014

Location: Nuremberg, Germany

Mathias Golombek joined Exasol back in 2004 as a software developer. He later became the Head of the R&D team before joining the executive board in 2014 as Exasol's CTO. His primary responsibility is Exasol's technology, but he's equally focused on nurturing the company's unique working environment - a place where smart and passionate people are encouraged to explore and have fun with innovation.

What was your first job? My first job out of 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 then and there.

Did you always want to work in IT? 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'. It blew my mind and helped me learn how to program my first basic code while I was in fourth grade. I suffered a cruciate ligament injury playing football when I was 16, which 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 was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied computer science at the University of Würzburg for four years with a focus on databases and distributed systems, earning a diploma in Computer Science.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I've been fortunate that I've not taken any detours along my career path, as my career has been influenced and supported by Exasol. From my first job as a software developer straight out of university, Exasol helped inspire me to become the Head of the R&D Team, before launching me into the CTO role which saw me take a seat at the executive board in 2014.

I've remained passionate about and dedicated to computing throughout my career, and I'm proud to be part of one of the world's fastest and most agile database software companies.

What type of CTO are you? I am a CTO who encourages technological innovation, but also encourages creativity and a supportive environment. A company cannot run on technology alone, and must invest in its people, so my goal is to evoke a positive company culture which people love to be a part of. I also focus on nurturing the company's unique working environment, where people are encouraged to explore their ideas and have fun with innovation.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I'm very conscious of the negative impact that we are having on our planet's environment, and so I'm really excited about any developments within the renewable energy field. With recent breakthroughs, such as innovative electric vehicles, solar-powered trains and glass electrolyte storage systems, the industry is moving at quite a pace. I look forward to a future when we don't have to rely on fossil fuels any longer.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think that many technologies are overhyped, but I don't see any problem with that - it just indicates that a lot of people are excited about developing technologies. Even if certain technologies don't live up to their hype, interest and investment in technology can only be a good thing.

For example, it could be argued that artificial intelligence is overhyped. However, even as it goes through the typical hype cycle, the technology will be undeniably useful for both our business and personal lives.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? I'm really proud of having established a new communication initiative and found the right collaboration tool to implement across the company. The tool has really helped us accelerate our international growth, and improved the way people are communicating, collaborating and working as one single team across multiple locations.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We are on the verge of transforming our existing, fully-automated marketing approach to achieve the next level of digital excellence. This journey will involve improving our communication with potential users and creating the optimal touch points to ensure maximum exposure with prospects. We want to ensure that user experience is our top priority, while also trying to reduce any excessive operational overhead.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Exasol works with enterprise clients across every industry, helping them transform their businesses to become more data-centric. They all have their own unique challenges - however, there are some fundamental challenges most of our clients are looking to address: such as high performance, flexibility, and scalability.

Performance challenges might be preventing the move from BI to analytics with larger data sets, and is therefore preventing a business from progression to self-service analytics.

Moreover, flexibility could be required in the use of data. For example, flexibility in the integration of datasets from disparate sources, or the ability to support the various programming languages that are more popular with data scientists. Established companies will also usually need the flexibility of a hybrid data platform that provides consistent service on-premises through to the public cloud. This means augmenting their existing databases and compliance needs to accelerate data analytics.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? At Exasol, our primary goal is to understand our customer's business inside and out, and to translate this into appropriate system requirements.

Too often, people focus on achieving one specific feature using one specific tool. They choose their technology too quickly, without having considered their vision in its entirety or weighing up the pros and cons of said tech. We do a thorough requirement analysis in order to create a strategy that will monitor how the systems interact across the whole business chain. Our aim is to give businesses a technology stack that is an enabler, rather than a blocker, to their success.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I have the privilege of working for a company in which our product strategy and tech strategy are very closely aligned. Thanks to the many recent improvements to hardware infrastructure - such as cloud, virtualisation and software stacks - it's easier than ever for all businesses to leverage technology in order to create desired products and services. A great example of this is the fintech industry, in which countless start-ups are building applications and services around scalable technologies - revolutionising the market while they're at it!

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy starts with the right team. With the right people supporting you, it's easy to plan the individual processes and projects that make up your roadmap to success. More specifically, businesses should consider the following three aspects when planning their tech strategy;

Have you aligned your business goals and strategy? This is key as, without considering your business goals, your technology strategy runs the risk of being an expensive waste of resource.  

Can your new technology be quickly integrated? There is a need for speed and efficiency when implementing a new tech strategy, as any power outages or downtime could cost your business money and diminish customer trust. Set yourself achievable timeframes, as this reduces the likelihood of unexpected down-time.

Is your new technology scalable? Your technology stack should always be able to scale up or down, in order to handle future changeable workloads without the risk of failing.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I believe that the position will continue to develop and change in the years to come. I see the CTO position moving closer to top-level strategic leadership and away from day-to-day operational management. It's more important than ever that technology aligns with core business goals, and I predict that the CTO will take the lead much more on driving strategic change for both the business' technology and beyond.

I also predict that the CTO role will become much more integrated with other teams outside of technology, particularly with marketing and sales. It's vital that the CTO engages across the company to identify what's important to the customers, to identify any issues and work with all teams to resolve these. In this digital era, technology has become such a core part of businesses that it is no longer limited to one department or one person.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I count my greatest career achievement as helping create and contribute to the positive, supportive culture that we have established at Exasol. I really enjoy working within a supportive team and believe that the best innovations are enabled and inspired by an inclusive, open environment. A company has a responsibility to bring its core values to life, and I am proud that I have helped to contribute to that at Exasol.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? With the power of hindsight, I would have voiced my opinion on other remits of the company's strategy much earlier. It is easy to solely focus on your own department, which is what I did for many years, but I believe that a company can only develop when everyone is working inclusively together.

For a long time, I was too conscious of stepping on other people's toes to add to strategic discussions outside of my formal remit. For me, part of building an inclusive culture is encouraging everyone to step outside of their comfort zones, which I wish I had done earlier.

What are you reading now? I'm currently reading a book about the shaky financial situation of the Eurozone. It explains the underlying risks of the currency system, and how European institutes have taken over too much power without any democratic control mechanisms. It's a really educational read but not for the faint-hearted!

Most people don't know that I… I rarely use tech in my private life. As the CTO of a software company, this might come as a surprise, but I feel it is so important to have a break from technology so that I can concentrate on the important things in my life: my family.

In my spare time, I like to…Fundamentally, 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.

Ask me to do anything but… Don't ask me to help you with your private computer issues - I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked to solve my friends' hardware issues!