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Spotlight 63: introducing you to Data Engineer Gabi!

It’s already time for Spotlight 63! I’m so happy with the opportunities to interview everyone of you. Thank you so much for your time, for reading and for being amazing :-) This week we’re going to meet another wonderful woman in tech: Gabriela. Gabi is a Data Engineer focused on solving data problems across the diverse range of storage engines and technologies. Besides that she blogs, she speaks at conferences and she *loves* Lego :-) If you’re in Amsterdam in August, make sure you don’t miss her talk “Making the Most out of MySQL” at Laracon

Name: Gabriela D’Avila
How to call me: Gabi (gah-bee)
Job: Data Engineer
Favorite website, app or gadget: I am pretty sure by now my iPhone is glued to my hand… I managed to fall, almost break 4 fingers, but the phone is intact! My preferred service is Slack, I spend all my time there with my friends and have come to think of the internet is my home country. Also, does Lego count as gadgets?
Favorite book: Tough one. I just discovered I have a 64 audible books last week (what a fortune!). I do read the classics, but lately have been devouring the Janet’s Evanovich “Fox & O’hare” series, and Daryda’s Jones “Charley Davidson’s” series, and all the Rick Gualtieri books (what’s not to like about a Computer Programmer Nerd that turns himself in one of the undead and plays D&D?).
Twitter: @gabidavila
Site: http://www.gabriela.io

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I had my first computer at 17, but have always been curious about them. Due to my internet access being dial-up back then, I spent most of my time going through the whole Operating System, learning how it worked just to feed my interest. Initially, I attended Electrical Engineering school, but due to family reasons I had to drop out. At that point I already knew basic web programing HTML/CSS, ASP & Microsoft Access, and I liked making things work. This was enough to get a Webmaster job full time which enabled me to go to college at night. In the end what pushed me into the area was the feeling that I “knew” how to do it and could support myself while having fun.

What does your working days look like?
What I like about my job is there is no routine. No week is the same as the last. I can be working on a new feature together with the engineering team and making sure the Data Layer will be sustainable in the long run, or I can be studying a new tool to help create a new pipeline from one data set to another, or even analysing logs and trying to find the bottlenecks shown in the databases (why this query is taking 3s?).  

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I’ve worked on was a classification platform. Our team had to get all the data from different social medias that came through our crawlers (a big and legacy one), send it to a classification algorithm to classify the item (positive, neutral or negative), and deliver that feedback to the platform (also legacy). The architecture of the project was insane. We did it completely decoupled from the legacy code, in a different language that we were used to, with tons of workers in parallel and trying not to hit any rate limits on the 3rd party APIs. The fun was in discovering a way of doing this because before that, everything was coupled into the old code, so it was a challenge for the whole company: DevOps, Developers and Product Managers. For the end-user the delay wasn’t ever more than about a second and a half.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
My Mom. She is the most important person in my life. She didn’t teach me tech or anything like that. She taught me how to be independent and not wait for things to fall out of the sky in my favour. She taught me to be resilient. We give each other strength.

Another thing that inspires me is when I blog about something really trivial and people respond, thanking me because they didn’t know it could be that simple to do this or that. It makes me feel happy.

Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
Sometimes I don’t. I have thought about quitting the industry at times. My closest friends (on Slack!!!) know about this, but I think this is a common result of the culture that surrounds us. In the end I get myself learning something I didn’t know or I see the glee in someone else’s eyes because they were able to learn something new, and am inspired to continue. It’s an environment of learning that if harvested correctly can be so rich and empowering to people. We get to change the world and sometimes we don’t even see it. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting! In fact I can tell you that my life changed after a tech conference.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I do. I have a Technologist degree in Digital Game Development. That may sound weird to you, but in Brazil we have this special course that’s between an Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree. In the end I studied for 3 years at night while working full time during the day. I wish I had more Computer Science in my courses or that I had the time during the day to study beyond my classwork. The lack of that knowledge makes a bit harder for me to get job in companies that values tests like implementing  a Binary Search Tree on a whiteboard. On the other hand my background has prepared me for real world problems where we have tools that help us do our job in a practical and efficient way.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
I was talking to one of my best friends about how Tech is not easy. In my early days the work didn’t require much background knowledge, but now you need a functional understanding of all these various concepts and tools: Docker/Vagrant, MySQL/Postgres. TDD, DDD, frameworks… knowledge expectations are so incredibly broad! It’s hard to say what is “essential”. I have the up most respect for people who are entering the industry now. There is so much to catch on, and the best you can do in my opinion is try to find people who are in the same boat as you, and people who are willing to help you. The PHP community has community resources like the phpmentoring.org program and phpwomen.org. I also see wonderful contributions from DjangoGirls and PyLadies. Don’t isolate yourself! There are people willing to take the journey with you.

Extra question from Tracy, if you could give fresh-faced-new-programmer-you advice, what would you tell yourself?
I didn’t know at the beginning how to weigh the tradeoffs of the technologies I was using and I believed blindly in the person mentoring me and I couldn’t believe that a successful person like him could be wrong. So what I would tell myself today is: find a usergroup, find more people to talk about it and to grow together with you. Don’t take one person’s word as law.