Databricks is building innovative AI tools
Reynold Xin, the co-founder and chief architect of Databricks, talks about why the company chose Amsterdam to further develop their innovative data tools and AI applications.
Big data in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s role as a big-data hub continues to expand. According to co-founder and chief architect of Databricks, Reynold Xin: “It’s booming.” This San Francisco-based company helps clients make sense of their big data and develops artificial-intelligence applications. They also have opened an engineering office in the heart of Amsterdam, just a stone’s throw from local tech success stories like TomTom and Booking.com. This exemplifies the type of innovative and fast-growing Silicon Valley tech companies that are choosing Amsterdam to scale up in.
Innovation for innovators
Started in 2013, Databricks grew out of the popular Apache Spark - an open-source project at the University of California in Berkeley. Databricks provides a Unified Analytics Platform for data science teams to collaborate with data engineering and lines of business to build data products. The company has already received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from leading investors such as Andreessen Horowitz and NEA, and it currently employs about 240 people, about 10 of whom are now located in Amsterdam. Their customer base has quickly expanded to include Salesforce, Viacom, Shell and HP. Xin explains:
“We are a platform for customers in virtually every vertical out there: healthcare, retail and manufacturing. They all have the need to analyse large amounts of data to innovate. For example, a large pharmaceutical company might be using us to speed up drug discovery. A large bank might be using us to detect credit card fraudulent transactions. A retailer might be using us to understand the forecasting demand of different goods.”
Amsterdam was the natural choice
Amsterdam was the perfect location for Databricks to hone its innovative data tools even further. Xin explains the purpose of their first European office:
“Our Amsterdam office is focused on the performance engineering aspect of it, on getting workloads to run faster, and that’s extremely important because it means faster to insight. This is our first engineering office outside of San Francisco. I was the primary champion in the company for setting up an office here.”
That choice had a lot to do with strengthening Databricks’ collaboration with CWI, the Netherlands’ national research institute for mathematics and computer science, located at the Amsterdam Science Park. This unique collaboration is a great example of fundamental science and technology companies working together on real applications.
“Peter Boncz, one of the principal investigators at CWI, is also a technical adviser to Databricks. He is a world-renowned expert in building high-performance databases, and this decision was partially driven by that. Academia and industry serve different purposes in society, and are driven by different goals. With CWI, we work on projects that might not have an immediate commercial need, but that will become more and more important in the future.”
Local talent and help from the reigon
Another factor was the high quality of local talent in the area. With its impressive research initiatives, high-quality universities and innovative companies, Amsterdam is a magnet for global scientific and technical experts, and that also applies to the type of talent that Databricks needs. “In this world, there are not a million database developers. It’s in the hundreds range, and a sizeable chunk of them are already here.”
Various regional and national agencies helped Databricks set up their Amsterdam office. ”The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) has been extremely helpful, and it’s a very welcoming and transparent government to work with.”
How amsterdam inbusiness made the transition easier
And amsterdam inbusiness, the official foreign investment agency of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, helped Databricks find their current office. Xin recalls, “We were actually on a very tight timeframe, and we only had two weeks to find a space. The agency suggested a number of possible sites and they really helped us a lot with looking at real estate and office space.
Another important factor was the smooth immigration procedure. “Amsterdam is a pretty immigration-friendly city. There’s actually a lot of other people in Europe that we’ve always wanted to hire, and when we checked with them about whether they’d be willing to move to the Netherlands, most of them said yes, as it’s a great place to live.”
When asked if he had any tips for newcomers, Xin had this to say:
“It’s mainly a question of how to retain the same cultural identity when opening new offices around the world. A lot of that can be helped, at least in the beginning, by frequently having people travel over from both sides. At Databricks, we call it a transplant manager. Someone from our San Francisco office came over to Amsterdam to drive the first 6 months, and that gave us a time buffer.”
Maintaining a global focus also helps. “Hire a good manager-director for the site who understands the market, not just in Amsterdam, but also globally. A lot of people will be coming from other countries.”