Claire Giordano

Tags:   postgresql    community    opensource    citus    microsoft    california    why postgres    contributing beyond code    postgreswomen   
Category:   Interviews   
Interview conducted by: Andreas Scherbaum

PostgreSQL is the World’s most advanced Open Source Relational Database. The interview series “PostgreSQL Person of the Week” presents the people who make the project what it is today. Read all interviews here.

Please tell us about yourself, and where you are from.

I have lived in northern California in the San Francisco Bay Area for my entire adult career, from the time I was a junior software engineer in the developer tools group at Sun. But before that, I moved around — a lot. I was born in Taiwan, and then lived in Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, Athens Greece, Mississippi, Rhode Island again, and New Hampshire.

Oh, and I spent summers visiting my grandparents in Athens Greece; I also went to high school in Nantes, France for a semester. All this travel is now in my DNA, so it’s not a surprise that I love to travel — and Postgres conferences give me a good excuse to do so. :)

Claire Giordano

Claire Giordano

How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies?

Hiking with my family and our chocolate labrador named Zucca. Sailing in the Greek islands. Reading detective novels. Visiting my extended family back on the East Coast of the US, in New Hampshire and Boston.

Any Social Media channels of yours we should be aware of?

Last book you read? Or a book you want to recommend to readers?

I read so many novels — mostly detective novels, but other stuff too, like the Murderbot Diaries from Martha Wells — that the characters and plots have blended together in my mind. Some writers who have kept me up late at night: Karin Slaughter, Angela Marsons, Allison Brennan, Martha Wells, and Andy Weir.

Any recent favorite movies or shows?

I’m impressed by how streaming — combined with better captions — has opened up new shows to new markets. And long-form storytelling in the form of bingeworthy TV has improved 10X, too. Twenty years ago it would have been hard for me to watch Icelandic, Finnish, or Swedish TV shows from my family room. Now I’m hooked. Recent favorites: Trapped, The Valhalla Murders, Bordertown, and Deadwind.

What does your ideal weekend look like?

My ideal weekend is pretty low-key: Lots of sleep. Good coffee. A hike with my husband and our chocolate lab in the nearby hills. Phone calls with our adult children and Zoom with our parents/siblings. A delicious dinner, with a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Distract myself from my work on Netflix. And if possible, publish a blog post. (Seriously, Saturdays are a super-effective day to publish.)

What is the best advice you ever got?

A woman I used to work for in the kernel group at Sun used to ask us: “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be effective?

Although it looks like a question — it is, hands down, the best advice I ever got. Karen B. would challenge all of us on the team to let go of our strong opinions about what the “right” thing to do was — and instead, to think differently about how to persuade people, to think differently about the most effective way to get where we needed to go.

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

I started working with Postgres in April 2017 when I joined a small startup called Citus Data, where I was employee #24. That was nearly 5 years ago, in the Postgres 9.6 timeframe.

Fast forward to today: things are a bit different. We’ve been acquired by Microsoft and soon Postgres 15 will be out, and yet, Postgres and Citus are just as fun to work on as they were on Day 1. I love what I do, and feel lucky to work with some pretty phenomenal people on the Citus team and in the Postgres world.

I majored in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science at Brown University. And my studies gave me such a good foundation on which to build a career in software.

Why? First, what I learned at Brown CS opened the door to a pretty wonderful series of roles at Sun Microsystems, first as a software engineer in developer tools — a predecessor to git and GitHub — and later as an engineering manager in the Solaris kernel team, where I led the effort to open source Solaris. Second, over a decade later when I moved from engineering into product management and developer marketing, my experiences working as a developer give me empathy for the very community I’m trying to help: developers.

One of the projects I’m working on right now is co-chairing, along with Teresa Giacomini, a new, free, virtual event called Citus Con: An Event for Postgres.

I think it’s kind of a big deal because it’s the first time AFAIK that the Postgres and Citus team at Microsoft is organizing a Postgres event like this. And we’re working to bring together people from different circles: Postgres users, Citus open source users, Azure Database for PostgreSQL customers — plus experts and contributors from the PG community, too.

And even though it won’t be in person, the CFP period has been a whirlwind of touching base with Postgres people I haven’t talked to in a while, which has been quite heartwarming.

Are any of your contributions to PostgreSQL things that do not involve writing code?

The only code I write these days is haml, yaml, html, and markdown. (Does markdown even count as code?) I sometimes quip that my favorite programming language is now English. Which is a long way of saying that most of my contributions to the PostgreSQL community do not involve writing code.

How do I contribute? I write blog posts about the Citus extension to Postgres, I edit and review a lot of other people’s blogs and talks and abstracts, I give conference talks on Postgres, and I maintain the Citus open source website.

I’m quite pleased with this recent post that I co-authored with Pouria Hadjibagheri that goes deep into how the UK Coronavirus dashboard team is using Postgres and Citus to power their analytics service. Pouria and Clare Griffiths and the whole UK Coronavirus dashboard team are pretty amazing, hats off to them.

Other contributions: I served on the Program Committee for PgDaySF 2020. And right now I’m co-chairing the organizing team & leading the talk selection team for Citus Con: An Event for Postgres. Oh, and I gave a talk on this very topic at FOSDEM, about ways to contribute to Postgres — beyond code.

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

Citus of course! The open source Citus extension transforms Postgres into a distributed database. I love my front-row seat in seeing how the combination of Citus and Postgres have made it possible for people to sleep better at night.

Which PostgreSQL conferences do you visit? Do you submit talks?

I have met so many talented and kind people at the many PostgreSQL conferences. On a scale of 1 to 10, people in the community have made me feel welcome 14/10.

Yes, I submit talks. I am honored to have been a speaker (in-person) at PGConf.EU 2018 and 2019, Nordic PGDay 2019, Swiss PGDay 2019, PostgresOpen 2019, and to give the kickoff talk in the PostgreSQL devroom at FOSDEM in 2020.

Why do you think Postgres is growing in adoption and popularity the way that it is?

Well I gave a talk about this at PGConfEU. But one of the many things I didn’t manage to explore in that talk was how Postgres is so easy to get started with.

Earlier in Covid, I collaborated with Marco Slot to create a talk/interview about Citus and Postgres. And in preparing, we realized the flywheel effect — like a virtuous circle — can be used to understand why Postgres keeps growing in popularity.

The Postgres flywheel effect is this: Because Postgres is open source and is easy to get started with, it’s good to play with. Play brings familiarity and skill. (Have you heard the adage, “the best tool is often the familiar tool.”) In addition to being good to play with, Postgres is also useful for every state of an application’s lifecycle. And so whether for play or business, as more developers begin to use Postgres, more developers fall in love with Postgres. This combination of more users + more love triggers the creation of more client libraries, tools, and extensions — making the whole Postgres ecosystem better. And with a richer ecosystem, well, the top of the flywheel gets even more momentum: it’s easier than ever to get started with Postgres.

In our talk, Marco referred to this flywheel as a self-reinforcing ecosystem.

Postgres Flywheel effect

Postgres Flywheel effect

Would you recommend PostgreSQL for business, or for side projects?

“Just use Postgres” is a mantra that I’ve heard from developers over and over since I started working with Postgres. The short answer is that I have seen Postgres used in businesses large and small, as well as for side projects too. But as with all things databases, the “it depends” caveat applies: whether Postgres is a good fit or not depends on the needs of your application.

What other places do you hang out?

I’m pretty active on Twitter, you can find me there as @clairegiordano. I’m also on the Citus Public Slack — and you can find me on the PostgreSQL Slack, too. And hopefully I will be at the next PGConf.EU too, whenever and wherever that may be.