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Profile: Sveta Smirnova, Principal Support Engineering Coordinator, Percona

Women in Tech: “Study, attend online and local conferences”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Sveta Smirnova, Principal Support Engineering Coordinator at Percona.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Sveta Smirnova, Principal Support Engineering Coordinator at Percona.

Today’s Woman in Tech: Sveta Smirnova, Principal Support Engineering Coordinator, Percona

Sveta Smirnova is a MySQL Support Engineer with over 10 years of experience. She currently works in Percona. Her main professional interests are problem-solving, working with tricky issues, bugs, finding patterns that can solve typical issues quicker, teaching others how to deal with MySQL issues, bugs, and gotchas effectively. She is the author of the book “MySQL Troubleshooting” and JSON UDF functions for MySQL. Sveta has spoken at many events, including Fosdem, Percona Live, Oracle Open World.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

I believe around 1990 when I was in school. We were one of the first USSR generations who studied computer science in school. I wrote my first program and was amazed that I can do almost anything with this new toy.

How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

After school, I tried to continue learning computer science at university. But I could not afford to buy my own computer and used only workstations provided by the university on a schedule. It was very weird: I was able to write some programs but did not know how to turn the computer on or off. So I quit. A few years later, my husband and I found that our business would not grow if we were not present on the Internet. At that time, asking someone to build a website for you was very expensive, so we decided to remember my past experience and do it on our own. That led to my own career working in the IT sector.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

I always received support from my family. Our mothers helped us buy our first computer and my husband always supported me when I learned something new.

Regarding role models, I hate this term. I prefer to be myself. Of course, I admire people who invented new great products or did great business in IT. But I do not want to be the “second Steve Jobs” or the “second Monty Widenius”. And I would not be.

However, I understand that my family is very different from the common family that grew the daughters born at the same time as me. My mother was an engineer. She did not talk about her work with me much, because she was not allowed to disclose it due to her contract. Now, after many years have passed, I can say that she worked on the Ostankino Tower television network, solar stations, and satellites. Being a woman in tech was something “normal” in my family.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

No. Of course not everyone I met helped me. Even people who would love to help have their own lives and do not always have time to invest into others. Or they could be sceptical about ideas you want to implement. But the great thing about computers is that you can progress on your own. Unless your government blocked educational websites, such as Wikipedia or SlideShare before you learned how to set up a VPN connection.

Being a woman in tech was something “normal” in my family.

A day in Sveta’s life

I work for Percona. The company provides unbiased advice and guidance around open source database solutions, allowing organizations to easily, securely and affordably maintain their data. This helps companies with their business agility, to minimize risks, and to stay competitive. Percona has global teams that help our customers to keep their databases performant.

Percona Support answers any question and helps to find a solution for any database issue at any time, seven days per week. The Consulting team works either in person or online on the customer’s site. Their responsibility includes a database performance audit and help with building applications around data. The Managed Services team work as a remote DBA and take care of the database while the customer can focus on the application development. The Training team provides onsite and online training.

But Percona is not only about services. We also develop Open Source products such as PMM, a graphical user interface tool to monitor your MySQL, MongoDB and PostgreSQL instances and your operating system performance. What is great about PMM, besides that this is the only Open Source monitoring product for databases, is that its data collections were created by Percona performance experts, and we use it to help our customers. We have our own distributions of PostgreSQL and MongoDB that are forks of the upstream products with additional performance, diagnostic and enterprise-level features; an online backup tool for MySQL called Percona XtraBackup; our own Kubernetes Operators for Percona XtraDB Cluster, Percona Server for MongoDB and PostgreSQL.

I work for Percona Support. A couple of months ago I changed my role: in addition to my past responsibilities as a Support engineer, and a specialist who handles all escalations to the Engineering team, I now work on products that will help the Percona Support team to do their job. This could be the features in our own products and new products, such as PMM Transferer that exports data from the customer’s PMM instance securely. I work sometimes as a product manager, sometimes as an escalation point and sometimes as a developer.

My typical day is changing right now but let me describe one day.

When I woke up this morning I checked if there was any email to reply to. Once done I checked the status of the custom build we requested for one of our customers. Then I checked the status of bugs in Percona software that we escalated to the Engineering team on behalf of our customers. I discussed a few of them with the Engineering team – they were about business impact and how the customer expects the bug to be fixed.

Once those urgent tasks were handled, I checked what was on the top of my priorities list. Today I tested changes implemented for the beta version of the PMM Transferer. So I spent almost the whole day testing them.

In the evening I had a few meetings with my colleagues where we discussed future features of our products. Then I checked feedback from the webinar I ran the previous day, “MySQL Performance for DevOps” to see what responses came through from attendees and any questions they wanted to ask.

Tomorrow I expect to continue testing the PMM Transferer and will do some development myself for another issue.

What are you most proud of in your career?

This is a hard question. Today I am proud that I found only two issues for the beta version in PMM Transferer, so I hope it will be production ready in a short space of time.

A couple of weekends ago, when I was woken up by a call from my colleague on duty, I was proud that it took about one hour to resolve the customer’s critical issue and make their cluster up and running again. Helping a customer get back up and running quickly, so they can keep their business operational, is very satisfying.

Let’s see what I will be proud of tomorrow!

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

I believe this depends on the country. For example, I heard that in even very wealthy countries, women cannot go to the tech university in the 1950s or even later. This was never the case in the USSR, then in Russia. So many issues that women from those countries face do not exist for women in my home country.

In Russia, I heard stupid jokes or expectations how a woman should behave. But if you are a grown adult and someone’s expectation or stupid jokes would force you to quit a career, I would say that this career is not right for you.

However, I believe that it is very important that young women have the ability to receive proper education and should not be forced to quit a class due to some gender stereotype. There should not be “boys are doing computers” and “girls are doing something else” groups. Everyone should be treated equally.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

I do not have any.

With virtual machines and Docker you can do whatever you want: drop data, re-create it, modify any way you like. There won’t be any harm.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic and cultural) impact?

Of course it would, because women will bring new ideas and design solutions to the products. As a result we will have products that would work better for different people.

And I want to talk about a very nice course by the Linux Foundation: “The Inclusive Speaker Orientation (LFC101)”. I attended it when I was preparing for one of the conferences, hosted by the Linux Foundation. This was a course for the event speakers on how to make your talk friendly for everyone in the audience. This course contains very interesting statistical data on how having different underrepresented groups of people in the team works better for the project. The resolution was that having more women in STEM would have a positive impact. This is a short free course and I suggest everyone take it. I learned a lot from this course about the effect of diversity.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

Probably one generation.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

You live at the perfect time. There is plenty of information online that includes user manuals, courses from the lead universities, and blog posts. If you want to study a new programming language you do not even have to install it on your computer: many vendors provide sandboxes. You can have a developer Cloud account for free for your experiments. The majority of people can afford a computer now and even if not, mobile phones are so powerful that you can have Debian running on them.

So, I suggest you take any chance to learn. Study, attend online and local conferences. Many of them are free. If some well-known person in the IT world comes to your place for a meetup, attend. Read blogs about technologies you are interested in.

And experiment! With virtual machines and Docker you can do whatever you want: drop data, re-create it, modify any way you like. There won’t be any harm.

If you want to be heard, help people. Answer questions on the forums, report bugs, contribute to the open source projects. Start speaking at the local conferences, gain the experience, then apply to the International one.

If someone tries to criticize you, calm down and think if you can learn something from this critique. If nothing, just ignore them. Otherwise learn and apply when appropriate.

Do everything to be the best professional in your field.

More Women in Tech:

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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