Barkha Gvalani, Engineering Partner at GV

September 30, 2020


Q. You’re an engineering partner at GV, a venture capital firm based in California that supports technology companies. How has the tech industry, particularly companies in the early stages of development, been impacted by the pandemic?

These have been some very challenging times for the whole world. But without our current technology, this could have been much worse. How else would countries be able to implement massive lockdowns within 1-2 days of announcement?

I think of technology as an amplification platform. All of these ideas existed in the world before. Let’s look at social networks for example. People used the phone to connect before social networking. Before phones, people met in person. Social networks always existed. Technology helped us scale and optimize them.

Tech companies that are solving problems created by the pandemic have seen a massive acceleration e.g. Telehealth, Video Conferencing, Food Delivery, Grocery Shopping, Gaming & Trading (solving boredom). The pandemic has brought the boomers online! The biggest trend we will see coming out of this is remote/hybrid work. A lot of tech companies, early and mature have already announced plans to be completely remote. And a lot of others are looking at a hybrid model. We should see a lot of innovation in tooling enabling remote work. There will be second order effects in the business travel industry too.

Companies that require in-person interaction have been hit, e.g. Uber, Lyft, etc. But some of them have pivoted beautifully. In person event companies are now hosting events online, etc. Technology is enabling people to do things while being home without risking their lives and hence you are generally seeing a massive acceleration in this sector.

Q. Your role at GV is at the intersection of finance, product management, and data. When did you first become interested in data and its wider applications?

That’s an interesting question. I have always been a very logical person and I have always been interested in the backstory. When I was first exposed to the world of data over a decade ago, I naturally fell in love with it. Data helps you ask as well as answer the right questions (but very often also the wrong questions!). This is why I think Data Literacy will be one of the key required skills in the workplace.

Q. You were a guest speaker at a French-American Foundation webinar in early May titled Making Sense of COVID-19 Data. Since then, have you seen significant changes in the way the US has collected and implemented coronavirus-related data?

I think we have made decent progress, but things could be better. A lot of companies that aren’t remote are testing workers on a regular basis. The treatments have gotten better. Even though the cases peaked in July, deaths did not follow the same peak. But there is a lot going on in this space and it can feel overwhelming. Primer, which does language processing, has put together this fantastic resource for Covid that consolidates research papers, news, and even tweets on Covid, so you can follow the latest developments.

Q. During your webinar, you spoke about the value of context – where we source a given set of data, how history can help us understand it, and more. What are some tools that an individual can use to contextualize data they might see in their everyday lives, like in the news or in political discourse?

To answer this comprehensively, I’ll have to write a book! But in short, looking for precedents is very useful. You should do some second order thinking on how the present conditions differ with respect to the precedent and how they would affect the current situation. Asking follow-up questions is another great one. For example, we are seeing constant headlines about the total number of cases rising. The follow-up ups could be: Are the number of new cases per day rising as well? What about deaths? And so on. Another interesting tool is reflecting on the motivation of the writer/speaker.

Q. You are a French-American Foundation Young Leader from the class of 2019 and co-hosted the webinar with a member of the French cohort from 2017. How has COVID-19 data been shared on a global scale? Where is there room for improvement?

I think the data being shared within the scientific community has been amazing. Within a few weeks of the breakout, the Covid-19 genome was sequenced and widely shared. So many countries were able to leverage this and develop tests at ground breaking speeds. Research being done is being widely shared and teams are learning from each other.

But there is also so much room for improvement here. The world hasn’t faced a challenge like this at the global scale in a very long time. One thing that helps in any crisis (personal, professional, or global) is having a strong set of guiding principles. We cannot survive by just being competitive and we cannot thrive by just being cooperative. We need a healthy mix of both. To tackle the pandemic, we need more cooperation. I’m optimistic about us being able to cross this hurdle and returning back to normal life soon(ish)!

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