CTO Sessions: Marc Linster, EDB

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? “Agility, curiosity, leadership, and communication skills will become even more important. Technology cycles are accelerating…”

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EDB

Name: Marc Linster

Company: EDB

Job title: Chief Technology Officer

Date started current role: July 2020

Location: Bedford, Massachusetts

Marc Linster is an internationally experienced software executive, leading development, service and support teams in the US, Europe and Asia. He has an in-depth understanding of the software business, including subscription- and cloud-based models and agile development processes. Linster is committed to ensuring that EDB provides architectural know-how to help customers take advantage of PostgreSQL and get the most value, without incurring significant risk and cost. Linster believes that, although adoption of open source has become significantly easier as PostgreSQL and open source have matured, enterprises still benefit significantly from partnering with a commercial open source leader who provides roadmap input, tools, services, and support.

What was your first job? I got my first job as a Researcher at the German Society for Mathematics and Data Processing (GMD) in Bonn, Germany right after I finished my PhD in Computer Science. Today, GMD is a part of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. At the time, GMD had about 600 researchers working in all areas of computer science and applied mathematics, ranging from ASICs development to expert systems and AI. Expert systems, AI, machine learning and knowledge acquisition were very hot topics, and I had the privilege of working with some of the smartest people in that field at GMD and around the world.

Did you always want to work in IT? My first ambition was to be a physicist, but then I was introduced to computers and programming. I always liked STEM classes; I guess it was a natural progression from there to study computer science, and work on algorithms and data models. I had the opportunity to do my PhD while working in a research centre in Germany. I never looked back.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I did my PhD and Diploma in Computer Science and Informatics, with a minor in theoretical electrical engineering. A few years ago, we decided to adopt the SCRUM methodology for EDB’s product development process, and I did my certification as a Scrum Master.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have always worked in computer science and information technology. I was fortunate to have had a plethora of new opportunities, ranging from academic research, to applied research, IT management, systems integration, supply chain consulting, and product development. Best of all, I had the opportunity to work in multiple countries and see how companies and customers tackle challenges around the world.

The work in the expert systems group at GMD led to a position in Digital Equipment’s R&D group in Massachusetts, again focused on expert systems and knowledge management - but this time from a much more applied point of view. After a few years, I joined DEC’s IT team as a technical director for the direct sales business unit. Again, a great learning experience as I was part of the team that transitioned DEC from VMS-based internal infrastructures to Microsoft for email, networking, and personal productivity.

After I left DEC, I moved on to Internet Business Advantages (IBA) to serve as Senior Technical Consultant for two years before being promoted to Technical Director for a year. At IBA, I had my first opportunity to work with customers, which was a great learning experience. I was then bumped up to Vice President of Engineering and Methodologies. My time at DEC really set me up for success in these roles. IBA was then acquired by Servicesoft Technologies, where I served as VP of Solutions Engineering. This role threw many challenges my way, but I successfully managed the ex-IBA delivery teams and all ex-IBA projects through the transition to Servicesoft Technologies, while maintaining our revenue stream.

I then moved on to Avicon as a VP of Operations and then CTO to co-manage a venture-funded, global consulting and systems integration company that employed 120 IT and supply chain consultants and business professionals. By leveraging established relationships, I successfully boosted revenues and acquired new clients at this firm. At IBA, I worked with customers in the US, Canada, France, Germany, and Switzerland.

In 2006 I knew I wanted to move on to my next challenge. Leveraging my entrepreneurial spirit, I established TriPoint Interactive Inc., a management consulting and business transformation start-up with seven employees, providing sound solutions that resolved companies’ supply chain challenges.

After a 2-year run at my start up, I moved on to join Polycom as a Senior Director, Engineering for Cloud and Hosted Solutions. In this assignment, I coached, led, and mentored a geographically distributed team of 30 engineering managers, project managers, architects, QA specialists, engineers, and technicians, located in Corvallis, Oregon and Bangalore, India. Through use of decisive leadership, I formulated strategies, budgets, and goals for our Video as a Service business, and empowered teams to achieve aggressive targets using agile methodologies.

I then moved to EDB as their VP, Global Services. Here I was promoted to SVP, Products and Services, and then SVP, Product Development and Support, and finally Chief Technology Officer in July 2020.

What type of CTO are you? I’m very goal driven and curious. I like to be surrounded by smart people, hopefully smarter than me. I believe in dialogue, exploration, as well as data-driven and collaborative decision making.

I believe that the role of the CTO is focused on communications and helping customers, partners, and employees understand the art of the possible. I have met CTOs who are completely focused on technology and are inwardly focused, and I am sure they provide great value to their business.

At EDB, we deal in complex, innovative concepts, and we ask our customers to accept new technologies, transform their business, and accept new ways of doing things. I believe that in our business the CTO has to be a mix of a visionary, a technologist, a leader, and a people person.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? While open source isn’t exactly emerging tech, I’m very excited about the different ways in which it is fuelling research and development in other spaces. For example, the automotive industry has recently adopted open source to build their connected cars as the use of OS prevents siloes. This is an exciting field and I can’t wait to see where this takes us over the next few years.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think specialty databases, such as document databases, graph databases, or time series databases, are vastly overhyped. We have seen similar phenomena in the past, for example XML databases 20 years ago. While they provide a tactical solution to a niche problem, the technology will rapidly be absorbed into general purpose architectures. Today, nobody talks about XML databases - every database product can handle XML in its standard repertoire today. We see the same motion now happening with JSON standards for handling documents in SQL, and similar motions for graph databases.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? At EDB, we created the Office of the CTO to allow us to explore new technologies and work with strategic customers and partners. The Office of the CTO helps customers understand what’s possible and how to use Postgres in new ways to solve problems that were heretofore reserved for established commercial databases. I was able to hire a great team of internationally renowned experts based in France, the UK, and the US. They are a blast to work with.

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? Without a doubt, PostgreSQL is the most transformative open-source tech since Linux. PostgreSQL is front and centre in many customers’ digital transformation projects, as it helps them drop the ball and chain represented by the restrictive licenses of conventional databases. Moving from Oracle, SQL Server, or DB2 to PostgreSQL is just the first step in the journey to cloud, micro-services, geo-aware, and highly personalised systems.

Many of these initiatives are officially labelled as ‘cost reduction’, but they really pursue two major objectives:

  1. Free up funds to focus on innovation, often with a focus on improved customer intimacy and a differentiated value proposition
  2. Improve the cost per transaction to allow businesses to enter new markets that otherwise would not be addressable

PostgreSQL’s evolution has always shown a very sound balance of focusing on performance, scalability, and reliability, and on bringing in new capabilities like document stores, graph queries, time series, and geo location information. The latter without the former would be unthinkable, but now that PostgreSQL can handle over 80% of enterprise workloads from an ‘-ility’ perspective, the new features prove to be extremely attractive to developers and designers of new applications.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Postgres is entering a new phase where it can take on even more mission-critical workloads. This requires digital transformation in areas that up to now were considered untouchable, sacrosanct, and reserved for the most expensive commercial database products. My team and I are helping customers understand what is possible, and we help them develop plans to tackle these opportunities. This requires a sound balance of vision development, proof of technology, communications, and execution.

Postgres is really rising to these challenges, and it is great to work with customers who see the potential and are willing to tackle the opportunity.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? EDB uses the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology to define and execute our strategies, and to make sure we are all aligned behind the same corporate goals. OKRs are a great tool to align a global team.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I’ve had experience working on both sides, owing to EDB’s unique proposition as well as my previous experience. While my current focus is definitely on the tech strategy EDB has in place, I don’t neglect the product and service strategy, as aligning both areas is crucial to the success of a company. Working within siloes leads to being disconnected. Consistently keeping both teams united and opening the floor for discussion is key to avoiding this.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective strategy has to be bold, agile, and achievable. It has to be bold to make a difference and to be perceived by the market; it has to be agile to respond to changes in technology, customer demand, and the competitive landscape. It has to be achievable within a reasonable timeframe to tie investment to results and show actual progress.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Agility, curiosity, leadership, and communication skills will become even more important. Technology cycles are accelerating; customers and technical teams in the business are asking for vision and guidance; complexity is growing, which makes it ever more important to be able to understand and explain complex relationships and their impact on the business.

What has been your greatest career achievement? While this year has been very uncertain for myself, as well as EDB, I was thrilled to be promoted to CTO while I was navigating my way through the pandemic. I was really happy that I had managed to contribute to EDB positively in the run up to this promotion and that EDB was in a good place to sustain itself through the pandemic.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Sometimes, problems are easier to solve if you make them bigger. For example, looking back, I would have pushed earlier for an agile transformation and adoption of the Scrum methodology at EDB when I was leading product development. While the switch from a waterfall approach to agile appeared daunting, it turns out that many of our process challenges simply evaporated when we made that change. Sometimes radical change may actually be easier, even if it looks forbidding, daunting, and risky.

What are you reading now? I just finished Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker. Before that, I read The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, and Space is Open for Business by Robert Jacobson. Right now I am reading Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.

Most people don't know that I… Am an avid bike rider. This year I will ride my fifth Pan Mass Challenges (PMC.org), an annual benefit ride that attracts over 5,000 riders every year and has raised over $700 million in 40 years for the Jimmy Fund to fight cancer at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

In my spare time, I like to…Hike, read, and listen to classical music. I love to cook and explore new wines. The best days are those where I go for a hike with friends, and have a great meal with good company and a good bottle of wine.

Ask me to do anything but… Sing or dance. You won’t like it when I sing, and I don’t like to dance.