Big data expert Chiny Driscoll told TechRepublic about leaving her corporate gig at IBM to found a startup, and why it's the most fulfilling job she's ever had.
One day, Chiny Driscoll looked in the mirror and said to herself, "You're being complacent." She was happy with her life, her executive title at IBM, her salary and flexibility — but she knew that she was not maximizing her full potential.
She didn't want to get up and look at herself in the mirror again and say that, and she didn't want to avoid something because she was afraid.
"I could live with failing if my startup didn't work, but I couldn't live with not trying," Driscoll said.
Earlier this year, Driscoll founded Metistream, a D.C.-based startup that allows customers to strategize, plan, and implement big data solutions using open source technology. The company is also a leader in the Apache Spark open source project and hosts many popular meetups in the D.C/Virginia area.
Before this, Driscoll was worldwide executive leader of big data professional services at IBM.There, she led all of the professional services that implemented and supported IBM's big data products and solutions across industries like finance, communications, and retail.
Though she loved her job at IBM, Driscoll said she knew she wasn't meant to climb the corporate ladder — it wasn't a big enough challenge. And she has always sought out challenges.
Born in South Korea, Driscoll moved to the US when she was five years old, with her mother, brother, and sister. She grew up in Virginia and went to Virginia Polytechnic Institute for college, where she studied business administration and finance. Out of college, she worked as a financial analyst.
She left that job to work at Electronic Data Systems (EDS, which was later acquired by HP), where she had to participate in a systems and engineering program. That, she said, was what led her to tech. On average, the program lasted about three years, but she graduated early after learning COBOL programming. She loved learning to code, and better understanding the technical side of it, but she just wasn't excited by it.
"I think tech is fantastic and people that [can] develop and code are wonderful, but it wasn't me," she said. "I like to grow things and see the big picture, look at things holistically — how do we execute and get something done? I'm good at it and love interacting with people and love strategizing with people."
From then on, Driscoll has focused on project management. She worked at Idea Integration for several years, developing their telecommunications practice, then at TIBCO software, where she ran the east coast service region. She took a year off when she had her second child and wanted some time to spend with family and figure out her next step.
She started fresh at Netezza, which was acquired by IBM a few months later. Driscoll took on more roles and eventually became the head of IBM's professional services.
An identity crisis struck her after three years with the company, and she knew it was time for a change.
"Instituting change, growing something quickly, and being able to do things differently is a passion of mine. As great of a company it is, it didn't go with my core values as an individual and executive. [It] took a while to muster enough courage, to do something I've never done," she said.
She started Metistream on April 1, and has since tried to create a corporate culture centered around innovation, impact, and speed. It's the hardest thing she's ever done in her life, she said.
Starting a company from scratch is the great equalizer. It's constantly humbling. And it was hard adjusting, especially because she has a four-year-old and 13-year-old at home, and is working almost 24/7 now.
But mostly, she said, it's extraordinarily rewarding in a variety of ways.
"I'm using skills I didn't leverage because the company was so big. I feel like I'm really stretching myself and it's extremely refreshing," Driscoll said. "I'm getting back to the roots of starting and applying the fundamentals of how to build a business is liberating."
When she left IBM, people told Driscoll good luck, and some even mentioned they had always wanted to start a company and never had the courage, so good for her.
"I wanted to tell them but you can, you just have to get over that hurdle over being afraid," she said.
In her own words...
What do you like to cook?
"I like to cook variety...French and Italian. I have ventured off and done some Indian. Strangely enough, I don't cook much Korean. I'll tell you the reason why. I made Korean BBQ for my husband and he said, 'mmm... but not as good as your mom's,' so ever since then he can stick to other cuisines!"
What are some of your hobbies?
"I love to travel. I joke that someday I'm going to be a luxury travel agent. I love to go to the Maldives, the Asia Pacific region. I love Africa as well. We go to the Caribbean quite a bit, I love exotic places. Dubai was really fantastic. Places off the coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean. I love Australia too."
What is some advice you wish you received at the beginning of your career?
"That's a tough one, there's many [things]. I wish I knew how critical it was to network earlier in my career. I was good but could have been better. I wish I would have known the importance of networks and relationships."