#WomenInTech: Sabrina Farmer of Google
We love talking with women who are doing great things in technology. Sabrina Farmer is a senior engineering manager for the Site Reliability team at Google, responsible for Google Apps and directly manages the teams responsible for running Gmail, the world’s largest internet email service.
Sabrina has been in production engineering for more than 18 years, and is a long-time advocate and supporter for women in technology. She has developed programs focused on advancing women and making the work environment more inclusive and flexible for the multiple roles women play in life. She is a mentor to women both within and outside of Google, and the founder of the Scholarship for Women in Computer Science at the University of New Orleans.
We sat down with Sabrina to ask her a few questions. We think you'll enjoy (and learn a lot from) what she has to say.Alanna Brown: How did you get started in technology? Sabrina Farmer: To be honest I never thought going to college was in my future, but when I realized that getting a job without some post-high school education was non-trivial, I picked up a catalog while joining a friend who was registering at the University of New Orleans. While I loved biology, the only practical area that I thought was interesting was computer science - meaning, I didn't hate those classes in high school. While at the university I started working in one of the computer labs and had the opportunity to use my coding skills to solve some of the management problems in the lab. I spent a summer upgrading all the computer systems, including all the cabling. I left school and became a system administrator. I always used my programming skills because a good system administrator only does the manual/operational work once. :-) AB: How did that lead you to what you do now? SF: Google's Site Reliability team is all about engineering solutions that increase reliability and efficiency in the products our users. I was a good fit because I had a good systems background and my CS degree gave me the programming foundation. I think because I always looked at the problems in terms of "how do I engineer this so I never have to do it again," I became a leader in SRE. I'm now responsible for making sure the SRE teams responsible for Google Apps (Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Enterprise) are keeping their users from ever noticing that there is someone behind the curtain. AB: What advice and resources do you have for other women working in technology? SF: I think when starting out women don't realize how important networking can be to your career — and more importantly, your sanity. It is still true that as a woman in technology you will likely be outnumbered by the men in the workplace. The tendency to want to just fit in or to be able to handle it may give you an aversion to joining a group that is for women only. But as long as the group is focused on technology and success, it can make a huge difference in learning how to be successful, how to reach for the opportunities that are in front of you, and how to deal with the day-to-day. You don't need to be isolated, because there are women around you. Join a group like CodeChix or Systers and you'll find a support system of female peers. AB: How did you get started using Puppet or configuration management? SF: Given my aversion to doing operational day-to-day work, its critical to have a system that can manage the fleet and keep it up to date and consistent. Additionally, I never want to scale my team to keep up with the day-to-day: I should grow my team because we have harder and harder engineering problems to solve — and more people bring better ideas to the table. This is critical to innovation, and that is the team I want to be on. AB: How do we get more women involved in technology? SF: We should talk more about the problems we solve, the way we change lives through our work, rather than the problems we have to deal with as women in technology. I'm not Superwoman, and my job is hard, but the pay is good and the perks are incredible, I have a great career and family, and the world has changed because of technology — and I've been a part of it. AB: Vi vs Emacs? SF: I laughed at this because I haven't opened Emacs in a long time. I miss the formatting features of Emacs when writing a lot of code, but mostly use vi. AB: RPM vs. Debian packaging? SF: I've never followed a religion about certain flavors of technology. I want it to be easy to build a package to push, I want it to be easy to inventory what is on my machines, and I want the package I need to be installed with almost no work. AB: Programming language of choice? SF: Python AB: Hobbies? SF: Gardening and composting are great stress relievers for me, and good activities to do with my kids.