Henrietta Dombrovskaya

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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.

My name is Henrietta (Hettie) Dombrovskaya. Originally from Russia, I moved to the US more than 25 years ago. I live in Chicago, Illinois, where I recently moved after living in the suburbs for many years. I like it a lot, especially because now I live just ten minutes walk away from a beach.

My professional career in databases and information management is almost forty years long. I worked in all possible industries and with all possible databases you can and can’t imagine.

Henrietta Dombrovskaya

Henrietta Dombrovskaya

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

The time which I spend on something is technically not free :). I volunteer for several organizations, including The Night Ministry, where I volunteer in the Youth Shelter, the ICAT, and the Cook County Forest Preserve volunteers. I love biking, and this summer I enjoyed biking along the Lake Front Trail. I am also a frequent theater and concert goer, and I love exploring all the cultural institutions Chicago offers.

Last but not least, I enjoy spending time with my two granddaughters, Nadia and Kira, and with my three adult children.

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

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

In 2021, I read several books about systemic racism; my favorites are The color of law by Richard Rothstein and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.

Both are real eye-openers, even though I am very familiar with the subject.

Another great book I read last year was Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes by Gerd Brantenberg. This book was written in the 1970s, and I think it never got enough publicity. I learned about it by pure chance, and I think it’s another must-read.

What does your ideal weekend look like?

It depends on the season. I always get up very early (before 5 AM), and my ideal summer weekend would start with the long bike ride along Lake Michigan, going from the furthest Northern part of Chicago, Rogers Park, all the way to the Museum Campus, breakfast on the balcony with plenty of fresh fruits, very strong coffee and chocolate, visiting the local farmers market, talking to my friends from different parts of the world, participating in at least one of the volunteering activities, laying on the beach and swimming in the lake after the lifeguards are off -duty.

What’s still on your bucket list?

I love traveling, and there are still plenty of places I haven’t visited, both in the US and other parts of the world. Japan, Israel, and New Zealand are at the top of my list.

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

I used the university Postgres in the early 1990s. After that, I didn’t touch it and didn’t follow its development until 2010. I started using PostgreSQL because I was offered a position as Postgres DBA, and the offer was worded like “We know that you do not know Postgres. In fact, nobody knows Postgres, but we know you are a good DBA". At first, I was pretty skeptical and unsure whether I would stay on that job for long. By that time, I was in “long-term relationships with Oracle,” and as many Oracle DBAs considered Oracle to be THE database. But three months into exploring PostgreSQL, I fell in love with it and, since then, never wanted to go back.

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

I think it was 7.4.

Not only did I study at a university, but my major was Computer Science (it was called “Applied Mathematics” back then because CS was not officially recognized as science yet). I also have a Ph.D. in Computer Science. It helped me, and it still helps me because databases are very mathematical. To understand relational theory, one needs to know algebra and calculus. Not like it is an absolute must, but it really makes a difference.

What other databases are you using? Which one is your favorite?

I’ve used many different databases before PostgreSQL, including but not limited to ADABAS/Natural, Oracle, and Sybase. Still, since I started using PostgreSQL, it has been my database of choice for all kinds of projects.

On December 1st, 2021, I joined EDB, which means everything I am doing is a Postgres-related project. Not work-related, I continue to support and develop pg_bitemporal, NORM, and postgres_air.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

While I do not contribute to PostgreSQL directly, I contribute ideas. Tools like NORM and pg_bitemporal helped me in real-life industrial projects, and I am always eager to share my experience and popularize approaches that I find useful. I hope that eventually, at least some of them might become a part of the Postgres core.

Any contributions to PostgreSQL which do not involve writing code?

  1. Postgres needs to become more integrated with applications development. That’s true for any database, but Postgres has more potential to make it happen than any other database engine. NORM is not just an example of “how to build it,” but it helps application and database developers think differently and approach application performance from a novel perspective. I consider bringing it to the attention of the Postgres community being one of my most important contributions.
  2. A book “PostgreSQL Query Optimization”
  3. Postgres_air - the largest publicly available open-source database, great for educational purposes and performance testing.
  4. For the past six years, I have led the Chicago PostgreSQL User Group, the third-largest (and possibly the most active) group in the Western Hemisphere.

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

All foreign data wrappers! I use them everywhere and for everything! It’s an exceptionally powerful tool.

What is the feature you like most in the latest PostgreSQL version?

The fact that intervals can now be collections of non-intersecting intervals. That will be a key to the further development of pg_bitemporal.

Adding to that, what feature/mechanism would you like to see in PostgreSQL? And why?

I need packages similar to Oracle packages! For many years, I have been emulating packages in Postgres, and I want them to be there for real. This feature is critical for making NORM a “new norm” and changing how application developers work with databases.

Could you describe your PostgreSQL development toolbox?

I really like UltraEdit, I believe I bought the first version in 1998, and I still consider it the best code editor. Do you know any other editor that can switch to the columnar mode?

Which skills are a must have for a PostgreSQL developer/user?

Strong knowledge of relational theory is key to efficient database development with any relational database, particularly Postgres. Once I was hiring a database developer to join my team, and I publicly announced that I would hire the first person who would give me a correct definition of a foreign key (all the candidates, including DBAs, failed this question!). And I ended up hiring a person who gave a correct answer, but it took a while to find such a person! No, it is not an index! No, a definition can’t start from “that’s when we have one table..” The only thing I wanted to hear was, “It’s an integrity constraint.”

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

I frequently attend PostgreSQL conferences and academic database conferences; most of the time, I present at least one talk or tutorial. The most recent conference I attended in-person was PGconf New York in December 2021, and I am attending SV Postgres 2022 in January.

Do you think PostgreSQL has a high entry barrier?

If anything, Postgres has a low entry barrier; that is, anybody can write a grammatically correct SELECT statement, which does not necessarily result in an efficient query :). With the widespread usage of Amazon RDS, people do not need to administer their databases. Producing good SQL is a separate story.

Do you think PostgreSQL will be here for many years in the future?

I am sure it will! The relational theory is unbeatable, and relational databases will always be the most efficient. We need to educate people to use Postgres better.

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

I would recommend PostgreSQL for everything!

Anything else you like to add?

2021 was an incredible year for me! With publishing a book, moving, and changing jobs twice in one year - it was a lot! I hope that by the end of 2022, I will have less to report!