Dima Korolev: Engineering, Big Data, and Entrepreneurship

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 “Carefully examine your assumptions. Many of those are not necessarily wrong, but temporarily eliminating them can expand horizons.”

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Dima Korolev is an engineer and data scientist who has built many products and worked at Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. He isn’t shy about expressing opinions that may be misunderstood or taken offensively. This interview was an opportunity to ask him about some of those opinions in detail.

“I started at about age 15 with microware. I enjoyed algorithms. My first few jobs had to do with software for microware and computer. My first real software job was in 2004.”

“I’m happy I did not grow up in the US. I think the US culture growing up-wise is more about impressing your immediate parents, teachers, and peer group. Which is essentially terrible for someone like me who tries to do their own things.

“It kills creativity quite a bit. Those spikes of people who want to grow further are rarer in the US. People are more polished, but also more demotivated.”

“The US has commercialized the idea of raising children and educating them to a huge degree. Parents assume that the more money they invest in their kids, the better the education they will have.”

Since moving to the US, Dima has moved among different cities and seen how the engineering styles and cultures differ from place to place. He compared the places he has lived in terms of lifestyle, personal productivity, and hiring employees for a software company.

“Seattle data-driven companies are more vertical. Companies in California are more things that spread, like Mongo or Redis.” Dima has considered how these native differences would affect potential users in those areas.

“If the best way to build a company in the next few years is to hire people in California, I will be in California. I’m going to be where the business requires me to be. If I need to be in Seattle, or Europe, or Asia, let’s see how that works.”

We explored some broken aspects of tech culture. Why is there a lack of women in tech? What prejudices do Indians suffer in Silicon Valley? Why are there so few Mexicans in tech? As two white males in tech, Dima and I have not suffered from much discrimination directly. But we are compelled to talk about it. Discrimination leads to weaker companies, disenfranchised employees, and a world that is less pleasant to live in that it could be.

Next, we talked about some engineering trends–Node.js and big data.

“New languages emerge every day like quantum particles. Some of them stick. I would expect a new programming language once in a while to disrupt the industry. Node happened to be one of those languages. 90% of the speculations about why this happened with Node, instead of Go or Python or Ruby–they are just speculation.”

“If I have to give my number one reason why it’s popular, it would be the paradigm of being single threaded eliminating many of the ways you could shoot yourself in the foot. It’s harder to run into concurrency issues. But Node is young enough that we have not seen the flaws of the language and the environment around it.”

Dima compared Node to the early days of Ruby on Rails, and contrasted those two frameworks with .NET’s inability to reach the same level of popularity.

How effectively are companies taking advantage of their own data? “Technologically, we are still very primitive. I hope to fix it. You cannot build an established product without data pipelines.”

“A friend of mine said a really great phrase: ‘remember those times in early 1990’s when every single brick-and-mortar store wanted a webmaster and a small website. Now they want to have a data scientist.’ It’s good for an industry when an attitude precedes the technology.”

“We are witnessing the emergence of CEOs realizing that they need to understand their data.”

To close our interview, Dima gave a broadly applicable piece of wisdom.

“Carefully examine your assumptions. Many of those are not necessarily wrong, but temporarily eliminating them can expand horizons.”

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