Interview: Elif Tutuk, Head of Research, Qlik


Thursday, 14 March, 2019

Qlik’s Head of Research, Elif Tutuk, says she finds it “easier to grow and develop as a female leader in the tech industry than in other, more traditional sectors”. That’s certainly true in her case, as hard work, positive influences and an innovative mindset have seen her career blossom. With one patent already under her belt (and more on the way), plus a desire to see data and analytics used for the benefit of everyone, Tutuk says we should all “stay curious” and focus on “balancing skills with wild creativity”.

Portrait head shot of Elif Tutuk

Elif Tutuk, Head of Research, Qlik.


How did you come to lead Qlik’s research team?

My journey as a product leader has been quite diversified. I’ve worked in product management, technical product marketing, design, product development and now research. I attribute much of this success to my personality; my willingness to take on new challenges and constantly learn new skills and to walk unchartered paths.

I am originally from Istanbul, Turkey. I came to the US in 2002, to get my Masters in Information Systems at Iowa State University. I joined Qlik nine years ago and I am currently the Head of Research. We do applied research and incubate new analytics technologies and experiences to define and lead the next generation of analytics systems. It’s a fascinating field because of the pace of change, the need for high adaptability and the chance to always work on new things.

Qlik is a very innovative analytics company, and it is actually so much more than data analytics. We innovate and build data and analytics technologies where people, business and governments can tackle their most challenging issues with data. It is a lot of fun to work at Qlik and it excites me to be here as a female leader in tech.

Tell us about your recent patent that was recently granted.

In February, my patent was granted for Methods and Systems for Data Management. In essence, our idea delivers ways to link data already loaded in-memory with big data sources for rapid visual analysis. With this hybrid model for comprehensive analysis, there is no need for users to choose between direct access to big data or pre-loading data in-memory for visual analysis and discovery. By directly querying tables without a complicated ETL process, and combining that data with the data that is in-memory, users have the advantages of both ‘live’ access to data and also the speed of in-memory data analysis.

We first lodged the patent in 2012 and I’m thrilled to see it is now approved. This method has now been implemented in Qlik products with QlikView 11 and the feature was called Direct Discovery. It enabled many of our customers to use big data analytics, and it was our first step in making ‘big data just data’. It also enabled Qlik to break the ‘all data in memory’ paradigm and established the path for future innovations. For example, this year we’ve launched a game-changing technology, Associative Big Data Indexing, enabling our users to leave the data where it is and bring the power of Qlik’s Associative analytics capabilities to it.

I also have other pending patents in the areas of visual and interactive data exploration methods, visual data associations and analysis, conversational analytics and cognitive analytics.

Your career has spanned multiple continents. Have you experienced any professional challenges where you feel your gender played a part?

I’ve definitely had challenges during my career, but I don’t feel that my gender has played a part. I actually believe that it is easier to grow and develop as a female leader in the tech industry than in other, more traditional sectors, due to the dynamic nature and pace of tech, the need for innovation and the overall speed that is inherent to the sector. In retrospect, I recognise that some of the challenges I faced were often self-inflicted, like work/life balance issues or being impatient.

What lessons have you learned that you would impart to other women looking to get into a career in technology?

We are at the beginning of Fourth Industrial Revolution, and data is fuelling it. This era is already cataloguing a long list of emerging technologies and industries, with advancements in AI, machine learning, robotics and the Internet of Things — which all have data at their heart.

According to a recent study by Kaggle, females represent just over 16% of data scientist jobs, worldwide. This is even lower in Asia (5%). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is our chance to change that. It will provide us with an opportunity to learn new skills, build new jobs requiring unique skill combinations that don’t exist today and explore talent that we didn’t know about. I believe building the future requires women in data to learn continuously, be curious and passionate about developing new skills. It is never too late to learn a new skill. I got my first computer when I was 18 years old and wrote my first line of code when I was 19. And still every day I look for opportunities to learn new things; I am always a student.

It's also essential to focus on more than analytics and data skills. Work on your creativity and design skills. Making AI more human-friendly or building new technologies to augment humans requires all of this. Stay curious and focus on balancing your skills with wild creativity, with practical data science and with business knowledge.

Who are your role models?

The other key lesson that has stuck with me, and this leads onto my role models, is the importance of understanding perspectives. There’s huge value in recognising different perspectives because it enables me to hear, see and react to things very differently than if I was to approach it from one point of view. It’s also a lesson I keep in mind when researching and developing new products and features, as not every person will analyse data in the same way.

I learned the value of perspective from my mum. She was my main role model and one of the reasons why I am such a creative person. She taught me how to be passionate in everything I do, how to have a glass-half-full attitude, and how to look at things from a different perspective. These learnings have helped me a lot in my career.

My mum passed away from cancer two days before my birthday and her funeral was held on my birthday. I guess this was her way of saying to look at things from ‘different perspective’.

I have always been inspired by women who were pioneers, while cognisant that they might never be recognised for what they did in their lifetime. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had a devoted, loving mother — courageous, visionary, strong, perseverant and ‘in service’ to me, to her family and to others.

Any final comments for our readers?

In research and development, we are always innovating and challenging the status quo to make data and analytics available to everyone for better decision-making in business and in life. It’s a good mentality to have, especially around International Women’s Day and this year’s push to Balance for Better. I would encourage all young boys and girls to get involved in tech (whether as a career or for fun), to challenge social norms and to remember the importance of perspectives, every single day.

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