Centre stage with Paige Roberts, Open Source Relations Manager at Vertica.

Centre stage with Paige Roberts, Open Source Relations Manager at Vertica.


In over twenty years in the data management industry I have worked as an engineer, a trainer, a support technician, a technical writer, a marketer, a product manager, and a consultant.

I have built data engineering pipelines and architectures, documented and tested open source analytics implementations, spun up Hadoop clusters, picked the brains of stars in data analytics and engineering, worked with a lot of different industries, and questioned a lot of assumptions.

Now, I promote the understanding of Vertica, MPP data processing, open source, high scale data engineering, and how the analytics revolution is changing the world.


What does your day to day role entail?

Writing and public speaking mainly. I manage the Vertica blog, write a lot of technical articles, blog posts, papers, and such. I run the Data Disruptors webcasts, where various folks in different industries talk about their analytics architectures and why they built them the way they did.

I’m working on a data-intensive AI architecture book with Dr. Robin Bloor that O’Reilly is talking about publishing. That’s exciting. And I’m speaking at six different conferences in March and April. I’m speaking on IoT production architectures, getting python into production more efficiently using an MPP database as a boost, and Machine Learning in SQL, which I’ll give a short presentation on here.

What’s been your biggest work achievement of the last 12 months?

Just one? How about three? I’ve been asked to teach a hands-on tutorial on Machine Learning in SQL at Strata London in April. So folks can, not just hear me talk about it here, but actually dive in and do it there. And Vertica’s own Big Data Conference in Boston is next week. I’ve been helping the engineers prepare their presentations, and I’ll be co-presenting about data security and format-preserving encryption. Also, I’m pretty excited about being chosen to give my IoT architecture talk at the Women in Analytics conference in Ohio. That’s an honour, and I’m looking forward to it.

What is the biggest challenge facing the industry?

Getting big data projects out of sandboxes and into production. We have massive amounts of data, and we’re starting to figure out how to manage it, and how to analyse it usefully. But so many projects fail to make it to the point where they actually earn money or accomplish their goals. Making that leap from successful experiment to successful production deployment is a barrier that a lot of projects never manage to get past.

What are the top 3 challenges facing your organisation personally?

That’s a tough one. Not sure it applies to us since Vertica is generally in the business of helping other organisations solve their problems. I’d say our main difficulty is being a highly profitable, technology-centric software business in a market that values growth over profit, marketing over technology. Our customers reap a lot of benefits from Vertica software, and we focus on making sure they’re successful. We invest in the tech. We’re less about the overpromising a lot of start-ups do to power explosive growth, and more about solid, dependable, analytics performance at any scale.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Never stop learning. My entire career has been a series of situations where I was given the opportunity to either keep doing the same old thing, and slowly become an expert at it, or become a beginner again and learn something new. I’ve repeatedly chosen to learn something new. In the data management and analytics world, that’s not optional anymore, it’s a requirement. The technology landscape changes so fast, you’ve got to keep learning constantly to keep up. I love it.

What are your predictions for the IT industry for 2020/21 or beyond?

The Cloud is seriously taking off, but a lot of public clouds are trying hard to tie people to technologies that only work on one cloud, and that lock-in is a problem that people will bump into hard, very soon. Technologies like Kubernetes are setting architectures free to run wherever they make sense, but adding complexity. I predict that multi-cloud and hybrid deployments are going to take over at a lot of companies.

Why do you think everybody is talking about AI being important for digital transformation but companies are still reluctant to invest?

AI is hard. That’s the essence of it. I keep seeing a statistic that says that something like 85% of data-intensive projects fail. It’s hard to convince a risk averse business to invest in something with that kind of track record. On the other hand, this same statistic means that 15% of those projects succeed, and the ones that do succeed disrupt entire industries. They create whole new business models, boost revenues through the roof, and put their competitors out of business. They dominate their markets. It’s going to get to the point where automated decisions based on data analysis are the only way to stay in business.

What do you think is going to be the next big technology development?

If I knew that, I could make a fortune. If you asked my friend, Robin Bloor, he’d probably say blockchain was going to revolutionise the way a lot of things are done. He’s pretty smart about that sort of thing, so I’ll agree with him. I also think we’re just starting to see the impact of 3-D printing technology. That tech is going to change the way a lot of things are done.

Do you think GDPR has impacted your role in a big way since its introduction?

Absolutely. Anyone even vaguely related to data management for analytics has been impacted. For a while, some people thought it wouldn’t affect the United States, but we’re living in a global economy. Everyone is affected. One of the reasons I talk a lot about the value of Voltage SecureData and format preserving encryption is because it allows analytics on encrypted data.

The data that matters is never in the clear unless it is absolutely necessary and the person seeing it is authorised. GDPR has provisions for that. If there’s a breech, and that’s pretty much inevitable in today’s world no matter how good your cybersecurity is, then it doesn’t even have to be reported if the data is encrypted. The reputation cost savings alone is huge for companies.

What does digital transformation mean to you – what in your opinion is most important to a successful implementation?

Digital transformation means an atmosphere of business where data rules. The biggest impact is the overall switch in every industry to decisions being made based on data.

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