10 questions for Hortonworks CTO Eric Baldeschwieler

By , IDG News Service |  

Name: Eric Baldeschwieler

Age: 47

Time with company: Since its inception, July 1, 2011; with the Hadoop project since 2006.

Education: Master's degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics (computer science) from Carnegie Mellon University

Company headquarters: Sunnyvale, California

Number of employees total: 80

Number of employees the CTO oversees: 3

About the company: Hortonworks provides support and services for Apache Hadoop. It builds and distributes the Hortonworks Data Platform, which is open-source data management software powered by Hadoop.

1. Where did you start your career and what experiences led you to the job you have today?

It goes way back, all the way to tinkering in junior high school. We had some early microcomputers that we used to play with back then, so we'd make our own games and stuff like that, and I did some work in my father's lab at Cal Tech, helping with the automation of some of their experiments. That was fun and led to my first internships and my first job out of college.

I worked with a man named Steve Crane, who was doing a postdoc with my father. He was a co-founder of a company called Cubico and then joined a company called Digital F/X . Then I worked for him again in '92 at Electronic Arts. I worked with him first on lab systems at Cal Tech. Then we were doing 3D rendering, really early 3D graphics, and then finally digital effects for video post-production.

So, I started doing games at school and then summer work in my father's lab. It just kind of grew naturally from there. When it was time to choose a college and what to major in, computers seemed the obvious thing to do.

I was lucky enough in grad school to wind up working with Eric Brewer, who was a co-founder of Inktomi. Joining Inktomi was a pivotal decision for me since it was the source of a lot of excitement in the Valley. I started there in '96 and that led to our acquisition by Yahoo. I moved up the chain there until I was chief architect of Web search in 2005 and started to focus on the big-data problem, and that was the work that ultimately became Hadoop in 2006.

I think one of the things that's central to my current work [in big data] is really understanding how computers work. Back in the '80s computers weren't really fast and you had to really understand the machine very well to get as much out of it as you could. In the work I was doing in video and games the same applied, you had to understand the machine. That led to a natural transition to doing the work in search, where you wanted to answer the most questions as possible, using the most data as possible, as fast as possible.

2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?

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