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Meet the Engineer: Kathleen Ting

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Meet the Engineer: Kathleen Ting

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Note: This interview appears courtesy of Justin Kestelyn and Kathleen Ting.

In this installment of “Meet the Engineer”, get to know Customer Operations Engineering Manager/Apache Sqoop committer Kathleen Ting (@kate_ting).

What do you do at Cloudera, and in what open-source projects are you involved?

I’m a support manager at Cloudera, and an Apache Sqoop committer and PMC member. I also contribute to the Apache Flume and Apache ZooKeeper mailing lists and organize and present at meetups, as well as speak at conferences, about those projects.

My role is a hybrid “player/coach” model: in addition to doing managerial things like leading a team and addressing customer escalations, I also answer customer support cases directly, which is a fairly unique combination. This is an effective approach: giving me direct insights into customer concerns that I otherwise wouldn’t get, helping me stay grounded, and ensuring I appreciate the work the team is doing, first-hand.

Why do you enjoy your job?

The best thing about my job, beyond the privilege of helping customers become successful with Big Data technology, is that I can stay deeply involved in the developer community – speaking at meetups and conferences, answering questions on the mailing lists, contributing code upstream, and so on – just like any other engineer at Cloudera. At most other companies, engineering and support (known at Cloudera as Customer Operations Engineering) are in separate silos, but here, Customer Operations Engineers (COEs) are just as involved in the community and the product roadmap as developers are – maybe even more so, because we hear what customers care about, every day. In fact, the COE organization at Cloudera is highly respected internally, because supporting customers is literally half our business. This is why at Cloudera, COEs have a career path that rivals that of developers.

The technical bar for COEs is quite high because we encounter issues across development and operations, and have to know a lot about both. And with the Apache Hadoop stack being so complex, it takes a lot of knowledge and experience to correctly deduce the root cause of a customer issue. There would be literally no way to follow a script even if we wanted to, because problems can present themselves in so many unforeseen ways. (A very, very small percentage of customer problems are repeatable.) I enjoy that, because it makes every day, and every customer ticket, interesting in a different way.

What is your favorite thing about Apache Hadoop?

In a former life, I wrote software for storage on the mainframe, and in those days, you needed really deep pockets for pricey software and a lot of expensive big iron to get much value from your data. But now, with Hadoop serving as the “Great Equalizer” for storing and processing Big Data, many, many more companies have the ability to do the same thing a lot more economically using open-source software and industry-standard hardware.

I think the time is now for Big Data – there are more and more use cases every day, and for that reason, everyone wants a piece of the action. It’s an exciting time to be involved!

What advice can you offer about getting involved in open source for the first time?

Basically, find a way to regularly contribute with good intentions. You don’t need to have written Hadoop to use it – you can be active on the mailing lists, attend meetups, and work on JIRAs without being a committer.

Furthermore, fresh eyes can really be helpful in open-source projects, so write a troubleshooting guide, update the documentation, help triage broken builds, and pick up JIRAs tagged “n00b”. Just supporting committers in those areas can be really helpful.

The important thing is to make some kind of contribution every day, no matter how minor. if you do that, you’ll build a solid open-source rep pretty quickly. If you’re looking for guidance, I’m happy to help.

At what age did you become interested and programming, and why?

When I was growing up I wanted to be just like my older brother, an attorney. That was until my sophomore year of high school when on a whim, I attended an engineering camp hosted by Santa Clara University. I found myself happily holed up in the computer lab coding functional programming exercises in LISP. (Tiger got to hunt. Bird got to fly. Lisper got to sit and wonder, (Y (Y Y))? – with apologies to Kurt Vonnegut and hat tip to Darius Bacon.)

If you’re attending ApacheCon North America 2013 (Feb. 26-28, Portland), see Kathleen present on “7 Deadly Hadoop Misconfigurations” and “Mastering Sqoop for Data Transfer for Big Data”.

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