Why I Joined Alation: Sr. Software Engineer’s Perspective

By Ryan Seltzer

Published on June 9, 2022

Two hands signing a business contract with pen and paper.

Let me be clear: I really, really loved my last job.

It was difficult to walk away from a great company with an amazing culture and bright future. It was not easy to leave the people with whom I had worked for many years and respected deeply. Most people would be nervous about leaving the familiar, and starting down an entirely new path, where the unknowns far outnumber the knowns. These feelings are typical, and I was no exception.

Yet despite these unknowns, 3 things were clear to me:

  1. I absolutely love data

  2. Big data is only getting bigger, and

  3. The need for organizations to find, trust, govern, and use that data – is only going to grow exponentially, far into the future.

Roland Berger Consulting timetable displaying how big data is only getting bigger

For these reasons, and more I’ll share below, I decided to join Alation. I was confident that going “all in” with data was the right career move for me. Today I am part of an ambitious team that has set their sights on building out a market-leading data intelligence platform.

But let me rewind. Why did I decide to work at Alation specifically? My decision boiled down to 2 key areas which I deemed as my “acceptance criteria” for making the move into the unknown. Those core decision pillars for me are the product and the people.

The Product

At the highest level, I was looking for a product that was already an industry leader with a multi-year vision to expand that leadership position, in a space with a Total Addressable Market (TAM) that would continue to grow indefinitely.

Industry Leader

It is not enough to just be passionate about democratizing data in theory; the product itself must facilitate doing so in practice, and I was looking for the best in class.

Alation’s data catalog has been identified as a leader in this space multiple times, for several years, by leading industry analyst firms, including Forrester and Gartner. Alation leads rankings in multiple categories, including machine learning data catalogs and data governance. I was impressed with Alation’s ability to rise to the top in this competitive landscape and was looking forward to getting some hands-on experience with the data catalog.

The Forrester Wave’s Data Governance Solutions q3 2021 chart.

Seeing the product firsthand, I was impressed. Striking the balance between ease of use and fully featured functionality is a difficult task, but the team at Alation has achieved exactly this. Everyone understands what it means to have a “google” like search capability across enterprise data, it just feels natural. Alation combines this already well understood search with broad and deep connectivity to data sources, and I could immediately see how having such a tool would be an immediate benefit to nearly every organization doing business today. In fact, I felt that such a product would be a “must have” for companies that want to remain competitive into the future, by making better decisions and unlocking more of the potential value of one of their most valuable (and often underutilized) assets, data.

Multi-Year Vision

A market-leading data catalog is only the start to becoming the industry leading data intelligence platform, but the team at Alation is thinking beyond their current success.

One of the most exciting things for me, looking to the future, is the unlimited surface area for innovation within the data intelligence industry, which will provide amazing opportunities for those companies positioned to move quickly.

Alation, in my opinion, is building an agile team and framework for doing exactly that, moving quickly and capturing the opportunities that will present themselves as the world continues the look for hidden value within the data all around us.

Cloud native architecture is becoming a must for agile organizations looking to operate more efficiently, and to deliver value to customers fast. Alation is committed to evolving our cloud architecture to meet increasing demands. As an engineer who has worked for nearly 2 decades in the cloud, I am excited to be a part of this critical transformation, which will make the industry leading data catalog Alation has already created more accessible, extensible, scalable, and agile going forward.

The People

I was previously a Staff Software Engineer at Workiva, which had an incredible culture, and was recently recognized by Fortune as a top 20 Best Places to work. There was no way I was going to depart that culture for something lackluster. My mission was to find a new company that offered an equally stellar culture where I could thrive. This can be a difficult thing to judge externally, so I focused my efforts on the company values, and the leadership of the organization that have driven and built those values directly into the culture.

I did the typical investigation that one would do to gather as much information from current and previous employees as I could. It was refreshing to see Alation on Inc. Magazines “Best Places to Work” survey, which is directly taken from employee input. Another thing that really heightened my interest was Alation’s Glassdoor rating. In my exploration of companies, I had never seen a rating of 4.9 before and I immediately thought to myself, “What are they doing here to make people love it so much?” I had to dig in deeper.

A collage of Alation’s team, the Alationauts, with the “Inc. Best Workplaces 2021” logo in the middle.

Interview Process

Interviewing can be stressful! It’s a small window of time to present your best self and learn as much as possible about the company and position at the same time. Many interview processes do not allow sufficient time to ask questions, really understand the role and the company, or ensure that, not only is the company comfortable with you, but that you are also comfortable with them.

There are several things that stuck out to me during the interview process. Firstly, the sessions and topics were comprehensive and well organized. The conversations felt very natural, as if you were working through a problem with the interviewer as part of a team. The breadth of topics that were discussed made me feel confident that anyone working at this company would be someone smart, with something unique and valuable to bring to the table. I wanted to surround myself with these types of people, and I left the interviews confident that I would get that opportunity.

Each stage of the interview allowed me to meet different people, and ask additional questions about the company and role. By the end of the process, I had been given many opportunities to ask questions, and yet I still had more, since this was a major life decision. I was impressed with the fact that both the CTO and VP of engineering made extra time for me to have additional sessions to ensure all of my questions were answered and that I felt comfortable. I really appreciated this kindness, as well as the conversations themselves, in those additional sessions, which were open and honest — exactly what I was hoping for.

Culture of respect and empathy

For me, respect and empathy must be top priorities in the day to day activities, team collaboration, and decision making that takes place in the organization. One of Alation’s core values that encapsulated this to me was to “Listen like you’re wrong.” In my one month at Alation, I can say that they do embrace this value fully, and it facilitates collaboration in a high-trust environment where everyone’s opinion can be heard.

Passionate founders and leadership

As part of my research, I started listening to the Data Radicals podcast during my interview process, as another avenue to learn as much as I could about the CEO and co-founder, Satyen, since the culture and vision of a company is highly influenced from the top. I immediately fell in love with the podcast and particularly the general candor of the conversations during the interviews.

The podcast is filled with inquisitive questions from someone looking to understand real challenges that companies are facing today. Rather than a typical informational type of content, it’s a free flowing conversation trying to interpret the world around us from a more rational perspective. My takeaway was that Alation is led by curious, forward thinking individuals trying to better understand and create solutions in a space full of complexity.

The Bottom Line

Did I mention that I love data? I really do! Data is one area that is

I believe we are in the early days of explorations into the potential value that can be extracted from better understanding data, and I wanted to participate in that journey.

The idea of applying this passion of mine and being able to deeply explore the possibilities in my everyday life was too exciting to ignore. I was initially drawn to Alation because of the fact that I am absolutely positive that the importance of finding, understanding, and using data will continue to grow exponentially and forever. Data lovers like myself want to not only understand the world around us more effectively, but we want everyone else to share this passion as well. By joining Alation, I can help build a platform and future where data can be better understood and leveraged to help make sense of this complex world we live in.

Do you love data too? Do you want to work on building a platform to turn data into something more valuable than it is today? Come join us!

  • The Product
  • Industry Leader
  • Multi-Year Vision
  • The People
  • Interview Process
  • Culture of respect and empathy
  • Passionate founders and leadership
  • The Bottom Line
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