CTO Sessions: Ravi Mayuram, Couchbase

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? “We are helping our customers understand how best to harness their data and how best to build new applications…”

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Couchbase

Name: Ravi Mayuram

Company: Couchbase

Job title: SVP Engineering and CTO

Date started current role: May 2013

Location: Santa Clara, USA

As Senior Vice President of Engineering and CTO, Ravi Mayuram is responsible for product development and delivery of the Couchbase Data Platform, which includes Couchbase Server and Couchbase Mobile. He came to Couchbase from Oracle, where he served as senior director of engineering and led innovation in the areas of recommender systems and social graph, search and analytics, and lightweight client frameworks.

What was your first job? Working on Unix kernel and writing device drivers for disk, printers and other I/O devices.

Did you always want to work in IT? Not particularly. But my analytical capabilities were a natural fit for system software development.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a Masters in Mathematics. No other certifications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I grew through the software development ranks, working on a variety of areas including operating systems, networking, databases, app servers, and SaaS apps to name a few. My career advanced as my roles changed, from being an engineer, to leading engineering teams and then cross functional teams, and then to entire engineering organisations. My detours have been to go and build new things in emerging areas.

What type of CTO are you? I am a technologist who is interested in making a difference; someone who comes from a deeply technical background and enjoys solving complex system and platform-oriented problems.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? The usual suspects: AI, edge and decentralisation of the cloud, non-volatile memory and Re. Further along, quantum computing.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? As with anything new, there is always over exposure and over-utilisation. We learn from our mistakes and things regress to the mean. And the pendulum always swings a bit farther. Currently, Kubernetes, AI and IoT are such buzzwords, there is a lot going on in these areas - some are true advancements and some are opportunistic. It takes a good technologist to understand what is core, essential, and useful in these emerging areas and leverage them to their advantage while being cautious of innovations that are more “fashion” than substance.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? We have made some very foundational innovations and brought to market the Couchbase Autonomous Operator. This is a first for the database industry. For the first time, a distributed database can be managed with the least amount of manual intervention. This liberates the DBAs from the mundane work they have to do and empowers them to do the real value-added work that accelerates application delivery to meet business demands.

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 a company that is building and delivering a modern database that is crucial for digital transformation. In that regard, we are enablers of digital transformation. We are partnering with many leading companies in their digital transformation journeys. We inform, consult, and collaborate with our customers in their digital transformation. We are mainly involved in projects that will be drivers of future growth and customer engagement.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? There is increasing awareness that the business transformation that enterprises need to go through are driven by their agility in responding to changing market conditions. Understanding these changes and reacting to them both require deeper understanding of the data. So this fundamental transformation is in how they manage and consume data. We are helping our customers understand how best to harness their data and how best to build new applications quickly to meet their market needs and customer demands.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? As at any fast-paced, growth-oriented company, this is a very dynamic and continually evolving process. Business goals drive technology choices, and new technologies in turn enable newer business models – whether in sales, customer engagement, product support or new services. This interplay keeps the business nimble and lean.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Yes, it is a challenge. We are operating at a time when we are seeing a sea change in the technology landscape. This is disrupting every walk of our life. Figuring out the right tech strategy to deliver the outcomes the business wants is not as easy as it appears on the surface. Understanding and learning the new paradigm changes and staying ahead of them is the challenge and the reward.

What makes an effective tech strategy? Understanding the business outcomes and staying laser focused on them. At the end of the day, technology is a tool used to achieve business objectives. So a tech strategy that is tied to the hip to business outcomes is the foremost requirement. Not to get enamoured by technology for technology's sake.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? The CTO function needs to and will undergo a change. There are primarily two roles here: one is to gaze into the future and help their respective organisations skate to where the puck is going. In this respect, CTOs as a community do quite well, but with this comes responsibility. Here CTOs need to evolve. They need to take on the consequence of the technology choices they are advocating. With most of the transformation being driven by data, and companies amassing lots of consumer data, CTOs need to play a bigger role in corporate responsibility. They need to make technology choices taking into account security, privacy, and data governance in general.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I have had the privilege of working on many game-changing first-time innovations in the areas of operating systems, networking, storage, databases, application servers, and as-a-Service. I would like to think the greatest is yet to come!

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have liked to start at an application or a consumer-focused technology first and then made my way lower down in the stack, as opposed to doing it the other way round – going from the bottom of the stack upwards. This would have forced me to see things through a different lens, sharpening the focus on what to develop at the lower platform at an earlier stage in my career, putting me in the shoes of my future customers.

What are you reading now? Just starting to read Scale by Geoffrey West. Fascinating observation that simple rules govern the most complex systems - from organisms to organisations.

Most people don't know that I… Own more than a dozen pairs of shoes.

In my spare time, I like to…Read, golf, drum.

Ask me to do anything but… Maintain spreadsheets.