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Are we taking the opportunities of big data?

An interview with Peter Loukianoff, co-​founder of Silicon Valley Data Science company

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An interview with Peter Loukianoff

An interview by Vlad Kiaune

The entire history of civilization has been developing in the way to make everything as efficient as possible. The wheel, electricity, computers and a million other discoveries made our life more enjoyable. Big Data today is one of these things that are going to push our knowledge about the universe way further. Whether it’s being developed by huge companies or small and ambitious startups, it is important that we know how this thing works and where is more potential use for that.

Peter Loukianoff is a co-founder of Silicon Valley Data Science company. In 2001-2008 Peter was a partner at Alloy Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm.
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Tell us about yourself and the company you’re running.

In 2012 I started interviewing CEOs and chairmans in a certain sphere, trying to understand the main issues they are facing. And I found a pattern. Over and over again, they said that Amazon is killing them and they have to find ways to compete, e.g.: by leveraging data strategy or exploring other industries. Companies didn’t know what to do. So my two partners and I founded a company to help bigger companies become more data driven – to develop a core around it.

If we take the whole of human history, the biggest data was created in the last two years

We essentially do two things: we help companies become more data driven, and we develop strategic plans for e-​consulting. It’s almost like a product (a dual service). The things we provide them with are, firstly, data design (for example helping a bank better understand their customers); then we do the next part, which is data engineering. In other words, we develop certain algorithms for future data analysis. Following this idea, the third step for the company would be to develop their programming or coding. And we help them with that part too.

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This jpg was created entirely in visual programming language Pure Data /​Illustration: hellocatfood /​Flickr​.com

What’s been happening in the Big Data sphere in recent years?

The key fact is that if we take the whole of human history, the biggest amount of data was created in the last two years! So, generally speaking, in the last two years we have been seeing a shift from structured data to unstructured data. Examples of structured data would be: excel or oracle databases. Unstructured data includes things like tweets, Facebook posts, sensors data, or video. You cannot put these into cells, like in excel. The first players in this field, like Yahoo and Google, started creating new technologies. So people reacted by creating open sources like Apache Cassandra. That’s why it’s inexpensive – that is, the ability to create insights out of the data. We take these new technologies and see how we can fit them into a company’s needs.

What kind of specialists do you hire for your company?

We have solutions architects, data engineers, and then data scientists who are very deep domain – math, stats.

What is your view of Yandex’s work in this field?

Yandex is one of the leading companies in this space. But they create products for themselves.

What examples of Big Data usage do you find impressive and relevant for today?

My first example is in agriculture, where drones are used, among other things, to collect data. Analysing this data lets farmers know exactly how much pesticide they will need, how much water is required, and whether to increase or decrease their stocks. My second example would be the elections in the US, when Obama beat Romney. The Obama campaign used Big Data. After that Big Data became even more interesting for the world. 

Russian scientists are one of the best in data analysis

Who’s more successful in this field: startups or big companies?

I think both. Startups are taking the opportunities; but, if big companies don’t do this they will lose. They have to do it. The advent of Big Data is as significant as the introduction of the web. But it’s going to have an even larger effect.

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Image shows connections among the Twitter users who recently tweeted the word ‘occupywallstreet’ when queried on November 15, 2011, scaled by numbers of followers. Connections created when users reply, mention or follow one another. Replies and mentions edges are highlighted in blue, follows connections are grey. The data set starts on 11/​15/​2011 23:08 and ends on 11/​15/​2011 23:34 UTC, a total of 26 minutes of traffic /​illustration: marc_​smith /​Flickr​.com

What challenges do you see for this sphere today?

A lack of talent. We see that in the US, but also globally, I think. Even in the Silicon Valley there’s a lack of specialists. I’d say we are one million specialists short. That’s one of the reasons why Russia has a big opportunity.

What resources do you use to stay up-​to-​date?

I read a lot. Also I use LinkedIn, TechCrunch, and I read a lot of blogs.

How do you think Russia is doing in this field?

Well, I think your country would do much better if the conditions and the whole atmosphere were more pleasant. I think that the opportunity is slipping away in some sense. But all the same, Russian scientists are some of the best at data analysis.