Karen Jex



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Tags:   postgresql (133)   mountainbiking (1)   conferences (10)   speaking (1)   crochet (3)   crunchy (6)   cycling (2)   dba (6)   phd (1)   coaching (1)   postgreswomen (10)   postgresqlpet (6)  
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.

Also read the PostgreSQL Pet of the Week interview about Comet and Shadow.

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

I’m originally from the North West of England and I lived in various different parts of the country before settling in the South East, commuting to London from Essex for the first few years of my working life as a DBA. I’ve spent my whole career working with databases, and I’m currently a Solutions Architect with Crunchy Data. My husband and I moved to a small village in the French Alps 17+ years ago because of our love of mountain biking (Essex isn’t exactly well-known for its mountains). Our two kids, who are now teenagers, were both born here and say they feel more French than British. The eldest is also a mountain biker and is, of course, much better at it than we are!

Karen Jex

Karen Jex

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

My main hobby is road cycling. I still enjoy mountain biking but I’ve been out of action for a while as I managed to get a sprained shoulder and herniated disk in a fall last year. It’s only recently healed, and I’m not keen to repeat the experience, so I’m playing it safe and sticking to the road bike for now.

I also love to ski, especially “ski randonnée” - hiking up the mountain with skins on the bottom of the skis then taking the skins off to ski back down.

I’m not going to have much free time for the next 6 years because I started a part-time PhD in Computer Science last September!

Karen Jex

Karen Jex

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

I’m not very active on them, but I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter:

I also have a blog that I use mainly to share slides and recordings of my presentations. I keep telling myself that one day I’ll tidy it up and keep it up to date…

What does your ideal weekend look like?

The weekend always starts with family pizza and movie night on a Friday - we make our own pizzas, usually whilst listening to 90s dance music, and eat them in front of the TV. We take it in turns to choose the film, so it could be anything from action to anime to horror depending on whose turn it is.

For the rest of the weekend, a bike ride, a barbecue on the deck with friends, and a swim in one of the nearby lakes is pretty much all I need to keep me happy in the summer.

In the winter, substitute the bike ride for some skiing, the barbecue for a fondue and the lake for our friends’ wood-fired hot tub!

What’s still on your bucket list?

Doing a PhD is the main one and I’m really excited to have finally made a start on it.

What is the best advice you ever got?

Do a job that you love.

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

Fairly recently (I think it was in 2018) and entirely by accident. Whilst I was working on a project as an Oracle DBA, the company decided to use PostgreSQL for a spin-off project. They asked me if I wanted to be responsible for the databases, since I was, apparently, the “database expert”.

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

I started with version 10 but I then had to learn about earlier versions when I became a (PostgreSQL) database consultant so that I could help customers who hadn’t yet upgraded!

Yes, I did a maths degree (BSc) followed by a Software Development MSc. A lot of what I learnt in the MSc has been directly relevant to my job.

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

I started out as an Oracle DBA and worked mainly with Oracle for around 20 years. I’ve also worked a bit with SQL Server and Sybase. I now work exclusively with PostgreSQL, so that probably gives a clue as to which is my favourite!

Most of the customer projects that I’m currently helping with are implementing Postgres on Kubernetes.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

Does making crocheted elephants count? ;)

Sarah Conway (@xenophenes) recruited me to help make elephant mascots for incentives at educational events and developer opportunities around Postgres.

Karen Jex: Crochet Elephant

Karen Jex: Crochet Elephant

Karen Jex: Crochet Elephant

Karen Jex: Crochet Elephant

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

pg_stat_statements is probably my favourite because it gives so much useful insight into what’s being thrown at the database. It’s pretty much essential for troubleshooting and I install it by default (or suggest to customers that they install it) on any database.

Could you describe your PostgreSQL development toolbox?

I’m an old-school DBA so I’m happy with a linux shell and psql for most things.

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

The ability to find and read the log files and the documentation will get you a long way!

I think most of the skills you need can be learnt as you go along, but it’s helpful to have a bit of an understanding of the PostgreSQL architecture and how relational databases work in general.

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

I love going to the different community events around Europe, especially PGDay France and PGDay Paris since I live in France. I’ve been lucky enough to go to several PG Days this year and I’ll be at PGConf.EU in Berlin in October. I submit talks to most of them, partly because it gives me an excuse to go to the conferences and spend time with the amazing PostgreSQL community, and partly because I really enjoy preparing and presenting talks.

I originally started speaking at conferences back when I was an Oracle DBA because I used to be so shy that I was terrified of the “networking” part of any event. As a speaker, people came to talk to me during the breaks so I stopped having to worry about how to start a conversation. The networking (i.e. chatting with other database enthusiasts) is now one of my favourite parts of any conference.

I’m trying to broaden my horizons and meet some new people this year by speaking at some conferences that aren’t directly PostgreSQL related - in September I’ll be at Uptime in Amsterdam and DjangoCon Europe in Porto.

Do you think PostgreSQL has a high entry barrier?

That’s hard for me to answer, because I came to PostgreSQL with 20 years’ DBA experience, so I didn’t find it too much of a challenge. On the other hand, I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s not easy to get started as a beginner. Maybe we need to do a better job of listening to people who are starting out with PostgreSQL and finding out what they need. I’ve made myself a note to start asking PostgreSQL newcomers what would be useful to them and (most importantly) to listen to and act on their answers.

What is your advice for people who want to start PostgreSQL developing - as in, contributing to the project. Where and how should they start?

I’m hoping to learn that myself at some point - it’s probably about time I got my hands dirty and actually contributed some code!

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

I’m not really one for making predictions, but the project definitely seems to be in good shape to stick around for a lot of years to come.

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

When I started working with version 10 of PostgreSQL, I wasn’t convinced that it was suitable for enterprise use. I think that was partly because I came from an Oracle background (was it just me, or do all Oracle DBAs believe that Oracle is the best database?!) and partly because some features (for example partitioning) had still to come to maturity.

Now, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend PostgreSQL for either enterprise use or for small side projects. It’s flexible enough and robust enough to be great for both.

What other places do you hang out?

I lurk on the sidelines of the PostgreSQL Slack and several of the mailing lists but rarely comment on anything, because someone more knowledgeable than me generally gets in there first.

Which other Open Source projects are you involved or interested in?

The Poppy Project.

I volunteer as a coach for an organisation called RightsTech Women based in Geneva that offers coding and robotics workshops for girls. Some of the workshops are based on the Poppy Ergo Jr; a robotic arm that is assembled using 3D printed components, controlled by a Raspberry Pi board, and programmed using Snap! (a variant of Scratch).