The importance of Data Management and AI during COVID-19 with Nikita Smgunov


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Nikita Shamgunov co-founded MemSQL and has served as CTO since inception. Prior to co-founding the company, Nikita worked on core infrastructure systems at Facebook. He served as a senior database engineer at Microsoft SQL Server for more than half a decade. Nikita holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in computer science, has been awarded several patents and was a world medalist in ACM programming contests.

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Here’s the timestamps for the episode: 

(00:00) – Introduction

(01:37) – People who have the levers of power are rolling out initiatives, rolling out shutdowns and thinking about these big disruptive changes. Andrew Cuomos’s updates, always starts his update with a lot of statistics, demonstrating and showing how those statistics are influencing the decisions of what we’re going to go about next.The issue is how can we use data and how can we use location-based data? Because everybody’s now carrying a smartphone to really identify and control the epidemic.

(03:13) – MemSQL works with a handful of customers to enable social tracing scenarios, estimate the migration patterns that people are having by commuting to work or by going from state to state or taking airplane flights. How can we anticipate where the next outbreak is going to be the most pronounced? Can we really push the numbers down and keep them low? And that requires very good social tracing and contact tracing techniques.

(06:27) – The telecommunication operators do have the data, but not necessarily the technology. And that’s where MemSQL is partnering with some of the key telecommunication providers here in the United States and overseas, to enable contact tracing and social tracing by combining the data sets the telecommunication providers have, by the nature of their business, and MemSQL technology to store process and give the full 360 information for social tracing for migration patterns, and for various decision supports that eventually flows back into the politicians, the decision decision-makers, to control the spread of the pandemic. 

(09:08) – There’s just so many applications to contact tracing, and COVID certainly highlights. At least one use case there is to control the spread of the pandemic, the effectiveness of that is absolutely unparalleled. This is not going to be the last pandemic. We’re going to see more of that and the well developed techniques, technologies that you can just turn on with a flip of the switch will be available and ready for us moving forward. There are certainly plenty of applications for contact tracing, various security applications, terrorists, criminal activities, all of those things. And suddenly it edges at the border of what’s that place where we’re giving the authorities too much power that could be the invasion into privacy. 

(14:36) – It’s a part of social responsibility. In my preferred and ideal world, those contact tracing apps are just pushed on you by the device providers, by Apple and Google. And of course it’s a consent. So you can reject it or you can accept it. And that would be my preference, but I think it goes into the same category as wearing the mask. Downloading a contact tracing app is a very straightforward thing for you to do, so you basically do it and forget about it. 

(16:30) – We live in the post COVID world and we’ll be working from home quite a bit. We’re going to get so good at understanding and controlling this pandemic through a combination of rules and guidelines such as 60 to part, wearing a mask, installing a contact tracing App on your phone. Something that is simple to follow and something that society accepts. And then we’re going to get very sophisticated in tools that give us very good insight about what to do and what not to do. And if something is working or something is not working.

(19:01) –  There is public data and there’s data that is guarded by whoever owns that data. And for public data, we need to have open techniques for securing and anonymizing that data. So you either lock the data down and doesn’t give access to anyone. And they are responsible for the security and safety of that data, that the bad guys won’t go and break into it.

(23:04) – When you think about data management, a typical solution includes the ability to capture, store and process data. The right place to store and process large volumes of data are in the cloud and the way it works under the hood. You can assemble sophisticated systems. And those would allow you to, like I said, store that data, analyze, process that data, transform these data and build applications. That fundamentally delivers you beautiful user experience, they give you interesting insights or they crunch data under the hood and they present you with some sort of decision support for whatever you want to do with that data. They generate insights. MemSQL is that modern data management solution or a database that lets you store an unlimited amount of data and lets you build applications that are data-centric. 

(27:22) – There’s a bit of a race right now in the markets to become the number one hybrid cloud provider and all the public clouds participate in the rate and the race. We’re decisively hybrid, and you can consume MemSQL using Helios, which is our managed service by going onto our portal, clicking on the Helios button, and then a few clicks later, you’re able to consume our data management technology in the cloud, but we are also offering Helios Hybrid Cloud, which is in a way, do it yourself cloud.

(31:24) – The right choice for your solution really depends on the scenario. Think about what technology gives you today and what technology is going to give you tomorrow in the short, medium and long-term. Understand what you need to solve for today, but also really think about what you need to solve for tomorrow and marry that with where the technology is moving towards in general, and use that as a guiding star from making the choices for data management or really anything else.

(33:52) – A lot could be accomplished through technology. And in order to do that, in order to deliver that value, you need technology and you need people. Then you need people who know how to use that technology.  There’s plenty of work for information workers, for talented individuals, for data scientists and smart politician with call for help to the frontline medical workers, but also call for help to the information workers. 

(36:59) – We’re late to the party. What happened in California and specifically in San Francisco, San Francisco was one of the first places to impose a shutdown and the numbers speak for themselves. So it was done in a timely fashion. And we had one of the fewest cases compared to the rest of the country. The government is also incredibly resistant to the local government opening up.

(39:48) – The big tech, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, I think have tremendous amounts of power and a tremendous ability to help both with the technology. And there’s just the vast reach of that technology, and the checkbook. The small tech, in my opinion, should be volunteering more.

(41:30) – If we just never go back to the office, once the social capital is spent, It’s not super clear to me if this is going to continue working just as well as it used to before. So that’s why I’m looking forward to reopening. 

(44:44) – It’s a defining moment for startups. That’s where the borders are redrawn. And those who emerge from this, the strongest, will benefit for years and years after as a trust test, like COVID is bringing to the industry, that’s the lens that we view our market. there’s certainly a lot more fantastic people on the market that we can hire that bring those opportunities together. And because startups are nimble by nature and the decision makers are few, let startups actually seize those opportunities. 

(46:54) – Look at this as a stress test. I know that stress tests are good, if you survive them and you emerge stronger after it, that’s really the focus for us. And that’s what I wish the rest of the tech industry was going through as well.