Technical Lineage and Careers in Tech with Sheeri Cabral

Episode Summary

Today, Corey sits down with Sheeri Cabral, Senior Product Manager at Collibra. Sheeri talks about her education, career experience, and being a woman in tech. She then talks about what prompted her transition from working as a DBA to becoming a product manager, and Corey and Sheeri discuss the job market and compensation in the tech industry. They finish the conversation with Sheeri sharing about the accomplishment she’s proudest of - her work with WildAid.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Sheeri

After almost 2 decades as a database administrator and award-winning thought leader, Sheeri Cabral pivoted to technical product management. Her super power of “new customer” empathy informs her presentations and explanations. Sheeri has developed unique insights into working together and planning, having survived numerous reorganizations, “best practices”, and efficiency models. Her experience is the result of having worked at everything from scrappy startups such as Guardium – later bought by IBM – to influential tech companies like Mozilla and MongoDB, to large established organizations like Salesforce.

Links Referenced:

Transcript

Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

Corey: This episode is sponsored by our friends at Fortinet. Fortinet’s partnership with AWS is a better-together combination that ensures your workloads on AWS are protected by best-in-class security solutions powered by comprehensive threat intelligence and more than 20 years of cybersecurity experience. Integrations with key AWS services simplify security management, ensure full visibility across environments, and provide broad protection across your workloads and applications. Visit them at AWS re:Inforce to see the latest trends in cybersecurity on July 25-26 at the Boston Convention Center. Just go over to the Fortinet booth and tell them Corey Quinn sent you and watch for the flinch. My thanks again to my friends at Fortinet.

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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud, I’m Corey Quinn. My guest today is Sheeri Cabral, who’s a Senior Product Manager of ETL lineage at Collibra. And that is an awful lot of words that I understand approximately none of, except maybe manager. But we’ll get there. The origin story has very little to do with that.

I was following Sheeri on Twitter for a long time and really enjoyed the conversations that we had back and forth. And over time, I started to realize that there were a lot of things that didn’t necessarily line up. And one of the more interesting and burning questions I had is, what is it you do, exactly? Because you’re all over the map. First, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. And what is it you’d say it is you do here? To quote a somewhat bizarre and aged movie now.

Sheeri: Well, since your listeners are technical, I do like to match what I say with the audience. First of all, hi. Thanks for having me. I’m Sheeri Cabral. I am a product manager for technical and ETL tools and I can break that down for this technical audience. If it’s not a technical audience, I might say something—like if I’m at a party, and people ask what I do—I’ll say, “I’m a product manager for technical data tool.” And if they ask what a product manager does, I’ll say I helped make sure that, you know, we deliver a product the customer wants. So, you know, ETL tools are tools that transform, extract, and load your data from one place to another.

Corey: Like AWS Glue, but for some of them, reportedly, you don’t have to pay AWS by the gigabyte-second.

Sheeri: Correct. Correct. We actually have an AWS Glue technical lineage tool in beta right now. So, the technical lineage is how data flows from one place to another. So, when you’re extracting, possibly transforming, and loading your data from one place to another, you’re moving it around; you want to see where it goes. Why do you want to see where it goes? Glad you asked. You didn’t really ask. Do you care? Do you want to know why it’s important?

Corey: Oh, I absolutely do. Because it’s—again, people who are, like, “What do you do?” “Oh, it’s boring, and you won’t care.” It’s like when people aren’t even excited themselves about what they work on, it’s always a strange dynamic. There’s a sense that people aren’t really invested in what they do.

I’m not saying you have to have this overwhelming passion and do this in your spare time, necessarily, but you should, at least in an ideal world, like what you do enough to light up a bit when you talk about it. You very clearly do. I’m not wanting to stop you. Please continue.

Sheeri: I do. I love data and I love helping people. So, technical lineage does a few things. For example, a DBA—which I used to be a DBA—can use technical lineage to predict the impact of a schema update or migration, right? So, if I’m going to change the name of this column, what uses it downstream? What’s going to be affected? What scripts do I need to change? Because if the name changes other thing—you know, then I need to not get errors everywhere.

And from a data governance perspective, which Collibra is data governance tool, it helps organizations see if, you know, you have private data in a source, does it remain private throughout its journey, right? So, you can take a column like email address or government ID number and see where it’s used down the line, right? GDPR compliance, CCPA compliance. The CCPA is a little newer; people might not know that acronym. It’s California Consumer Privacy Act.

I forget what GDPR is, but it’s another privacy act. It also can help the business see where data comes from so if you have technical lineage all the way down to your reports, then you know whether or not you can trust the data, right? So, you have a report and it shows salary ranges for job titles. So, where did the data come from? Did it come from a survey? Did it come from job sites? Or did it come from a government source like the IRS, right? So, now you know, like, what you get to trust the most.

Corey: Wait, you can do that without a blockchain? I kid, I kid, I kid. Please don’t make me talk about blockchains. No, it’s important. The provenance of data, being able to establish a almost a chain-of-custody style approach for a lot of these things is extraordinarily important.

Sheeri: Yep.

Corey: I was always a little hazy on the whole idea of ETL until I started, you know, working with large-volume AWS bills. And it turns out that, “Well, why do you have to wind up moving and transforming all of these things?” “Oh, because in its raw form, it’s complete nonsense. That’s why. Thank you for asking.” It becomes a problem—

Sheeri: [laugh]. Oh, I thought you’re going to say because AWS has 14 different products for things, so you have to move it from one product to the other to use the features.

Corey: And two of them are good. It’s a wild experience.

Sheeri: [laugh].

Corey: But this is also something of a new career for you. You were a DBA for a long time. You’re also incredibly engaging, you have a personality, you’re extraordinarily creative, and that—if I can slander an entire profession for a second—does not feel like it is a common DBA trait. It’s right up there with an overly creative accountant. When your accountant has done a stand-up comedy, you’re watching and you’re laughing and thinking, “I am going to federal prison.” It’s one of those weird things that doesn’t quite gel, if we’re speaking purely in terms of stereotypes. What has your career been like?

Sheeri: I was a nerd growing up. So, to kind of say, like, I have a personality, like, my personality is very nerdish. And I get along with other nerdy people and we have a lot of fun, but when I was younger, like, when I was, I don’t know, seven or eight, one of the things I really love to do is I had a penny collection—you know, like you do—and I love to sort it by date. So, in the states anyway, we have these pennies that have the date that they were minted on it. And so, I would organize—and I probably had, like, five bucks worth a pennies.

So, you’re talking about 500 pennies and I would sort them and I’d be like, “Oh, this is 1969. This was 1971.” And then when I was done, I wanted to sort things more, so I would start to, like, sort them in order how shiny the pennies were. So, I think that from an early age, it was clear that I wanted to be a DBA from that sorting of my data and ordering it, but I never really had a, like, “Oh, I want to be this when I grew up.” I kind of had a stint when I was in, like, middle school where I was like, maybe I’ll be a creative writer and I wasn’t as creative a writer as I wanted to be, so I was like, “Ah, whatever.”

And I ended up actually coming to computer science just completely through random circumstance. I wanted to do neuroscience because I thought it was completely fascinating at how the brain works and how, like, you and I are, like, 99.999—we’re, like, five-nines the same except for, like, a couple of genetic, whatever. But, like, how our brain wiring right how the neuron, how the electricity flows through it—

Corey: Yeah, it feels like I want to store a whole bunch of data, that’s okay. I’ll remember it. I’ll keep it in my head. And you’re, like, rolling up the sleeves and grabbing, like, the combination software package off the shelf and a scalpel. Like, “Not yet, but you’re about to.” You’re right, there is an interesting point of commonality on this. It comes down to almost data organization and the—

Sheeri: Yeah.

Corey: —relationship between data nodes if that’s a fair assessment.

Sheeri: Yeah. Well, so what happened was, so I went to university and in order to take introductory neuroscience, I had to take, like, chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, I was basically doing a pre-med track. And so, in the beginning of my junior year, I went to go take introductory neuroscience and I got a D-minus. And a D-minus level doesn’t even count for the major. And I’m like, “Well, I want to graduate in three semesters.”

And I had this—I got all my requirements done, except for the pesky little major thing. So, I was already starting to take, like, a computer science, you know, basic courses and so I kind of went whole-hog, all-in did four or five computer science courses a semester and got my degree in computer science. Because it was like math, so it kind of came a little easy to me. So taking, you know, logic courses, and you know, linear algebra courses was like, “Yeah, that’s great.” And then it was the year 2000, when I got my bachelor’s, the turn of the century.

And my university offered a fifth-year master’s degree program. And I said, I don’t know who’s going to look at me and say, conscious bias, unconscious bias, “She’s a woman, she can’t do computer science, so, like, let me just get this master’s degree.” I, like, fill out a one page form, I didn’t have to take a GRE. And it was the year 2000. You were around back then.

You know what it was like. The jobs were like—they were handing jobs out like candy. I literally had a friend who was like, “My company”—that he founded. He’s like, just come, you know, it’s Monday in May—“Just start, you will just bring your resume the first day and we’ll put it on file.” And I was like, no, no, I have this great opportunity to get a master’s degree in one year at 25% off the cost because I got a tuition reduction or whatever for being in the program. I was like, “What could possibly go wrong in one year?”

And what happened was his company didn’t exist the next year, and, like, everyone was in a hiring freeze in 2001. So, it was the best decision I ever made without really knowing because I would have had a job for six months had been laid off with everyone else at the end of 2000 and… and that’s it. So, that’s how I became a DBA is I, you know, got a master’s degree in computer science, really wanted to use databases. There weren’t any database jobs in 2001, but I did get a job as a sysadmin, which we now call SREs.

Corey: Well, for some of the younger folks in the audience, I do want to call out the fact that regardless of how they think we all rode dinosaurs to school, databases did absolutely exist back in that era. There’s a reason that Oracle is as large as it is of a company. And it’s not because people just love doing business with them, but technology was head and shoulders above everything else for a long time, to the point where people worked with them in spite of their reputation, not because of it. These days, it seems like in the database universe, you have an explosion of different options and different ways that are great at different things. The best, of course, is Route 53 or other DNS TXT records. Everything else is competing for second place on that. But no matter what it is, you’re after, there are options available. This was not the case back then. It was like, you had a few options, all of them with serious drawbacks, but you had to pick your poison.

Sheeri: Yeah. In fact, I learned on Postgres in university because you know, that was freely available. And you know, you’d like, “Well, why not MySQL? Isn’t that kind of easier to learn?” It’s like, yeah, but I went to college from ’96 to 2001. MySQL 1.0 or whatever was released in ’95. By the time I graduated, it was six years old.

Corey: And academia is not usually the early adopter of a lot of emerging technologies like that. That’s not a dig on them any because otherwise, you wind up with a major that doesn’t exist by the time that the first crop of students graduates.

Sheeri: Right. And they didn’t have, you know, transactions. They didn’t have—they barely had replication, you know? So, it wasn’t a full-fledged database at the time. And then I became a MySQL DBA. But yeah, as a systems administrator, you know, we did websites, right? We did what web—are they called web administrators now? What are they called? Web admins? Webmaster?

Corey: Web admins, I think that they became subsumed into sysadmins, by and large and now we call them DevOps, or SRE, which means the exact same thing except you get paid 60% more and your primary job is arguing about which one of those you’re not.

Sheeri: Right. Right. Like we were still separated from network operations, but database stuff that stuff and, you know, website stuff, it’s stuff we all did, back when your [laugh] webmail was your Horde based on PHP and you had a database behind it. And yeah, it was fun times.

Corey: I worked at a whole bunch of companies in that era. And that’s where basically where I formed my early opinion of a bunch of DBA-leaning sysadmins. Like the DBA in and a lot of these companies, it was, I don’t want to say toxic, but there’s a reason that if I were to say, “I’m writing a memoir about a career track in tech called The Legend of Surly McBastard,” people are going to say, “Oh, is it about the DBA?” 

There’s a reason behind this. It always felt like there was a sense of elitism and a sense of, “Well, that’s not my job, so you do your job, but if anything goes even slightly wrong, it’s certainly not my fault.” And to be fair, all of these fields have evolved significantly since then, but a lot of those biases that started early in our career are difficult to shake, particularly when they’re unconscious.

Sheeri: They are. I’d never ran into that person. Like, I never ran into anyone who—like a developer who treated me poorly because the last DBA was a jerk and whatever, but I heard a lot of stories, especially with things like granting access. In fact, I remember, my first job as an actual DBA and not as a sysadmin that also the DBA stuff was at an online gay dating site, and the CTO rage-quit. Literally yelled, stormed out of the office, slammed the door, and never came back.

And a couple of weeks later, you know, we found out that the customer service guys who were in-house—and they were all guys, so I say guys although we also referred to them as ladies because it was an online gay dating site.

Corey: Gals works well too, in those scenarios. “Oh, guys is unisex.” “Cool. So’s ‘gals’ by that theory. So gals, how we doing?” And people get very offended by that and suddenly, yeah, maybe ‘folks’ is not a terrible direction to go in. I digress. Please continue.

Sheeri: When they hired me, they were like, are you sure you’re okay with this? I’m like, “I get it. There’s, like, half-naked men posters on the wall. That’s fine.” But they would call they’d be, like, “Ladies, let’s go to our meeting.” And I’m like, “Do you want me also?” Because I had to ask because that was when ladies actually might not have included me because they meant, you know.

Corey: I did a brief stint myself as the director of TechOps at Grindr. That was a wild experience in a variety of different ways.

Sheeri: Yeah.

Corey: It’s over a decade ago, but it was still this… it was a very interesting experience in a bunch of ways. And still, to this day, it remains the single biggest source of InfoSec nightmares that kept me awake at night. Just because when I’m working at a bank—which I’ve also done—it’s only money, which sounds ridiculous to say, especially if you’re in a regulated profession, but here in reality where I’m talking about it, it’s I’m dealing instead, with cool, this data leaks, people will die. Most of what I do is not life or death, but that was and that weighed very heavily on me.

Sheeri: Yeah, there’s a reason I don’t work for a bank or a hospital. You know, I make mistakes. I’m human, right?

Corey: There’s a reason I work on databases for that exact same reason. Please, continue.

Sheeri: Yeah. So, the CTO rage-quit. A couple of weeks later, the head of customer service comes to me and be like, “Can we have his spot as an admin for customer service?” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Well, he told us, we had, like, ten slots of permission and he was one of them so we could have have, like, nine people.”

And, like, I went and looked, and they put permission in the htaccess file. So, this former CTO had just wielded his power to be like, “Nope, can’t do that. Sorry, limitations.” When there weren’t any. I’m like, “You could have a hundred. You want every customer service person to be an admin? Whatever. Here you go.” So, I did hear stories about that. And yeah, that’s not the kind of DBA I was.

Corey: No, it’s the more senior you get, the less you want to have admin rights on things. But when I leave a job, like, the number one thing I want you to do is revoke my credentials. Not—

Sheeri: Please.

Corey: Because I’m going to do anything nefarious; because I don’t want to get blamed for it. Because we have a long standing tradition in tech at a lot of places of, “Okay, something just broke. Whose fault is it? Well, who’s the most recent person to leave the company? Let’s blame them because they’re not here to refute the character assassination and they’re not going to be angling for a raise here; the rest of us are so let’s see who we can throw under the bus that can’t defend themselves.” Never a great plan.

Sheeri: Yeah. So yeah, I mean, you know, my theory in life is I like helping. So, I liked helping developers as a DBA. I would often run workshops to be like, here’s how to do an explain and find your explain plan and see if you have indexes and why isn’t the database doing what you think it’s supposed to do? And so, I like helping customers as a product manager, right? So…

Corey: I am very interested in watching how people start drifting in a variety of different directions. It’s a, you’re doing product management now and it’s an ETL lineage product, it is not something that is directly aligned with your previous positioning in the market. And those career transitions are always very interesting to me because there’s often a mistaken belief by people in their career realizing they’re doing something they don’t want to do. They want to go work in a different field and there’s this pervasive belief that, “Oh, time for me to go back to square one and take an entry level job.” No, you have a career. You have experience. Find the orthogonal move.

Often, if that’s challenging because it’s too far apart, you find the half-step job that blends the thing you do now with something a lot closer, and then a year or two later, you complete the transition into that thing. But starting over from scratch, it’s why would you do that? I can’t quite wrap my head around jumping off the corporate ladder to go climb another one. You very clearly have done a lateral move in that direction into a career field that is surprisingly distant, at least in my view. How’d that happen?

Sheeri: Yeah, so after being on call for 18 years or so, [laugh] I decided—no, I had a baby, actually. I had a baby. He was great. And then I another one. But after the first baby, I went back to work, and I was on call again. And you know, I had a good maternity leave or whatever, but you know, I had a newborn who was six, eight months old and I was getting paged.

And I was like, you know, this is more exhausting than having a newborn. Like, having a baby who sleeps three hours at a time, like, in three hour chunks was less exhausting than being on call. Because when you have a baby, first of all, it’s very rare that they wake up and crying in the midnight it’s an emergency, right? Like they have to go to the hospital, right? Very rare. Thankfully, I never had to do it.

But basically, like, as much as I had no brain cells, and sometimes I couldn’t even go through this list, right: they need to be fed; they need to be comforted; they’re tired, and they’re crying because they’re tired, right, you can’t make them go to sleep, but you’re like, just go to sleep—what is it—or their diaper needs changing, right? There’s, like, four things. When you get that beep of that pager in the middle of the night it could be anything. It could be logs filling up disk space, you’re like, “Alright, I’ll rotate the logs and be done with it.” You know? It could be something you need snoozed.

Corey: “Issue closed. Status, I no longer give a shit what it is.” At some point, it’s one of those things where—

Sheeri: Replication lag.

Corey: Right.

Sheeri: Not actionable.

Corey: Don’t get me started down that particular path. Yeah. This is the area where DBAs and my sysadmin roots started to overlap a bit. Like, as the DBA was great at data analysis, the table structure and the rest, but the backups of the thing, of course that fell to the sysadmin group. And replication lag, it’s, “Okay.”

“It’s doing some work in the middle of the night; that’s normal, and the network is fine. And why are you waking me up with things that are not actionable? Stop it.” I’m yelling at the computer at that point, not the person—

Sheeri: Right,right.

Corey: —to be very clear. But at some point, it’s don’t wake me up with trivial nonsense. If I’m getting woken up in the middle of the night, it better be a disaster. My entire business now is built around a problem that’s business-hours only for that explicit reason. It’s the not wanting to deal with that. And I don’t envy that, but product management. That’s a strange one.

Sheeri: Yeah, so what happened was, I was unhappy at my job at the time, and I was like, “I need a new job.” So, I went to, like, the MySQL Slack instance because that was 2018, 2019. Very end of 2018, beginning of 2019. And I said, “I need something new.” Like, maybe a data architect, or maybe, like, a data analyst, or data scientist, which was pretty cool.

And I was looking at data scientist jobs, and I was an expert MySQL DBA and it took a long time for me to be able to say, “I’m an expert,” without feeling like oh, you’re just ballooning yourself up. And I was like, “No, I’m literally a world-renowned expert DBA.” Like, I just have to say it and get comfortable with it. And so, you know, I wasn’t making a junior data scientist’s salary. [laugh].

I am the sole breadwinner for my household, so at that point, I had one kid and a husband and I was like, how do I support this family on a junior data scientist’s salary when I live in the city of Boston? So, I needed something that could pay a little bit more. And a former I won’t even say coworker, but colleague in the MySQL world—because is was the MySQL Slack after all—said, “I think you should come at MongoDB, be a product manager like me.”

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Corey: If I’ve ever said, “Hey, you should come work with me and do anything like me,” people will have the blood drain from their face. And like, “What did you just say to me? That’s terrible.” Yeah, it turns out that I have very hard to explain slash predict, in some ways. It’s always fun. It’s always wild to go down that particular path, but, you know, here we are.

Sheeri: Yeah. But I had the same question everybody else does, which was, what’s a product manager? What does the product manager do? And he gave me a list of things a product manager does, which there was some stuff that I had the skills for, like, you have to talk to customers and listen to them.

Well, I’ve done consulting. I could get yelled at; that’s fine. You can tell me things are terrible and I have to fix it. I’ve done that. No problem with that. Then there are things like you have to give presentations about how features were okay, I can do that. I’ve done presentations. You know, I started the Boston MySQL Meetup group and ran it for ten years until I had a kid and foisted it off on somebody else.

And then the things that I didn’t have the skills in, like, running a beta program were like, “Ooh, that sounds fascinating. Tell me more.” So, I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” And I talked to some folks, they were looking for a technical product manager for MongoDB’s sharding product. And they had been looking for someone, like, insanely technical for a while, and they found me; I’m insanely technical.

And so, that was great. And so, for a year, I did that at MongoDB. One of the nice things about them is that they invest in people, right? So, my manager left, the team was like, we really can’t support someone who doesn’t have the product management skills that we need yet because you know, I wasn’t a master in a year, believe it or not. And so, they were like, “Why don’t you find another department?” I was like, “Okay.”

And I ended up finding a place in engineering communications, doing, like, you know, some keynote demos, doing some other projects and stuff. And then after—that was a kind of a year-long project, and after that ended, I ended up doing product management for developer relations at MongoDB. Also, this was during the pandemic, right, so this is 2019, until ’21; beginning of 2019, to end of 2020, so it was, you know, three full years. You know, I kind of like woke up from the pandemic fog and I was like, “What am I doing? Do I want to really want to be a content product manager?” And I was like, “I want to get back to databases.”

One of the interesting things I learned actually in looking for a job because I did it a couple of times at MongoDB because I changed departments and I was also looking externally when I did that. I had the idea when I became a product manager, I was like, “This is great because now I’m product manager for databases and so, I’m kind of leveraging that database skill and then I’ll learn the product manager stuff. And then I can be a product manager for any technical product, right?”

Corey: I like the idea. Of some level, it feels like the product managers likeliest to succeed at least have a grounding or baseline in the area that they’re in. This gets into the age-old debate of how important is industry-specific experience? Very often you’ll see a bunch of job ads just put that in as a matter of course. And for some roles, yeah, it’s extremely important.

For other roles it’s—for example, I don’t know, hypothetically, you’re looking for someone to fix the AWS bill, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you’re a services company, a product company, or a VC-backed company whose primary output is losing money, it doesn’t matter because it’s a bounded problem space and that does not transform much from company to company. Same story with sysadmin types to be very direct. But the product stuff does seem to get into that industry specific stuff.

Sheeri: Yeah, and especially with tech stuff, you have to understand what your customer is saying when they’re saying, “I have a problem doing X and Y,” right? The interesting part of my folly in that was that part of the time that I was looking was during the pandemic, when you know, everyone was like, “Oh, my God, it’s a seller’s market. If you’re looking for a job, employers are chomping at the bit for you.” And I had trouble finding something because so many people were also looking for jobs, that if I went to look for something, for example, as a storage product manager, right—now, databases and storage solutions have a lot in common; databases are storage solutions, in fact; but file systems and databases have much in common—but all that they needed was one person with file system experience that had more experience than I did in storage solutions, right? And they were going to choose them over me. So, it was an interesting kind of wake-up call for me that, like, yeah, probably data and databases are going to be my niche. And that’s okay because that is literally why they pay me the literal big bucks. If I’m going to go niche that I don’t have 20 years of experience and they shouldn’t pay me as big a bucks right?

Corey: Yeah, depending on what you’re doing, sure. I don’t necessarily believe in the idea that well you’re new to this particular type of role so we’re going to basically pay you a lot less. From my perspective it’s always been, like, there’s a value in having a person in a role. The value to the company is X and, “Well, I have an excuse now to pay you less for that,” has never resonated with me. It’s if you’re not, I guess, worth—the value-added not worth being paid what the stated rate for a position is, you are probably not going to find success in that role and the role has to change. That has always been my baseline operating philosophy. Not to yell at people on this, but it’s, uh, I am very tired of watching companies more or less dunk on people from a position of power.

Sheeri: Yeah. And I mean, you can even take the power out of that and take, like, location-based. And yes, I understand the cost of living is different in different places, but why do people get paid differently if the value is the same? Like if I want to get a promotion, right, my company is going to be like, “Well, show me how you’ve added value. And we only pay your value. We don’t pay because—you know, you don’t just automatically get promoted after seven years, right? You have to show the value and whatever.” Which is, I believe, correct, right?
And yet, there are seniority things, there are this many years experience. And you know, there’s the old caveat of do you have ten years experience or do you have two years of experience five times?

Corey: That is the big problem is that there has to be a sense of movement that pushes people forward. You’re not the first person that I’ve had on the show and talked to about a 20 year career. But often, I do wind up talking to folks as I move through the world where they basically have one year of experience repeated 20 times. And as the industry continues to evolve and move on and skill sets don’t keep current, in some cases, it feels like they have lost touch, on some level. And they’re talking about the world that was and still is in some circles, but it’s a market in long-term decline as opposed to keeping abreast of what is functionally a booming industry.

Sheeri: Their skills have depreciated because they haven’t learned more skills.

Corey: Yeah. Tech across the board is a field where I feel like you have to constantly be learning. And there’s a bit of an evolve-or-die dinosaur approach. And I have some, I do have some fallbacks on this. If I ever decide I am tired of learning and keeping up with AWS, all I have to do is go and work in an environment that uses GovCloud because that’s, like, AWS five years ago.

And that buys me the five years to find something else to be doing until a GovCloud catches up with the modern day of when I decided to make that decision. That’s a little insulting and also very accurate for those who have found themselves in that environment. But I digress.
Sheeri: No, and I find it to with myself. Like, I got to the point with MySQL where I was like, okay, great. I know MySQL back and forth. Do I want to learn all this other stuff? Literally just today, I was looking at my DMs on Twitter and somebody DMed me in May, saying, “Hi, ma’am. I am a DBA and how can I use below service: Lambda, Step Functions, DynamoDB, AWS Session Manager, and CloudWatch?”

And I was like, “You know, I don’t know. I have not ever used any of those technologies. And I haven’t evolved my DBA skills because it’s been, you know, six years since I was a DBA.” No, six years, four or five? I can’t do math.

Corey: Yeah. Which you think would be a limiting factor to a DBA but apparently not. One last question that [laugh] I want to ask you, before we wind up calling this a show. You’ve done an awful lot across the board. As you look at all of it, what is it you would say that you’re the most proud of?

Sheeri: Oh, great question. What I’m most proud of is my work with WildAid. So, when I was at MongoDB—I referenced a job with engineering communications, and they hired me to be a product manager because they wanted to do a collaboration with a not-for-profit and make a reference application. So, make an application using MongoDB technology and make it something that was going to be used, but people can also see it. So, we made this open-source project called o-fish.

And you know, we can give GitHub links: it’s github.com/wildaid, and it has—that’s the organization’s GitHub which we created, so it only has the o-fish projects in it. But it is a mobile and web app where governments who patrol waters, patrol, like, marine protected areas—which are like national parks but in the water, right, so they are these, you know, wildlife preserves in the water—and they make sure that people aren’t doing things they shouldn’t do: they’re not throwing trash in the ocean, they’re not taking turtles out of the Galapagos Island area, you know, things like that. And they need software to track that and do that because at the time, they were literally writing, you know, with pencil on paper, and, you know, had stacks and stacks of this paper to do data entry.

And MongoDB had just bought the Realm database and had just integrated it, and so there was, you know, some great features about offline syncing that you didn’t have to do; it did all the foundational plumbing for you. And then the reason though, that I’m proud of that project is not just because it’s pretty freaking cool that, you know, doing something that actually makes a difference in the world and helps fight climate change and all that kind of stuff, the reason I was proud of it is I was the sole product manager. It was the first time that I’d really had sole ownership of a product and so all the mistakes were my own and the credit was my own, too. And so, it was really just a great learning experience and it turned out really well.

Corey: There’s a lot to be said for pitching in and helping out with good causes in a way that your skill set winds up benefitting. I found that I was a lot happier with a lot of the volunteer stuff that I did when it was instead of licking envelopes, it started being things that I had a bit of proficiency in. “Hey, can I fix your AWS bill?” It turns out as some value to certain nonprofits. You have to be at a certain scale before it makes sense, otherwise it’s just easier to maybe not do it that way, but there’s a lot of value to doing something that puts good back into the world. I wish more people did that.

Sheeri: Yeah. And it’s something to do in your off-time that you know is helping. It might feel like work, it might not feel like work, but it gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I remember my first job, one of the interview questions was—no, it wasn’t. [laugh]. It wasn’t an interview question until after I was hired and they asked me the question, and then they made it an interview question.
And the question was, what video games do you play? And I said, “I don’t play video games. I spend all day at work staring at a computer screen. Why would I go home and spend another 12 hours till three in the morning, right—five in the morning—playing video games?” And they were like, we clearly need to change our interview questions. This was again, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. So, people are are culturally sensitive now.

Corey: These days, people ask me, “What’s your favorite video game?” My answer is, “Twitter.”

Sheeri: Right. [laugh]. Exactly. It’s like whack-a-mole—

Corey: Yeah.

Sheeri: —you know? So, for me having a tangible hobby, like, I do a lot of art, I knit, I paint, I carve stamps, I spin wool into yarn. I know that’s not a metaphor for storytelling. That is I literally spin wool into yarn. And having something tangible, you work on something and you’re like, “Look. It was nothing and now it’s this,” is so satisfying.

Corey: I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going, and as well as helping me put a little bit more of a human angle on Twitter, which is intensely dehumanizing at times. It turns out that 280 characters is not the best way to express the entirety of what makes someone a person. You need to use a multi-tweet thread for that. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Sheeri: Oh, they can find me on Twitter. I’m @sheeri—S-H-E-E-R-I—on Twitter. And I’ve started to write a little bit more on my blog at sheeri.org. So hopefully, I’ll continue that since I’ve now told people to go there.

Corey: I really want to thank you again for being so generous with your time. I appreciate it.

Sheeri: Thanks to you, Corey, too. You take the time to interview people, too, so I appreciate it.

Corey: I do my best. Sheeri Cabral, Senior Product Manager of ETL lineage at Collibra. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice or smash the like and subscribe buttons on the YouTubes, whereas if you’ve hated it, do exactly the same thing—like and subscribe, hit those buttons, five-star review—but also leave a ridiculous comment where we will then use an ETL pipeline to transform it into something that isn’t complete bullshit.

Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com to get started.

Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
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