Is It Worth To Have Live Meetups?

Yesterday, we had the first hybrid meetup, the first not-completely-virtual event since February 2020. It was an experiment, and I had a lot of fears about how it will go. In the end, there were only two people in the room for the “live” part. I suspected it could be the case because in addition to the pandemic, we are now in a new building with tighter security, and people had to comply with lots of new rules. At some point, I thought – is there any good reason to try so hard to make it hybrid? Now I can tell that it really felt differently.

I am not sure why but being in the office while streaming made it feel like everybody was right there. Most speakers complain that it is difficult to get the audience’s feedback when on zoom and that you feel like talking into the dark hole. And I would agree that it is much harder to make a good presentation on zoom. Nevertheless, I felt very different when streaming from the office. I do not know whether other participants felt the difference, but I felt like I talked differently and interacted with people differently. And I really liked it!

I hope that next time, there will be more participants in the live part of the meetup. I think that many people forget how special it feels:)

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Let’s Talk About Performance Calibration

Do you know what does performance calibration means? If you are reading this blog post on professional social media, the chance is you know! And if you are not sure about what a performance calibration is, you know what an end-of-year review means.

I can’t imagine anybody could like these end-of-year reviews, and the only reason we put up with them is that we hope that our achievements will be noticed. That means we need to have some objective criteria to compare marketing specialists to accountants.

Although everybody hates writing self-evaluation, it is a necessary evil: there have to be some ways to quantify the quality of each person’s work. And when some objective criteria are in place, a person with ambition would strive to check all boxed and match all requirements for a promotion. But that’s where calibration kicks in. Apparently, it is impossible to have too many employees who performed great – there should be a normal distribution (a Bell Curve) of achievements.

There is a good reason for “not too many top performers.” Most likely, earlier in the year, a company announced the figures for the bonus payoff. Something like “top performers will get 125% of the target bonus, and the average performers would get 100% of the target bonus, and if you didn’t meet some goals, you would be paid less than 100% or nothing at all.” Such an announcement imposes an objective limitation: a certain amount of money can be allocated for bonuses. If there are “too many” top performers, a company can’t meet its obligations (just like the state of Illinois can’t meet its pensions obligations).

However, that obvious consideration is never a part of the announcement. Employees do not know that no matter how hard they work to meet all the requirements and hit all the goals, they still may not qualify for a top bonus because of the evil behavior of the “Cursed Bella.” (Once, I heard a manager calling the Bell’s Curve “the Cursed Bella,” and I liked it:)).

I think that this is unfair on many levels. Employees who didn’t make it are left with questions “what I did wrong” and “how I can make it better.” Managers spend sleepless nights forced to artificially cut the achievements of half of their direct reports. Everybody is upset. And most importantly – people’s performance does not necessarily fit the normal distribution. I remember some periods of my career when I could say: everybody on my team is a top performer. Everybody is exceptionally talented, and everybody contributed their time and effort at the max level.
I think, instead of trying to find the non-existing flaws in somebody’s performance, the company management could announce the projected bonus the following way: “x” percentage of profit would be allocated for bonuses payoff. The entire amount, depending on how many people will be ranked top performers, will be distributed between the top performers and the rest, according to the following formula (there are potentially several different ways to split).
Maybe, I am still hopelessly naive. But I think that this is an honest way to inform employees about what they should expect. Work is not a competitive sport (although many people think that way). The purpose of whatever you are doing is to help your company to achieve its business goals, not competing for the highest bonus. Although ideally, these two should coincide – see the beginning of this post 🙂

Am I still hopelessly idealistic?

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Live Postgres Conference is back!

Attention Postgres Community, friends, and co-workers, both current and former! Welcome the comeback of the live Postgres Community conference held Dec 2-3, 2021, in New York! 

Please see the conference page for details.

Several things worth noting:

  • The talk submission deadline is September 7. As usual, you do not need to submit the full presentation; you need just a couple of paragraphs to clearly explain what that talk will be about and why everybody should get excited to hear it.
  • The hotel discounted price is good till September 4.
  • I am on the talks selection committee 🙂

That being said, I am pretty excited to share this news! Please spread the word, submit a proposal and register to attend!

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How To Foster Diversity

Some time ago, I had a conversation about supporting diversity in academia. A person I was talking with asked me what concrete and specific actions would help increase diversity and give opportunities to individuals who can’t succeed in the academic world otherwise. For a while, I was thinking about a good answer. But the more I thought, the more I felt I need to answer another question first.

The question is, why do we need diversity and inclusion? Many people genuinely believe that diversity and inclusion are buzz words, that it is “fashionable” to talk about diversity, or even worse, that this concept is invented by democrats, or lefts, or communists, or anybody else who corrupts our youth in the universities – you name it. 

But the truth is that we all – we as a society, we as a country, we as humanity – all need to foster diversity. 

Let me start from a seemingly unrelated episode. Like many others, I came to this country on a work visa. I came because there was a job waiting for me here. There were not many companies that would sponsor a work visa, even with the shortage of qualified candidates. Like many other H1B workers, I was convinced that the only reason a company would sponsor a work visa was an option to pay the immigrant workers less than local candidates. Otherwise – why bother? However, later, when I was already a US citizen, a recruiter for my company mentioned that the company sponsors work visas. I was about to ask – why? when the recruiter continued: that way, we get access to a larger pool of candidates! It was that simple: the more candidates you have to choose from, the better chances of finding a great fit are.

Building a diverse team is not about checking the boxes with race, gender, or ethnic origin. It is about removing boundaries and limits. The person I mentioned at the beginning of that post asked me: aren’t we giving people an unfair advantage? Discrimination is disgusting; there is no excuse for banning women or minorities from attending universities. But after the ban is removed – shouldn’t all the rest be merit-based? Why are we required to maintain a specific proportion of women and minorities on a faculty or a postgrad program? 

But what is merit? How do we measure it? We do not want to measure the skill of passing tests. Nor even a level of knowledge in any specific field. I still remember how my younger son was tested for a gifted program in the second grade. He didn’t make a cut because his reading level was too low, and the reading level was one of the measured skills. But later, his teacher called me because the results of the cognitive skills test were back, and his results were off the charts – literally. He was given a chance to participate in the program. 

Similarly, in the academic environment, if we are looking for talent and potential, for somebody who can contribute, we should not limit our search to those who are good at passing tests. Or the most knowledge. We should look for talent and potential, and those might not be easy to recognize if we won’t give people a chance. 

That is not “reverse discrimination”; it’s allowing talent to thrive. And in the end, everybody will benefit. 

If we understand the goal, it is not difficult to come up with a list of practical actions. 

  • Proceeding with an open mind
  • Providing extra help and support for people who do not have role models, supporting networks, or any other pre-requisites which we take for granted
  • Educate others about the importance of fostering diversity

Please feel free to add to this list!

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About The Office Language

Recently, somebody complimented me for “never speaking Russian” at the workplace. I am unsure whether it was a compliment because it was phrased like me being “very unusual Russian manager.” (Funny enough, that was the first time I realized that I am “a Russian manager.” )

Days later, another person told me that people complained about the same thing – I do not speak Russian at work, and I discourage others from doing so.

Granted, it is not the “Russian” problem, but a problem of speaking a language different from the office official language at the workplace and doing it consistently. I never thought anybody would question the fact that this is an unacceptable practice, but the question keeps coming up, so I decided to write a blog on that subject 🙂

So why do I hold a strong opinion that people should not speak a language different from the workplace’s official language?

The first reason is that it is plain rude. Yes, when you walk on the streets or ride a CTA train, you hear people around you speaking dozens of different languages, and that’s fine. But if you attend a party and start speaking with somebody in a language, other guests can’t understand, it’s rude. It makes a person who does not understand that language very uncomfortable. If you have ever been on the “receiving end” of such a situation, you know what I am talking about. When you are sitting in a nail spa, and you hear technicians talking to each other in a language you do not understand, you can’t stop thinking they talk about you, especially if they burst into a laugh every minute! 

Ok, it may be disrespectful when there are other people around, but what about the situations when there is no nobody else present? You talk to your co-worker with whom you share a mother tongue; what harm is there?

Here comes the second reason: when you communicate in a specific language, you think in that language at the moment. Multiple scientific experiments proved that people do not think “abstract thoughts.” People think using one of the languages they know. If a person speaks only one language, it is often difficult to catch a thought process and realize that you think in words, not abstract thoughts. But any bilingual person (or any multi-lingual person) would tell you that they know which language they think in at any given moment. So if one feels that it’s easier for them to express themselves in a professional environment in their native language, for me, that’s an indicator that they should work more on improving their language skills, at least in the professional area. 

I will repeat it (if I didn’t express myself clearly :)) – communications at the workplace are extremely important, and your co-workers should understand your thoughts and decision-making process. If you discussed a problem only with a couple of co-workers who understand your native language and give the rest of the team a summary (it will be brief because, at that point, you might need to translate your discussion, which is more difficult), many important details might end up being skipped. I observed the situations when after a week (or more) of development, it would appear that different parts of the team were solving different problems 🙂 

The loss of meaning might be significant. Also, if you “rather use your native language,” you will be subconsciously avoiding discussions with others, thus limiting the pool of co-workers who can contribute to the discussion. To summarise: if you do not feel that you are fluent in the office official language, keep practicing, looking up the words you do not know, and listen to other people. 

And the last reason. Keeping communications limited to the office official language can save you from embarrassment. Because guess what: you never know who might understand you! Many years ago, I talked on the phone while riding a Metra train, and the conversation topic was very personal. When I hung up, my fellow commuter cheerfully addressed me in Russian and informed me that she learned the language at school in her home country. There was one even more embarrassing situation at one of my workplaces with the Open Office. The office was relatively big, and my neighbor was a consultant who didn’t know that I speak Russian. 

Once, another co-worker stopped by and started talking to her in Russian, unaware that I understood the conversation. First, it was all fine, but after five minutes of conversation, he started to badmouth one co-worker after another, saying horrible things about each of them. First, I didn’t say anything because I hoped it wouldn’t last long, and then after twenty minutes(!) I felt awkward announcing that I understood everything which was said so far, so I kept quiet and tried to work. It lasted for another hour, and I heard a lot! You might argue that nobody should speak badly about co-workers anyway, yet along with taking 1.5 hours of consultant’s time, but still!

I can go on and on with examples, but I hope that my point is clear. Such behavior is unprofessional. 

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I am a Featured Author for July

ANd the last piece of my updates:

I am a featured database author for the month of July on Apress – check it out here!

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Thank You, Braviant!

I am so glad I had a chance to say goodbye in person to many of my co-workers at Braviant Holdings! Bravinat was and will always be a huge part of my life. There I experienced for the first time what it takes to make decisions and accept responsibilities; how does it feel when there is nobody to back you up. I’ve been learning something new from the first day at Braviant to the very last day. It was a great journey, and I will miss all my co-workers!

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About My New Position

Today opens a new chapter in my career: I started as a Director of Data Analytics at BrokerX. I am excited to work with Chad Slaughter again, to start with a new team in a new industry, in a new environment.

Both Chad and I always wanted to change the world; I hope that we will be moving it in the same direction 🙂

What will not change: I passionate about PostgreSQL and about improving the ways databases and applications interact. I continue to lead the Chicago PostgreSQL User Group. Just a reminder – we have a virtual meetup on Tuesday, July 13, and in September, I hope to welcome everybody at our first hybrid meetup. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Chicago PUG Participation Drive

Dear PostgreSQL community (in Chicago and beyond), it has been challenging eighteen months! Challenging for each person, each business, and each organization, and Chicago PUG is not an exception. Many people are tired of having online-only events for over a year and are eager to resume in-person interactions, while others are hesitant to resume in-person activities.

That being said, the Chicago PUG Leadership team wants to hear from you! Several months ago, we started the Chicago PUG blog. Please check out the recent post and learn how you can help! 

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Acknowledgments

Here is one more overdue blog post related to the “PostgreSQL Query Optimization” book. I realize that these days if you want to recognize people, you have to tag them:). And since you can’t tag a person from a page of a paper book, I am copying our acknowledgments here.

The authors collectively want to thank Jonathan Gennick, Jill Balzano, and everyone at Apress for the opportunity to share their perspective.

Chad Slaughter and John Walsh were early readers and provided invaluable feedback. Alyssa Ritchie provided Java classes to show example application code.

The contributions of Tom Kincaid as the technical reviewer cannot be overstated. His careful, thorough, and thoughtful feedback improved the content, organization, and usability of the text. This book is more precise, more understandable, and more comprehensive, thanks to Tom. Any remaining issues are, of course, the responsibility of the authors.

Henrietta Dombrovskaya would like to thank Chad Slaughter, in his capacity as System Architect at Enova International, and Jef Jonjevic, her squad lead, who believed in her and let her build things differently. Jeff Czaplewski, Alyssa Ritchie, and Greg Nelson spent hours, days, and weeks making NORM work with Java. Alyssa and Jeff also contributed to papers that won international recognition for this approach. At Braviant Holdings, Bob Sides took a risk and let Henrietta build things in a way no one has done before and to prove the power of this approach.

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