Geek of the Week: Selena Deckelmann

I first met Selena Deckelmann at a Code-n-Splode meeting here in Portland, Oregon.  Code-n-Splode is a monthly meeting of women who are programmers. The “code” is obvious; the “splode” is what we do afterward with beer and local grub. Selena was one of the founding members, and she graciously agreed to an interview here on dotFiveOne.

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What’s your earliest geeky memory?

My mom bought me a Spirograph when I was 5, and after that, I spent way too many hours with pens and little pieces of plastic. There was nothing but hypotrochoids and epitrochoids on the refrigerator for 6 months.  Of course I didn’t know what those were at the time.

What’s a typical workday like for you? What do you work on?

My perfect work day is working on open source software and solving problems for people. I usually get to work with PostgreSQL, my favorite database. I solve performance problems and configuration issues; I talk with developers about how their applications interact with databases.

I also communicate quite a bit with my colleagues who work on PostgreSQL throughout the world. I try to get the right people talking to each other to solve problems, work on my own software projects and try to keep on top of the User Group and conference organizing committees I’m part of.

How’d you get into the work you’re doing now?

I started out working at my university’s computing center and was lucky to find a group of amazing mentors in the systems administration group. Steve VanDevender was one. Another was Gregston Chu. Greg helped me buy and build my first computer in 1995. My boss in the Network Center, Dale Smith, sent me to the USENIX LISA conference three times, which really got me interested in open source software and system administration as a career. I also had some great teachers – Prof Ginny Lo was one of my favorites, and she advised me on my undergrad thesis.

What do you love about what you do?

I love solving tricky problems.  There’s not much better than the feeling of satisfaction I get after finishing a bit of code, or explaining exactly why something failed and how I fixed it. A big part of that is working with other clever people who come up with ingenious ideas. I love the creative energy that goes into software creation and troubleshooting. It’s funny, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time.

I also love the people that I get to work with. The open source community is amazing and supportive. My best friends are those that I work with on open source software, conference organizing and user groups.

What drives you *nuts* about what you do?

I hate the autistic communication that often happens over email and IM. People become so passive (and then agressive) when they’re not sitting directly in front of another person and they’re frustrated. The pettyness and meanness that comes out sometimes – I hate that. I try to get people’s phone numbers that I email with frequently, so that I can fall back to voice communication if things are getting tough to explain over email.

What geeky thing do you want to do or learn next?

I want to learn more about Parrot, Perl6 and how the database interface in Perl6 will be changing. I also want to contribute more to PostgreSQL, so I signed up to review a patch, and hope to do more patching and maybe some coding for the core software in the future. Right now, I contribute to a few little projects, and much more to a lot of conference organizing committees and user groups.

Other than what you’ve talked about here, what’s the geekiest thing you do?

I think most of my other hobbies are much less geeky – gardening, chicken tending, running, sewing.  They’re all good antidotes to a completely virtual worklife.

What do you expect from a “geekspace for women”?

I expect mostly that the focus is on women and their accomplishments.  There’s such a need to promote the work that women do – a lot because women don’t promote themselves, and also because there’s a real lack of mentorship for women.  I was one of the lucky few who found a mentor early on.

Read more from Selena at http://www.chesnok.com/daily and be sure to check out PDXPUG at http://pugs.postgresql.org/pdx. Thanks again, Selena, for chatting with dotFiveOne!

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