C-suite career advice: Dr. Yu Xu, TigerGraph

C-suite career advice: Dr. Yu Xu, TigerGraph

Name: Dr. Yu Xu

Company: TigerGraph

Job Title: CEO and founder

Location: Redwood Shores, CA

Dr. Yu Xu is CEO and founder of TigerGraph, the world's first native parallel graph database. Dr. Xu received his Ph.D in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of California San Diego. He is an expert in big data and parallel database systems and has 26 patents in parallel data management and optimisation. Prior to founding TigerGraph, Dr. Xu worked on Twitter's data infrastructure for massive data analytics. Before that, he worked as Teradata's Hadoop architect where he led the company's big data initiatives.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Stay focused and become an expert in one, maybe two, domains.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Fortunately, I don't recall any really bad business advice thus far. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? My advice for anyone starting a career in IT is simple, and it is something that we practice at TigerGraph everyday - "See it from the customer's point of view". It's very easy to get excited by the complexity of all the amazing technology we work with in IT, but seeing it from the customer's point of view can make the difference between building a technically elegant solution that meets the customer needs in part, and one that is indispensable in a customer's life and business.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes.

What was your first job in IT? My very first job in IT was a software developer.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? One misconception is that great engineers are boring and lack other talents. Piano players, base guitar players, hikers and personal fitness trainers all make up TigerGraph's development team.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Excel at your current responsibilities, but also keep a look out for other teams/people's responsibilities and think about how you can help them. Cross-team collaboration and contributions can often provide the company the best growth and new opportunities.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? To build a technology company that creates a lasting impact on humanity through meaningful contribution. Today, TigerGraph is helping banks, payment providers and governments around the world to detect and stop fraudsters and money launderers. And, we are just getting started: I would love to see our technology become part of every financial service and government organisation's infrastructure to fight the scourge of black money that funds many nefarious activities.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Not really right now. As a startup founder, it's hard to achieve a good work-life balance, but it will come!

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Probably take some time to learn more about financing, more on leadership and also other non-engineering domains earlier before founding TigerGraph.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I would recommend both. Every engineer knows they constantly need to learn and expand on their skill sets. Getting a formal degree in computer science will help with a solid foundation, and a coding bootcamp can be immensely helpful to sharpen skill sets on a new technology. I recommend combining both the approaches for best results.

How important are specific certifications? For more junior people without an established reputation in the industry, I think certifications are important and will help get them more opportunities. For senior people with a strong support network, it's less useful, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I typically evaluate candidates on following three measures:

  • Depth of analysis - Does the candidate go beyond the superficial to get to the core of the problem while looking for a solution?
  • Breadth of analysis - Does the candidate consider multiple ways for solving the problem rather than pursuing a single approach?
  • Connecting the dots and going beyond conventional ways to solve the problem - Does the candidate have the ability to connect the dots across multiple problem domains and find new solutions by thinking out of the box?

What would put you off a candidate? To me, candidates who speak at a very high level, but without providing specific examples or action plans, are a big turnoff. If you have something to say, speak up and make it specific and actionable.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? I think the most common mistake by a candidate is not asking enough questions during the interview process. An interview is a dialog where the candidate is getting to know the employer, and vice versa. I feel jumping too quickly into an answer without asking a set of thoughtful questions is a common mistake during interview process at all levels.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? For best success, I think a mix of technical, and also business skills, is needed - whether you are a software engineer, customer service representative or a sales team member. Today's jobs require combining what you know about your product and also what you know about the customer's business and meeting their needs.


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