Portrait of Laetitia, Field CTO and Recognized PostgreSQL Contributor

Today, we have Laetitia with us, Field CTO, recognized PostgreSQL contributor, and founder of Postgres Women.

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Hello, Lætitia, could you introduce yourself briefly?

Hi, my name is Lætitia Avrot. I'm a Field CTO at EDB and a recognized contributor to the PostgreSQL project.

I'm also the founder of Postgres Women. The goal of this organization is to help women integrate into the community in a supportive environment. This includes attending events, participating in social activities, and assisting them in getting on stage.

Can you tell us about your journey? (Education, previous jobs)

During high school, I decided to become an engineer, but I chose not to take the preparatory class because my sister had a difficult experience with it (like a math teacher boasting about a previous student's suicide thanks to him). There weren't many schools offering integrated prep courses at that time (late '90s).

I chose INSA Lyon and later specialized in the computer science department ("If" for insiders).

In my early jobs, I happened to work with databases. I dealt with a lot of SQL, did modeling, and helped developers improve database performance. After an extended maternity leave, I struggled to find my place upon returning.

That's when my boss came to our office to announce a DBA position, even though he knew no one was interested. Thirty seconds later, I was in his office asking for the position.

I started as a Postgres DBA and gradually added Oracle and SQL Server to my skillset. Later, when changing companies, I also worked with DB2 on mainframes and DB2 UDB.

Eventually, I was offered the opportunity to return to my roots as a full-time Postgres consultant. This is when I truly became part of the community and started contributing.

You are a Field CTO. Could you explain your role and responsibilities?

The "Field" in Field CTO stands for being "in the field". A Field CTO is usually the technical deputy of CTOs. CTOs in large companies often lack the time for deep technical involvement, yet they are expected to make technical decisions. My role is to propose technical solutions to their challenges while presenting the drawbacks (there's no perfect solution) and considering their constraints. This brings me back to the core of engineering.

A significant part of my work involves proposing solutions, consisting of three subtasks:

  1. Listening: How can I solve complex problems for my clients if I don't understand them? My brain retains information better when I write and draw, so I create many sketch notes during client interactions.

  2. Synthesis: Often, I present elements using various diagrams. I use a graphics tablet to draw in front of clients.

  3. Solutions: Solutions may not be mutually exclusive. I ensure that the consequences are understood.

Another task is to give technical presentations, write blogs, and create whitepapers. I give a lot of talks (over 30 last year, maybe as many this year). I love this part of my job as I learn a lot while preparing my presentations.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I love about my job is that no two days are the same. I can bring a lot of energy over a short period (1 to 2 weeks), but I know I get exhausted with long projects.

I'm passionate about technology and my role allows me to dive deep into it while staying close to user needs. The other day, a client shared a Postgres requirement, and I coded a patch that added the desired functionality.

What bothers you the most about this job?

There's not much that truly bothers me. Administrative tasks are clearly not my favorite, but well, expense reports and travel reservations have to be done!

What does a typical day with Laetitia look like?

I wake up and check my emails while having tea (preferably Earl Grey). I also catch up on blogs, missed conversations on Slack and Telegram overnight. I usually have fewer meetings in the morning since most of my team members are in the United States.

Between meetings, I explore technical avenues for clients, such as "Can we authenticate to Postgres with two factors using Azure Active Directory?" Or I engage in technology research (writing a patch, interacting with the community, reading blogs, books, watching videos, testing specific configurations...).

I prioritize availability. I learned this early in my job as a DBA: if you're not available, people will make assumptions, and it will be a disaster. I quickly learned to switch contexts, work on something else, and come back. Ironically, having attention deficit disorder helps a lot.

For Beginners

  • The SQL Murder Mystery (Link): A game where you use SQL to solve a murder mystery by querying a database.

  • A curious Moon (Link): A novel about a trainee becoming a PostgreSQL DBA in a company analyzing NASA data for extraterrestrial life. You can follow the character's queries with real datasets.

Moving from Beginner to Intermediate

  • pgexercises (Link): A website with SQL exercises, starting simple and progressing to advanced concepts like window functions and recursive CTEs.

  • Postgres wiki “Don’t do this” (Link): A list of PostgreSQL bad practices with explanations on why they're bad and alternatives.

  • PostgreSQL Documentation (Link): Dense but crucial documentation. Learn to navigate it to find what you need quickly.

For Intermediate Level

  • The Art of PostgreSQL (Link): A book for developers demonstrating the richness of PostgreSQL and how to use it best in applications.

  • Use the Index, Luke (Link): A free e-book explaining how to optimize index usage in databases.

  • Modern SQL (Link): A website comparing different RDBMS and SQL standards, providing solutions for common problems.

  • SQL antipatterns (Link): A book exploring various ways to model databases for complex systems.

For Expert Level

  • The internals of Postgres (Link): A free book detailing the internal workings of PostgreSQL.

  • SQL solutions for Advent of Code by Vik Fearing (Link): A collection of SQL solutions for Advent of Code challenges, showcasing SQL's power.

What are your non-tech interests?

I run to relieve stress. I use an app that triggers zombie attacks to make me run faster; it's called "Zombies, Run!" It's quite enjoyable.

I also do a lot of cooking. The longer the process, the more I need to focus on my hands, and the calmer I become.

I used to play a lot of video games (especially Guild Wars I and II) before having children; my free time diminished after their births, and I haven't really resumed. I like the Assassin's Creed franchise, even though I'm not very skilled. I miss the old adventure Point & Click games like Monkey Island.

You're a contributor to the PostgreSQL project. Could you tell us about it?

Anyone can contribute to the PostgreSQL project. It's not very difficult. The code is extremely well-written, the community is supportive, and it's a matter of believing you can do it.

I started contributing in late 2017 when, in a conversation with a colleague, I realized that the documentation was missing a section on ALTER TABLE. I had to learn how to submit a patch to PostgreSQL (create a patch using Git diff and send it to a mailing list). I shared this story in a talk at FOSDEM 2018.

Later, I got more involved by working on the code. I added hyperbolic functions to Postgres (hyperbolic cosine/sine/tangent and their inverses).

Where can people find you online?

You can find me on various online platforms:

  • Fosstodon: @l_avrot@fosstodon.org
  • Twitter: @l_avrot
  • LinkedIn: My LinkedIn Profile
  • Slack PostgreSQL: Active on the PostgreSQL dedicated channel
  • Conference Page: I maintain a conference page where I list the conferences I speak at. Feel free to reach out if you'd like to talk during an event, except for the 30 minutes before my talk.

Feel free to follow me or contact me on these platforms. I'd be happy to connect!

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