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People to Watch 2018

Lloyd Tabb
Founder, Chairman, & CTO
Looker

Lloyd Tabb spent the last 25 years revolutionizing how the world uses the internet and, by extension, data. Originally a database & languages architect at Borland, Lloyd founded Commerce Tools, acquired by Netscape. As the Principal Engineer on Netscape Navigator Gold, he led several releases of Communicator and helped define Mozilla.org. Lloyd later was CTO of LiveOps, co-founder of Readyforce and founder then advisor to Luminate. Lloyd combined his passion for data, love of programming languages and commitment to nurturing talent when he founded Looker.

Datanami: Congratulations on being named a Datanami Person to Watch in 2018! Looker had a great 2017, and we’re excited to see where Looker goes this year. How do you see things shaping up for 2018?

Lloyd Tabb: This is the quite possibly the most exciting time for data. Our ability and methods to store and process data are growing at an exponential rate. Both humans and machines are getting better tools to make sense of very large data sets (and even small ones). Web search was just a glimpse of what can be done with large data sets. Web search is a very specific data use case. Now we’re seeing generally-available tools that are much more generalized – they can understand all kinds of large data in all different kinds of ways. It’s really exciting.

Datanami:  Looker describes itself as a “data platform.” How do you sell someone a data platform if they don’t know what it is or whether they need one?

Data without an understanding of it is useless. Too many tools expect everyone who wants access to the data to have the skills to take it from the raw state to a finished analysis. So that either means you have to hire a ton of analysts to do that work, or you end up with a lot of badly done, untrustworthy analyses. A data platform transforms that raw data into something usable – business metrics that everyone is familiar with – for you, without an analyst having to do it each time.

Datanami: With Looker and other tools, we’ve come so far in being able to manipulate and analyze data. What’s left to invent?

Ha!  You could have said the same thing in the 1920’s about cars! Until recently, for example, when analyzing data we had to reorganize the data so computers could cope with it. It wasn’t so we could understand it better, it was for the database’s benefit.  But the databases have gotten much better at coping, and one of the things Looker does is provide a facility to reorganize the data so humans can understand the data better, not just computers. Better understanding comes from building new languages to describe your data (giving your data semantics) and then observing. I could give you 10 more examples like this. We have years and years of exciting work ahead.

Datanami: What do you hope to see from the big data community in the coming year?

There is so much useful data hidden behind APIs. Data is most useful when it is in a big soup. Think of documents on the web and documents hidden behind paywalls. Paywall documents can’t be searched. For the most part the documents that aren’t on the web are only useful to a very small set of people. The same thing is happening right now with data. Data that is in Amazon’s S3 and Google Cloud Storage are like web pages. This data can be instantly accessed and combined in deep ways that are incredibly useful. Data behind an API is like trying to drink soup through a tiny straw. It can only be looked at in an isolated way with a specialized search engine. Most people won’t bother. I think we are going to see a continued movement toward SaaS vendors just dumping your data into cloud storage for you and away from the API method of access.

Datanami: Outside of the professional sphere, what can you share about yourself that your colleagues might be surprised to learn – any unique hobbies or stories?

I love to teach and learn. A long time ago, between tech jobs, I taught programming to middle school kids. It taught me a bunch about what makes a great learning environment (hint, you have to be willing to appear stupid to learn something and feel safe doing that). When starting Looker, I knew we were going to have to teach the world a whole new way to look at data so we worked really hard to make Looker the company a place of learning and emotional safety. Even at 450 people today, it still feels that way.

The best part is a lot of those middle school kids work at Looker.

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