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MongoDB CTO's view of data challenges

The database vendor CTO discusses cloud migration, organizational structure and collaboration, go-to-market challenges organizations face, and the value of a chief data officer.

Since July 2020, Mark Porter has been CTO at next-generation independent database vendor MongoDB. It's a role he relishes as looks to help grow the company.

MongoDB is a popular open source document database that has made increasing inroads into the database as a service (DBaaS) market with its MongoDB Atlas cloud service. On July 13, Porter helped launch the MongoDB 5.0 platform, which introduced enhanced time series data support as well as live re-sharding.

Porter has had a long and varied career in the data and database market, during which he worked for Oracle for 11 years and was general manager of Amazon's RDS database service for five years.

In this Q&A, he provides insight on the challenges organizations continue to face with data, and why chief data officers are increasingly important to organizations.

Mark PorterMark Porter

How did you end up as the CTO of MongoDB?

Mark Porter: I've been in data and databases my entire career. I was invited to join the board of MongoDB in February 2020 and I loved it.

Then after being with MongoDB for about six months, I realized that I might have the chance to produce the database that I've been trying to get my whole career. That is a database that is designed to stay up, one that doesn't require people dancing around and chanting spells to operate it. So I asked our CEO, Dev Ittycheria, if I could step up from the board and be the CTO, and he agreed.

MongoDB has a culture of empowerment. I had grown up in command and control infrastructures like Oracle and AWS, which are fine. But they're different than an environment where you actually go out to the teams and you say: 'What is the best thing to do for the company this quarter and this year?' And then you listen really carefully, and you mentor them.

After being with MongoDB for about six months, I realized that I might have the chance to produce the database and that I've been trying to get my whole career.
Mark PorterCTO, MongoDB

From your vantage point at MongoDB, what have you seen as the key data challenges during the pandemic era?

Porter: The challenge that I see organizations facing is twofold. One challenge is in how they move their IT requirements to the cloud. In a way it's like stepping from one lily pad to another lily pad. Both are great. They're beautiful and they're floating on the water. But if you step in between the lily pads it can be scary.

That's been really interesting to me, as a large percentage of corporate data is still on premises.

The other challenge relates to the business saying 'Don't ship your org chart.' What that means is that many times in engineering, you'll structure your team in a certain way. And then the products you ship will resemble who reported to who and who didn't report to who.

What I've learned is that COVID actually caused people to rethink how people work together. Now there's this intense focus on transformation, so that the organization of people matches what the organization is trying to deliver to the market. The transformation was going on already, but it has been accelerated this year.

The C-level executives that I talk with usually ask: 'How can I structure my tech and my teams to innovate quickly and deliver reliably and predictably?' They want to deliver quickly but they also want to deliver reliably.

Where do chief data officers fit into the data landscape?

Porter: Chief data officers are still rare, and I do meet with them. Their roles and responsibilities range from data governance enforcers all the way to fundamental architects of the product and what companies are producing.

Where we see chief data officers having the most value is when they're actually deciding what people need to do with their data.

We are asking so much more of our data. We are asking it to be investigated. We are asking it to be secure, and we are asking it to go back in history forever in a data lake.

So someone who actually understands what the company needs from its data and has a position of influence and authority is really, really powerful.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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