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For this episode of Alter Everything, we talked to some Alteryx originals - people who built Alteryx before it was even Alteryx. What was their proudest moment of the past decade? Predictions for the future? Creative Director Tara McCoy found out in her conversations with founder Libby Duane Adams and the first employee of Alteryx, Amy Holland.
Special thanks to @andyuttley, one of our winners of the 2020 theme music competition, for the awesome theme music track for this episode. You can learn more about them on our show notes at community.alteryx.com/podcast.
[music] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. I'm Tara McCoy, and I'll be your host. In this episode, I asked Alteryx cofounder Olivia Duane Adams--
There has been a shortage of data scientists over the last probably five to eight years. That shortage is now being met.
--and Alteryx employee number one, Amy Holland--
And so then Dean and Libby were like, "You should come work for us." And they're both salespeople, and you don't stand a chance of saying no [laughter].
--to reflect on the past decade and make predictions for the decade to come. I've been with Alteryx for 15 years myself, so I'll be sure to throw in some of my own memories too. Let's get started. Oh, and be sure to listen through to the end, as we have a special promo code for you to come meet us in person down at our Inspire conference in Sydney this February.
Before Alteryx was Alteryx, Libby Duane Adams cofounded a company called SRC in 1997 with Dean Stoecker and Ned Harding.
When we started SRC, the first office that we had was located here in Orange County, California. And it was the second story of a two-story building. And on the first floor of the office was an antique store, and here is this startup technology company on the second floor. And what was so great about it was we had, oh, probably about 1,500 square feet of working space that we were leasing from an architectural firm. And so all of the desks had already been built out for these architects who had moved out of the space. And it was great as a startup that was self funding. We didn't have to buy office furniture. The architects actually gave us the old chairs that they had for those desks, and we got started. And it was an absolutely great space and a great advantage to not have to spend money that was sorely needed for other resources like great talent that joined us.
How did you make your way to Alteryx?
I was at another software company, MapInfo, and I was a reseller manager for the western region. And I had started seeing Dean and Libby's names on orders that came through for another reseller that they both worked at. And then in March of '97, they came out to Troy, New York, and they took me to lunch. And it was like this farmhousey kind of place and then, I don't know, ended up burning down like a month later. It was really weird. But it was shortly after that when kind of everybody on the team we were a part of, resellers and inside sales, was getting picked off to go to startups. And I had an offer from the reseller that they were currently at because one of the other inside salespeople had gone there and they were trying to recruit me, and it wasn't the right fit for me. And so then Dean and Libby were like, "You should come work for us." And they're both salespeople, and you don't stand a chance of saying no [laughter] to them. I just remember I'd be at my apartment, and Libby would call, and then Dean would call. And I would just go back and forth with like, "Oh, it's so far away." And ultimately, I was like, "Okay. Well, I can always go home if it doesn't work out."
And I just remember walking up to the office the first day. And you know upstate New York is so-- everything's just so old, like antiques and just run down and whatever. And I walk up the office, and the stairs are all creaky. And I walk into the office - and it's right above an antique shop - and I'm like, "Wait. I'm moving to California. This was supposed to be like high-rises and elevators." And I'm like, "This is so not what I pictured." And I got my desk and like, "Hey," and I was like, "What did I do?" because there's no computer. There's no anything [laughter]. And I'm like, "Oh. So what have I done? What have I done?" After a while, it kind of grows on you because then Irvine, Orange County is all very vanilla. And so this had character because it was in a historic district of Orange, so it was really cool. But I remember the first earthquake. It was an old architect's, they had downsized. So we had taken over some of their space. And so it was really cool desks, but you had to have the higher chairs. And I remember the first earthquake. My chair started moving. I'm like, "What? What is happening?" And then all the dust from the bricks started falling on our desks and stuff. It was really kind of trippy and scary.
That happened a couple of times. And in the back, it was all completely unfinished. It used to be-- I don't know what it was, but there was this elevator that would bring things up and down. And Dean's kids would ride their bikes back there. But yeah, so it was a lot of fun back in the day.
So then Boulder was where you started?
Yeah. I was in those cubes in the middle.
They went from the floor to the ceiling, basically.
They were so dark.
And I just had my little laptop in the corner. We didn't have monitors. Some of the developers had two monitors, but I didn't. I had my little laptop. And I remember people would come up behind me, and just scare the bejesus out of me [laughter]. You're like--
It's so quiet.
I'd always be jumping. It would always be so quiet, but then you would hear somebody groan in frustration or you all of a sudden hear voices and you're like, "Whoa. I'm not alone."
Who's set up was the one that was kind of like complete like dentist office chair, upside down--
That was before my time.
That was before you?
I don't know who that was, but I've heard stories about how-- and he had one of those CRT monitors suspended from the ceiling. It seemed like it was a death trap cause he rigged it himself. That was funny.
I remember my initial reaction to the name changing to Alteryx. And I remember Dean calling me the next day, he's like, "I got it. I got it." I'm like, "All right. I'm ready." He's like, "Alteryx." I'm like, "Please explain [laughter]."
How does one spell that?
So he explained. Yeah. How do we spell it? He explained it, and I was like, "Oh, okay. Okay. I can get on board with this." But then I remember telling other people and I'm like, "Nobody's going to know how to say that. Nobody's going to know how to--" I'm like, "What? It does all the tricks. It's so easy." And I remember in the very first time I demoed it for the company, I did a whole phonetic, "Now repeat after me." And here we are, how many years later and people still don't really pronounce it properly. But it's a fun name. I think it sort of had to be that way. Hindsight, it just makes sense that we made up the word.
When reflecting on her proudest moment from the past decade, Libby recalled--
I think back and there were certainly many, many highlights. But if I look back over the last decade, I have to say one of my proudest moments is the amazing people that have joined Alteryx globally. With 18 offices around the world, it's absolutely so rewarding for me to get to visit our teams, support their efforts. That, to me, is so amazing.
I mean, it's just kind of like our home. It's where we come every day. These people that we are around, I consider a lot of people here family. I miss so many people that-- there's been some really great colleagues and partners in crime that we've had. And but I think we still do a phenomenal job of hiring really great people.
Yeah. And I think the view on it is that aside from, maybe, a couple of us, we shouldn't expect people to stay forever. It's they're there for the moment in time that they need to be here, and they help us at a certain point, and then we need the next-- somebody else to tag in and take it to the next level. But yeah. You're right. I mean, I have friends, family, that are no longer here that I still keep in touch with. I had lunch with somebody today that has moved on, and it's just been an amazing place from a culture prospective to connect with so many bright and caring people.
Yeah. What was your proudest moment of the decade, Tara?
I don't know. I mean, without getting corny-- I mean, okay, so the decade. So since 2010. Because there's some proud moments before that. But I think building and launching Community, pretty frigging cool. But I have so much pride anytime I see somebody use the product or gush about it. I don't know. I take that sort of personally, and I don't know. What about you?
I don't know if there's one. I mean, the going public was such a crazy, surreal experience that it's hard to fathom that it actually happened.
And some wonderful things were said about you. Dean had some really great things to say.
Yeah. And it was cool cause my sisters were there.
Yeah. Your sisters were there.
It was fun. But it was that, and then GKO of last year where our first global kick off with the whole organization-- I remember, we're at the Gaylord at the rockies and we're in that sports bar that's two levels, and I was up on the balcony and I was standing next to Dean, and just looking out and just being in awe of the amount of people who get to be part of something that we started so long ago, and they're so excited about it. It's just hard not to still be a fangirl of the company and of the software. It's just so inspiring to see how passionate people are about working here and the work they get to do and the impact we have on customers and all of that. So I don't know that there's one moment. I think it's just waves where it kind of keeps hitting ya. Culminates, and ebbs and flows and-- I mean, I guess, I'm just super grateful that I still get to be apart of pretty large, strategic initiatives and when we execute well, it's always well received. We have a great fan base and it's just super fun.
The other part, is not only the people who have joined Alteryx around the world, but the customers and partners that are trusting us with their business in our support of our customers, and our partners with the technology platform that we deliver. I have to say that, to me, is just so rewarding. When I get to visit such places as Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, or São Paulo, Brazil, or Sydney, Australia, or Singapore, or Tokyo, Japan, getting to meet our teams on the ground, getting to meet our partners, and getting to meet these amazing customers, the passion for analytics, the passion that people have for doing things differently, the passion for making progress and changing the way business is done, that to me is just so rewarding.
Stand out, all time funniest memory of the decade.
This is pressure.
I don't know.
This is the most pressured question. Well, I got to say just about every year when we brainstorm the solutions on our T-shirts, it's so fun. And we usually wind up just cracking up and--
It is so funny. We have a small squad of people that participate in the Solution Center and we try to come up with T-shirts that help us identify staff that know an aspect--
--of the product, right, servers, spacial, blah, blah, blah, whatever. And I don't know how we started doing it, but we tried to tie it to the theme of the conference or not. And we just started coming up with catchy slogans--
Yeah. They're funny to us anyway. But so we have these meetings leading up to the conference, and one of the funniest ones was we were in this office in RegEx and just, I mean, cracking ourselves up with how funny we thought we were around whatever it was. And Neil Ryan, who was a beloved member of the Alteryx and Community Team--
He set us up today with our wonderful sound system.
Exactly. He came up after the meeting, he's like, "What are you doing in there?" And, "I want to be invited [laughter]." And so Neil is now a member of our Solution Center squad.
I got one.
When we did the video shoot for the rap for the Santalytics rap. Did you ever see that?
I don't think so.
Oh, Amy. That's embarrassing. We covered Run DMC and Christmas in Hollis--
Oh, I have. I have.
And it was my idea that like, "Oh. We should totally do this. It would be really fun and I'll just get everybody involved," not realizing that not everybody's comfortable with rapping.
So weird [laughter]. Can't imagine [laughter].
Or being on camera, or spending the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving on said rap. But it's just going to be great and we're just going to throw this together.
Yeah. But it was a lot of fun.
I also think that the Grand Prix has also turned into--
A stage production.
--quite the production with the singing and the band playing and it's just awesome how much they put into that. How much fun they have with it.
Yes. I love the Grand Prix. That's another one that gives me great pride--
Because you used to do that.
--just because that first one-- well, the first one almost didn't happen. There was definitely a division of the company and some pretty strong opinions whether or not we should do it. So just getting that off the ground was crazy. And I was pregnant at the time, so there was even--
Might have been emotional.
A little. A little bit. A little bit. So, but to see how far that's come and how much everybody loves it is just--
I think I have some of the original programs in my office.
All right. What has been the biggest change in the analytics industry over the years?
This is where we get serious.
I know. Very serious.
I mean, I get to be part of the Inspire conference, our user conference, and the area that I focus on is the Solution Center, which is awesome because I get to work across different teams within the organization, but then I also get to work with partners and ACEs and tons of different customers. So, for me, observationally, the questions people were asking us 10 years ago are silly to an extent, compared to what we're being asked now. So now it's machine learning, it's text analytics, it's predictive, it's in-database, it's all of these crazy, crazy, deep topics that are far, far more than just joining two Excel databases and working with joining data. So, for me, it's been amazing to see how fast and how deep some of these topics we've just run directly into and we get to work with are. It's pretty mind boggling.
One of the biggest changes that I've seen goes to businesses, goes to the people who are saying, "You know what? We need to embrace analytics because we can't just do business the way we've always done it." So frequently you'll hear people say, "Well, we've always done it this way. Let's just keep doing it this way." That is one of the biggest changes that I've seen is that all levels within an organization, within a company, are taking huge steps to be able to embrace analytics to drive insights differently. They're not willing to take the easy way and just say, "Let's keep doing it the same way." They're going through those processes. They're making those investments in people and talent to make those changes.
As we look into the future of the analytics industry, I wanted to know what Amy and Libby thought would be the next big advancement in data science or analytics.
I have to say because there has been-- or I should say, had been, a shortage of data scientists over the last, probably, five to eight years. That shortage is now being met. That shortage is now no longer an issue. With technology advancing and the accessibility of data to drive insights through analytics, we're seeing organizations empowering many skill types within their companies to be able to get at those data to be able to build those analytics. R coders, Python coders, those professionals are being embraced by the organization to help support those analytic insights that are driving business. The other change that we've seen is that if you're not a coder, if you're not an R or Python professional, you still have that ability to be able to support the business, that ability to empower those professionals within an organization who understand the context of the business question that's being asked, that's being solved for. They also understand the context of the data assets that could be used in solving for it. Those are key. And that's the other change that we've seen, is that empowerment of the masses within the line of business to be able to answer those questions that will continue to grow. That's going to empower businesses to be able to answer those harder questions, get on to those next tough questions with the data assets that are available. And as one of our customers said in the Middle East, "Data is the new oil." So those business workers, whether you are an R or Python coder, or that great business analyst who understands the context of the question being asking, when you're empowered by the data, you're going to be able to get to those deeper insights.
Well, I'll say for, I mean, whatever. I can predict anything, right?
Yeah. I have a Magic 8-Ball at home. It makes me feel really advanced in my predictions.
Wasn't that one of the first apps that went on the gallery? The Magic 8-Ball app?
I think it might still be up there, honestly. Anyway [crosstalk]--
That's cool. I didn't even know about that. I just think we're collecting data everywhere and just about everything we're connected to is collecting data. And we're starting to see it already where our devices are delivering us much more prescriptive, "You should do this," or, "You're going here"-- case in point, I wear two fitness trackers because they give me different metrics. And my hope is that at some point I have something that tells me, "Yo. Get your heart rate up. You need 10 more burpees. That'll get your heart rate up," or actually make suggestions like, "You've eaten a lot of french fries. Maybe it's time for the salad." Or just much more personalized recommendations that we can fulfill our goals, I guess, from a personal level. That's not to say that-- I mean, it just seems like that it's going that way anyway with products and when you look at your social feeds, all of a sudden your conversations seem to be heard with miracle products that you never knew--
Isn't that weird? Yeah.
It's like the infomercials we used to have, you can't live without these things.
Yeah. That and your whole life is going to become one big pile of analytics, between your social, your fitness, I have the smart light bulbs, dabbling in that, which is probably a joke to some people but, probably, have their whole houses with Nests and Rings and it's all so disparate right now. But it feels like there's going to have to be a convergence of I want the home package that is all tied together, I don't have to patchwork it between light bulbs and doorbells and that kind of stuff. It feels like we're very early in what that could be from a lifestyle or a life improvement kind of thing. My car reminds me I need gas, obviously, or you left your cell phone in the car and it's just getting trippier and trippier what technology seems to know about what we're doing or what we're not doing.
Yeah. I've had my car for three weeks and it knows that on Saturdays at 8:00 AM I go to a different place to work out.
So it just--
Yeah. It'll be six minutes to go to this park. Thanks [laughter].
Well even with Google directions, right, it's like, "Here's an alternate route."
Sure. Yeah, my phone is paired to it so it could be all that historical data as well, but--
Yeah. And you can fight it because there's the lady who brings my daughter home who refuses to let me pay her online in any way, shape or form whether it's through my bank, through Venmo, through any of it. I have to write her a check. So there's definitely a demographic that's going to resist for a while. But I don't know. I like getting coupons that are about the things I buy, so I buy into it to a certain extent. I'd rather have discounts on things that I'm likely to purchase versus things I don't purchase. So filter that noise out a little bit more.
Okay. So which global problem would you like to see solved by data science and analytics in the next decade?
I mean, there's the opioid crisis which is-- I know people who've had, still have, problems with that and it's just hard to watch. I have teenage kids, so there's the vaping. And I know that's not in the category of global, but it's definitely--
Sure it is.
--an epidemic. At least for a certain demographic that I'm close to, my kids.
I'd probably go with global, climate change.
Yeah. Yep. It's very worrisome to see. Whether it's fires, it's ice caps, it's weather, it's personal behavior too. We all know that there's lots of things that we can each do, but yeah, just some way to show people their impact.
Yeah. That would be a great use of data sciences. But tying it back to what do we think we-- what do we predict is going to happen. I mean, that would be an amazing tie in of solving a global problem, but also-- you go to a restaurant, you see how many calories you consume when you chose to buy something. But it would be great if when you decide to drive from here to there, or when you decide to do this versus that, what is the difference and the impact on taking side streets versus the highway.
Or buying something online versus walking to your store, right? Or driving to a store.
Exactly. Yeah. There's economic impact, there's climate impact. It would be great if there was some measure on should I wait? Do I need that? Is it important enough to have that kind of impact? I think that would be a great use of technology to have that dashboard that pops up that says, "Rethink that," or, "Do more of something."
Special thanks to listener Andy Uttley for our special theme music for this episode. You can hear more amazing tracks throughout this year, so be sure to subscribe to Alter Everything on your favorite podcast app. You can also tweet with us using hashtag Alter Everything Podcast. And come see us in person at our Inspire conference in Sydney. For 15% off your registration, use promo code A-Y-X-A-N-Z Podcast and we'll see you down under February 25th through the 26th.
The first year we did Solution Center shirts, and we asked Ned-- we sent out that survey saying what your level of expertise is. And he's like, "Well, I wrote all the tools. I know it all. I just want to be in the Solution Center all day along." He's like, "Why don't you get me a shirt with all of the colors." So we went to that hemp shop up on the hill in Boulder. We tried to find tie-dye shirts and we got them--
We got them from a couple places though, didn't we?
Yeah. We came up with a couple. But it was a fun--
And we had to have them printed on.
I wonder if he still has them.
I don't know.
I know I have a lot of T-shirts at this point.
What's your favorite saying? Do you remember any, enough of them?
On the shirts? I liked the Accio Data with the download tool. That was Harry Potter. Excel is not a database, I mean, that's an all time classic.
That is a classic. Yeah. And I just remember battling with Ned over the years for the output from Alteryx to Excel and from Excel. And Excel's got all of these nifty things you can do with it that make the data look cool, and but it also makes it harder to write and to read. So it would be kind of a constant struggle with, "They're just not a database and they shouldn't be treating like one." And it's like, "Well, that's great. But--"
"--we have to do it anyway." So that's where the Excel is not a database came from. He's just fighting. It should not be used as a database.
Over and over and over. That was his mantra. Just about every time. It's interesting though cause he-- I mean, he opened my eyes to-- I mean, I learned so much from Ned. But asking why, I get feedback all the time like, "I don't like this," or, "I don't like this." And it's like, "But, why? Why?" And really trying to understand what people are asking or what their aversion to things are because--
Yeah. What are you trying to do?
--because, most of the time, what they're asking to do isn't really what they need. And Alteryx does that really, really well. And it's because of the way he thinks. And that's--
So back in the day when I was in Orange - and this was before you - and Ned was in Boulder, and we were working on the first Allocate. I mean, our FedEx bill must have been insane because there was no way to transfer the EXEs and all of the data files cause, I mean, it was so big at the time and now it's like, "I can just download that." But yeah. The FedEx guy would come every day, and I turned from inside sales, which is what I was originally hired for, to product manager, documentation training, kind of everything, ExQA, and I know I drove him nuts when I would call him and we'd spend the whole day on the phone. Literally the whole day on the phone. And I'd call him and I'd be like, "It crashed." And it'd be like, "What did you do before it crashed?"
Did you get a message? Did you take a screenshot of the message? Can you replicate it?
So it turned into a-- I know I just exasperated and exhausted him until he trained me to be like, "Well, I can't replicate it, but I just want to give you a heads up I saw this and if it happens again I'll let you know if I can replicate it." But yeah. I know I just drove him bananas with that.
He had the patience of a saint, in many, many ways.
He does. I know. The longer I sit here, the more little stories-- I'm trying to remember.
Yeah. Coming back?
Yeah. I know Libby hosted my first baby shower at her house, yeah, when I had Myles back in the day. So she had a really nice house, a cute condo. I think it was a townhouse or something. But yeah. She hosted a baby shower for me. And then I think she also hosted my going away party when I moved from California to Colorado. So yeah. So generous. Both of them. Super generous. Dean got me my first digital camera when I had Myles. That was cool.
Yeah. Very thoughtful. Very caring group of people we work with.
This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).