Ep 4: Co-host Julia on the Hot Seat

Get to know co-host Julia Schottenstein, from her 8-year-old ambition of becoming a "computer tycoon" to her current role as PM at dbt Labs.

In this episode, we're going to do something a little different, and turn the spotlight on co-host Julia Schottenstein.

In this conversation with Tristan, you'll get to know Julia a bit—from her early childhood ambitions of becoming a "computer tycoon" (adorable!), to working in venture at NEA and now as a Product Manager at dbt Labs.

They also dive into Julia's opinions on key trends shaping the future of the data industry (the phrase oligopoly makes an appearance).

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Show Notes

Key points from Julia on her career trajectory in data and her thoughts about trends shaping the future of the industry.

How did you get to tech in the first place? 

I'm deciding which story to tell, but my aunt and uncle were both engineers. My uncle was actually the main engineer on VisiCalc, which was the predecessor to Lotus 1, 2, 3. So he was like the first developer building the modern spreadsheet. And I think that really influenced me growing up. 

But, I think from a very young age, I have this funny memory of myself in summer camp and my bunkmates for guessing what I wanted to be when I grow up. And I wrote on a piece of paper that I wanted to be a computer tycoon. I think I was eight years old. I didn't even know really what computer tycoon meant, but that all came from my aunt and uncle. 

My parents put me in a sporty summer camp, which I loved, and then I dropped out of the sporty summer camp to go to an educational program by choice - I asked my parents to put me in it. So one summer I did something with computers, another summer I went to math camp. Yeah, I just liked it - more than tech- I loved math. Started my own math publication in high school called "Prime". And that was really my pure interest.

What did you like and not like about being in venture capital?

I think you get hit over the head by the venture industry by being at Stanford. It really does bleed in venture capital, it's a big part of Silicon Valley. Of course, there's a big startup ecosystem as well, but I got a lot more exposure at Stanford. 

It wasn't like it was my north star. I needed to get into venture at all, but it felt like it matched a lot of my interests, which is business, technology, thinking about product. And you can do that at a venture firm and think about problem spaces that interested me. So it ended up being a pretty natural evolution once I got into Qatalyst to go work in venture. 

But, at the end of the day, venture is just sales. So it's not about finding the cool company first, it's super competitive. And a lot of my job at times could be different processes in the sales cycle, like SDR, outbounding, cold outreach, trying to figure out how to be helpful. 

Those are real things, it's sales. You're selling yourself, your brand, and that can be a lot of hard work, especially in an industry that's competitive. You're not going to win all the deals you want to win. So it's not about being right or being early all the times, it's about the selling.

You spent 5 years in venture and then jumped into dbt. How does it feel like being an operator rather than an investor?

So, I think it was this like unique obsession with dbt, not to be kind of creepy about it, but sometimes when you're unable to invest in a company and the company goes on without you being a part of it. You're like, oh, okay, wow, dodged a bullet there. Like they don't have a future. And you convince yourself that it was an okay outcome. 

But for me it was like: dbt is really taking off the momentum. Behind this company is unlike anything I had seen and I wanted to be a part of it. And simultaneously thinking about that want and need to be a part of a team that builds something, which is definitely missing a little bit in venture.

I love venture. I think there's a lot of it that I did enjoy, but I did feel like I wanted to try being an operator, be a part of a team that puts something out in the world, that helps build something that people love. 

I still get to think about the future of data, like what is our role to play in that broader picture? Think strategically about some of the decisions that we make from a product and company perspective, and that's really similar. I think the thing that surprised me the most is how detailed you have to actually be.

Do you think that there's a market size difference between data and software engineering?

I think about that a lot, actually, and whether the bottoms up which definitely has proven to work really well in software development because I think get hub says there are like 30 million developers in there. 

How many millions of developers do we have using SQL? No one's really given us that hard number. Estimates I've seen say around 10 million, but I bet it's bigger actually than just 10 million people that use SQL. 

There is a trend in software where things were really enterprise focused, straight that you landed a deal first, where it was top-down sales. Then, we had the rise of all these API companies, developers became decision-makers and bottoms up really started to take off and in software development.

 I think analytics might be taking a similar path today, where before it used to be very centralized, very top-down big deal sales, but as the industry gets bigger, the opportunity to create more data apps is more important.

I think there's more of a bottoms up story too in analytics engineering and data.

If there is a Renaissance happening at data now, why didn't it happen 10 years ago?

We didn't have cloud. I mean, all the big successful cloud data warehouses came out in like 2011 through 2013, when we introduced Redshift big query Databricks, Snowflake came a little bit after. That was the shift that's going to change the entire industry, and we're now mature enough where people aren't afraid to build on cloud.

So you have not just the early adopters, but even the laggards on cloud data warehouses, and being able to process and store your data more cheaply just creates a bigger supply for the types of things you want to do with data. And I think we're in that moment right now where we're no longer fighting should be moved to cloud. The answer is yes. So now the opportunity is way bigger for what you can build on top of cloud data warehouses. 

I think where we've standardized around the big players in cloud at this point and all the opportunities downstream. Like what you can build on top of cloud and just completely reimagining the workflows once you've standardized on one big cloud data warehouses.

And I think we'll have some movement in who gains market share for the players that already exist. I think it will be very hard for there to be a seventh or an eighth or ninth platform in cloud data warehouses. 

More from Julia:

You can also find her on Twitter @j_schottenstein.

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