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Interview with the Amazing Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman


Thanks for agreeing to do this Kellyn. I’ve always found you to be one of the more interesting personalities in the SQL community. At least part in the fact that you are equally talented (if not more so) at Oracle as you are at MS SQL.

I want to say you started as an Oracle person. Is that correct? Either way how did you get into Tech?

In the Oracle community, I’m classified as a multi-platform DBA with Oracle expertise.  In the Microsoft community, I’m classified as the Oracle girl.  The truth be known, I started out in the late 90’s as a desktop support person with database application configuration skills that Oracle was curious about and after investigating how I was running multiple 16-bit Oracle apps on a single Windows 95 PC, they told my CIO to “make a DBA” out of me.  At that time, the industry was so short on DBAs, I was hired right after I took my Oracle certification classes as a DBA, having never worked on a database before. 
I sat down for my first week at work and was handed my first database, but instead of Oracle, it was a huge, clustered SQL Server 7.  I was close to equal in my Oracle and SQL Server expertise until about 2012 when I went to work at Oracle.  I consider these my two primary platforms, but I also managed Sybase, MySQL, PostgreS, Informix and a number of other database platforms over the last two decades.  I made a career of taking on technologies that no one else wanted to touch.  It's how I got into databases in the first place.  If someone says out loud, "It will never work/It's hopeless" that's the work I will navigate to and own.  You give me lemons, I make lemon fricken' meringue pie out of those.

You are part of both the Oracle and the SQL community. I know we’ve discussed this before but in what ways are the two communities similar? Different?

The two communities have a membership with strong ties, not only to the technology, but the people who make up the membership.  Both have difficult challenges ahead from online content, free events and additional impact from the pandemic.  Both have experienced the deprecation of the international/independent user group over their regional user groups, (IOUG/PASS) in the last couple years.  The loyalty and perseverance of the community in both groups has to be recognized as they band together to remain relevant in today’s world and continue to hold virtual events, hoping to return to in-person ones in upcoming months.
Where the two communities diverge are in three areas.
1.     Where the Oracle community has a small group that work to make the technology consumable for all, the Microsoft community makes a majority of consumable content in hopes that everyone will become better technologists.
2.     The Microsoft community, like Microsoft, is farther ahead in Women in Technology and due to this, diversity around initiatives, honest conversations, events, etc.  Although there is still a long way to go, I applaud what those in the Microsoft community have done and on the Oracle side, are at the stage the Microsoft one was back in around a decade ago.  The Oracle folks are evolving quickly, but when the company behind the technology accepts bias and discrimination, the bad apples are going to get away with more and hold diversity initiatives back.
3.     The Microsoft community has a closer connection between the regional communities.  This started with the single, PASS portal that was available to the regional user groups and built the idea that we were stronger united that divided.  I experienced so much “re-inventing the wheel” when the regional user groups were isolated and fear with the break-up of PASS, this could happen over on the Microsoft side.  May the strong, united community prevail.

One of the more interesting things I know about you is that you lived out of an RV for a while, and now live on a houseboat. What is that like? Did you have any interesting technical experiences/opportunities to deal with?

When the youngest child was about to graduate from high school and due to health issues for me living in high altitude, we sold our home and moved into a 42ft. 5th wheel.  We lived and traveled the US for 2 ½ years, including during the pandemic.  It was an excellent way to live as a remote working couple and I recommend it for anyone.  You realize you don’t need most of your possessions and that you can plan ahead and even travel from work.  I often flew out of one airport and arrived in another, but it was enjoyable with our RV-  430SQ ft. of living space, a king bed, full-size shower, office area, walk-in pantry with washer/dryer, side-by-side fridge, LTE router with 4GB cache and 50 inch TV-  we definitely didn’t want for anything during the pandemic.
Right after we started traveling, I glimpsed my first floating home on the Columbia River in Oregon and fell in love. Although we traveled the US the next couple years, I researched floating homes obsessively and learned all about them, including that Portland, Oregon has the largest floating home community in the US.  By April, 2020, we were ready to start looking at homes and in the beginning of July, we purchased our home and began a full renovation in August, me building out the floor plans and design, a contractor and team of three to do the work.  It took just over three months and we moved in on Thanksgiving weekend.  We love the 1400 SQ foot home and that we live on the river.  We wake up and go to bed with the sound of the river, wildlife such as ospreys, otters and an occasional seal lion.  Tim and I go for boat rides on most weekends, as well as kayaking and fishing from our back “yard”.  I’m no longer able to imagine living on dry land, so I’m hooked.

I remember when you moved into the RV you had to reduce how much stuff you had. And in part that was your (somewhat) famous shoe collection. Now that you have more space again have you found yourself increasing the amount of stuff that you have, or are you still fairly minimalist?

When we moved into the RV, I had sold off more than 95% of our belongings.  I only kept two pieces of furniture-  an oak hope chest and a large armoire made from Sequoia, both built by my father.  Everything else went with us in the RV, even my Xmas decorations and my beloved Dr. Martens.  I still had 30+ boots, so I didn’t have a lot of other possessions vs. most people.  Even in the new house, with it being 1400 SQ feet, I only designed it with two closets, plus a small one on the exterior.  I still have a bag by the door for donating and fill it constantly.  Anything comes in, I am still a strong proponent of removing something from the house.  I have a very open floor plan and unless I really love something, am happy to say goodbye to it, (my husband is so happy I love him so much. ??)

I’ve been to one of your sessions about the differences between Oracle and SQL and really enjoyed it. I remember part of it was how differently Oracle and SQL handle indexing, specifically clustered indexes. What would you say is the most difficult thing for a SQL person who is working with Oracle to deal with? And vice versa of course.

I was just working with a peer that is learning Oracle and one of the biggest challenges he had wrapping his head around was PGA, (Process Global Area.)  It’s an area of memory that is used for sorting, hashing and PL/SQL tables.  It’s allocated outside of the SGA, (main memory for Oracle) and unlike the SGA, there’s no limit, even though both have a target setting. There isn’t a correlation between the SGA and the PGA, (he read somewhere that it was a percentage of the SGA, which is completely false.)  The PGA performance is also very impacted by the accuracy of statistics, since if they are wrong, Oracle doesn’t know how much memory to allocate to each sort and hash, etc. in the execution plan used for the statement.  For each, if the allocation of PGA is wrong, the process can then “swap” to temp and temp tablespace is disk, which is slow and can be a huge performance hit.  For Oracle people working on SQL Server, they don’t understand why you have to rebuild those indexes- yeah, clustered indexes.  If you use the term “Instance”, know that it means something different in Oracle than SQL Server, too!

You’re working at Microsoft these days. How is that? What’s a day in the life of a Sr. Cloud Solution Architect like?

That darn title of Sr. Cloud Solution Architect…. You can’t throw a dead cat without hitting one, but the truth is, it’s a very generic term and I’m really an Infrastructure Engineer.  I work in the Customer Success Architecture and Engineering, (CAE) team. I often have to explain internally that I’m not pre-sales, dedicated to a customer, etc. and I’m only brought in to customers that are already on Azure and experiencing challenges running Oracle on Azure if a CSA, team or even the GBB is stuck.  I do love my job-  there’s not a lot of expertise for Oracle on Azure-  no product group over IaaS with Oracle, so I own the teams channel, own the Microsoft Docs for Oracle and just get to build out what I need to do my job.  I am everything to everybody and to scale, it means I leverage a lot of partners and products, and although it’s a challenge, I love what I do.

As someone who is a senior level person, working in the cloud, at one of the top cloud companies these days, where do you see it going in the future? Generalities please, no risking an NDA. ??

We have a lot of customers who want to bring ALL OF THEIR DATA to Azure.  Where once they might have held back on their larger workloads, those days are long-gone.  We need to handle huge IO workloads that are often cross populating and loading data to multiple systems and other clouds.  Customers want to do more with their data than just what they did yesterday, so for Oracle workloads, it’s after it does what they need it to do, then they want to connect it to analytics, AI and Machine Learning to get more from it.  There’s research out there that states doing more with just 10% of a company’s data can result, on average, in $1 million in increased revenue-  who wants to say no to that?  This is my job-  get it to the cloud and get them doing more with the data they have.

Where do you see yourself going next? Any new technologies you are particularly interested in?

I have a gift for optimization and workload identification.  I see the big picture, so many at Microsoft are working to figure out how to do more with my skills.  It’s always funny to hear “this came from the Oracle girl, right?” about once per week.  I refer back to a quote from Steve Martin, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”  I can even be Oracle at Microsoft-  as long as you’re doing good with something that no one thought  we could do, they are going to hold onto you tight.

As a senior level person in multiple databases, and senior level person at Microsoft, and a very well received speaker I’m guessing that you are role model for many younger women. Any advice you would give them?

Don’t allocate your time to things that are just wastes of time.  It’s true that when you want to find someone to do things, look for a busy person, but as that busy person, you have to ask, “Is what I’m doing have value?”  Pick priorities and say yes when you know it’s a good opportunity to make an impact.  If it’s a lot of administrative work and it's because no one else wants to do it, think it over strategically before saying yes.

And my lazy question. What is a something you wish someone would ask you about?

I think there’s an assumption that I’ve always been this confident and I believe that you can build confidence.  I was an autistic, ADHD, shy kid.  I tripped all over myself, but instead of just being what everyone was keen on telling me I was going to be, I started to take calculated risks and push myself.  When people pushed me to stay inside THEIR comfort zone, I refused and went where I was supported and was allowed to grow.  The more I did, the more I was comfortable doing and the more I grew.  Confidence and capability can be grown…oh and never, never, never give up, (Thank you, Winston Churchill.)

I have to admit, I love doing these email interviews. Everyone has such interesting backstories and points of view. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have.

As a side note, I think these types of interviews are fantastic blog posts for people who are part of a community like ours. However, if you decide you’d like to do one please, please, please be respectful. Not everyone has time, or the interest in doing them. I’ve been turned down more than once. Ask politely before you try sending anyone questions. Accept their answer. If they say no, then it’s no. If they say yes, and it takes them a long time to respond, you might try a brief reminder, but again, people are busy. They will get to it when they get to it and if they decide they can’t, or even ghost you about it, that’s ok! They are doing you a favor. Please treat it like that.

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