“I’m so privileged to be able to talk to customers; they are a great source of problems.”, says 2014 Turing Award recipient

According to Leah Hoffman

A serial entrepreneur long before the term became commonplace—and a data geek before the age of big data—ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Michael Stonebraker pioneered techniques that were not just crucial to making relational databases a reality, but that continue to be used in almost all modern systems. […] Since 2001, he has served as an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), while forming a total of six start-ups in 14 years […]”

One Q&A with Stonebraker is

You are currently CTO at three start-ups and co-director of MIT’s Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data. How do you organize your time?

I fight whatever fire is most pressing. Typically I’m at MIT three days a week, and at one or another startup two days a week, but it varies. There are travel requests and customer visits, and they come on their own schedules. I’m so privileged to be able to talk to customers; they are a great source of problems. They’ll tell you why your stuff doesn’t work, and then you get to fix it.

According to Neil Savage

Samuel Madden, a colleague at MIT who studies database systems, believes Stonebraker founded these companies to demonstrate that his academic ideas have real-world applications. “He’s very singularly driven with a vision of the way the world ought to be,” Madden says, “and remarkably most of the time this vision turns out to be right.”

For undergraduates just getting into computer science, Stonebraker’s advice is, “Learn how to code, and code well, because whatever you do is going to involve implementation.” For Ph.D. students trying to figure out where to focus their attention, he suggests talking to real-world computer users. “They’re happy to tell you why they don’t like or do like any given technology, so they’re a wonderful source of problems to work on.”


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