Women of Datamattic: Madison Swain-Bowden

Welcome to Women of Datamattic—conversations with some of the remarkable women working all over the world to build, maintain, and explore Automattic’s data landscape and make the web a better place. Today’s interviewee is the Data Pagan, Madison Swain-Bowden.

Madison on a trip in İstanbul

Hello, Data Pagan and fellow Queer-o-mattician! Who are you and what do you do?

I am a data engineer with the Openverse team at Automattic. Openverse is a search engine for openly licensed media. We are part of the DotOrg division, which focuses on the open source WordPress ecosystem.

In my role, I primarily help manage the aggregation and indexing we perform of Creative Commons-licensed works from across the web. This involves managing databases, Airflow, Elasticsearch, our API, and many other aspects of our infrastructure.

What made you want to join Automattic, and how’s your Automattic journey been so far?

It was actually another trans person at Automattic who recommended me for the role! I wasn’t even looking for a new position, but a friend of mine (working at A8C at the time) posted the list of open positions at A8C in a group chat we were both a part of. I glanced over the roles and saw a Data Engineering position that was available. I’m a huge proponent of open source; I maintain a number of projects and make contributions to other projects frequently. This particular role was primarily focused on the data aspects of the open source project Openverse, which was right up my alley! After an intense but fruitful trial, I was offered the position on the team. I went from being the only open trans person at my last company to not even being the only trans person on my team at Automattic; that was an incredible shift.

My time at Automattic has been stellar—I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many wonderful folks, and to grow in areas I wasn’t expecting. Openverse has been a tremendous learning experience for me on the infrastructure side. I’ve appreciated our team’s emphasis on ensuring that the community can get involved, participate in discussions, and help shape the project. A number of contributors from the community have provided significant contributions and improvements! Being able to do all our work in the open has been a huge asset.

There have been difficulties along the way too: as a trans person in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile to my existence, it can be hard to focus on productivity and impact as I and my trans siblings fight against genocide. Automattic provides me the space I need when the going gets tough, and the solidarity and community I’ve been able to find in other trans Automatticians has been a bastion against this rising animosity.

Can you tell me more about your day-to-day in Data?

As a member of a small team operating a large search engine, we’re all required to wear a number of different hats! My day ranges across checking on our infrastructure, helping with deployments, improving the Airflow-based ingestion system we have for gathering CC-licensed works from across the web, troubleshooting database operations, engaging with the community, conference organizing, helping to lead our queer employee resource group…it’s quite a gamut!

One of the primary tasks of my role is managing the over 700 million CC-licensed works that Openverse has indexed. This is no small effort, as we need to refresh this data regularly to capture both new works and updates from our providers. Among other goals, one of our team’s guiding objectives this year is to improve the moderation and content safety aspects of our project. This effort has wide-reaching implications, many of which sit at the core of our data models. As much as we’d like to “move fast and break things,” the sheer data volume we have requires that we take careful, measured steps towards any changes. It’s an intriguing and challenging set of constraints!

And what about Queeromattic? I’m not sure too many readers of our blog are aware of diversity at A8C and how thriving it is!

Queeromattic is the 2SLGBTQIA+ employee resource group within Automattic. It’s a place for queer folks and allies alike to gather, build community, share difficulties, and put internal resources towards improvements for diverse folks within the company. Queeromattic has played a huge role for me in both joining Automattic and the community I’ve found within the company. When working at a globally distributed, fully remote company, it can be easy to feel disconnected and isolated. Queeromattic is an excellent way to remain connected to other queer folks. That’s part of why I became one of the leads: I wanted to give back to the group that welcomed me and made me feel at home. Queeromattic has also made our meetups quite special, since I know I’ll have the opportunity to be in great company when attending one!

That’s it for today’s edition of Women of Datamattic! Stay with us as the interview series continues next week! And if you’d like to do more than just read about these great people, consider working with us! Join our team of diverse, global perspectives building a better web, and connect your career to the power of Open Source.

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