Making things happen: from being a software engineer to writing a book

An interview with Kristina Chodorow, author of MongoDB: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition

We launched the second edition of Kristina Chodorow’s book, MongoDB: The Definitive Guide at a recent MongoDB conference in San Francisco. Everyone worked hard to make this happen. I filmed a little behind the scenes video with my phone in order to share it with everyone that worked on the book. After I filmed it, I decided to post the video as well as an interview with Kristina. Both the video and interview provide snippets of what it is like to work on the second edition of the MongoDB: The Definitive Guide.

What inspired you to become a software engineer?

Kristina Chodorow: In college, I took a computer science class because it would count towards my math major. I was programming a tic-tac-toe game and thought, “Why can’t I just program it to try to win?” and then I realized I could figure out the actual logic of “trying to win.”  I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I took a couple more programming classes, joined the programming team, and started doing CS research. By the time I graduated, I knew I was going to be a programmer.

How did you land at 10gen?

Kristina Chodorow

Kristina Chodorow

Kristina Chodorow: After college I started a Ph.D. at Columbia and, although it was a great program, I really didn’t want to go to graduate school and left after a semester.  I moved to Seattle to be with a guy and unsurprisingly that didn’t work out. After a plane ride of shame back to the East Coast, I put my resume up on Dice.com.  A really excellent recruiter, Craig Collins, set me up with a bunch of interviews and I accepted an offer from 10gen. When I joined, 10gen was working on a full cloud stack (similar to Google App Engine).  I worked on a JavaScript compiler for about a year before we decided to focus on the scalable storage layer: MongoDB.

You spent 5 years at 10gen and recently joined Google. Are you able to talk a bit about what you are currently working on?

Kristina Chodorow: Not really.  I’m working on Google’s build system. It’s sort of like a distributed make system.

Any advice for someone who is looking to learn how to use MongoDB?

Kristina Chodorow: Well, there’s The Definitive Guide, of course! It covers everything you need to know to get started with MongoDB, as well as more advanced concepts. Also, check out http://www.10gen.com/events for meetups and conferences near you.  Meeting other developers using MongoDB is a great way to get started.  Finally, 10gen offers free online classes at https://education.10gen.com that are attended by thousands of people around the world.

As your editor, I know how on top of everything you were. Any advice for people who are interested in writing? Or insights you’d like to share about balancing a full work load and writing?

Kristina Chodorow: It was critical that 10gen was so supportive. I left work for an hour everyday to go to Housingworks’ cafe to write and edit a couple of pages. Over six months, a couple pages a day really adds up! I kept a list of chapters in a text document and would jump around, working on whatever chapters were lagging behind the others.  During 10gen’s company retreat in Miami I found a cafe to hole up in and hammered out the most involved section: sharding. For anyone interested in writing, doing a little bit everyday with occasional crunches for difficult sections worked out really well.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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