Coworking: Kenny Shin thinks SQL is having an exciting moment

The CTO of Fundrise works to make the complex “intuitive and simple.”
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Kenny Shin

· 4 min read

Coworking is a weekly segment where we spotlight Tech Brew readers who work with emerging technologies. Click here if you’d like a chance to be featured.

How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in tech?

At a high level, I think my job is to work with our team to take something with a ton of complexity and make it as simple and elegant for our customer as possible. We build software that solves for a ton of financial, regulatory, legal, and technical complexity to provide simple, elegant, and unprecedented access to real estate, venture capital, and private credit investments that were previously only available to wealthy and institutional investors. Figuring out how to break down something that’s tremendously complex, translate it into software, and make it appear intuitive and simple for the customer is one of the primary ways we create value as a company.

What’s the most compelling tech project you’ve worked on, and why?

It may seem shameless or self-serving, but undoubtedly, it’s Fundrise. To see how we’ve given life to our idea of building a better financial system for the individual and how much our team and systems have evolved to realize that original vision is immensely rewarding. We started with a dilapidated, smelly, abandoned dollar store on H Street in DC and now have billions of dollars deployed in real estate and credit, as well as in some of the most promising and valuable private tech companies in the world.

What technologies are you most optimistic about? Least? And why?

This is a bit of a “zag” at the moment we’re in with all of the hype around AI and ML, but I’d say SQL. If you took a database administrator in a time machine from 2000 and teleported them to today, I think they would say something along the lines of, “I guess people aren’t using Oracle as much, but other than that, not much has changed.”

But if you dig deeper into what’s going on right now, SQL—combined with cloud computing, serverless databases, and data warehouses—is yielding a new set of tools (dbt, Fivetran, Snowflake, and Looker are some that we use) that take advantage of the ubiquity of SQL but have abstractions that make it possible to utilize SQL at a complexity far beyond how an individual would responsibly query a data source to produce wonderfully seamless solutions. The productivity that these tools unlock for us is remarkable, especially to people used to more heavily homegrown data engineering environments.

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What’s the best tech-related media you read/watch/listen to?

I love the Acquired podcast. The team that produces it takes advantage of the flexibility of the podcast format to conduct really deep dives (sometimes three hours!) into well-known companies in a really compelling way through stories of exceptional individuals and their vision and execution. I defy you to listen to their episode about Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works and not be inspired to build something aspirational.

What’s something about you we can’t guess from your LinkedIn profile?

Being based in DC, I spent the first part of my career working with the big system integrators on government projects. When it comes to technology, I imagine the tech audience reading this may think of the government as being inefficient, slow, and, charitably, a bit behind the curve when it comes to technology. I’m not here to argue that the audience is wrong about any of that.

But one thing you might not expect from working in the government environment is the true, unironic, mission-driven aspect to the work. I’ve seen people move their families for a posting, work around the clock for weeks to meet urgent needs, and make countless other personal sacrifices due to their belief in their agency’s mission and commitment to public service for our country. With the distance and perspective that comes with time, it’s something I’ve come to really appreciate.

What do you think about when you’re not thinking about tech?

I enjoy cooking, so right now I’m in the early stages of plotting Thanksgiving dinner. There are so many variables involved with the guest list, including certain very demanding guests, plus the known constraints (i.e., turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy) and my own self-interest (i.e., wanting to sit on the couch, drink beer, and watch football) to think about and plan around. Is this the year I can swap in instant mashed potatoes and see if anyone notices?

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.