Ep25 Margo Seltzer

In this episode of ACM ByteCast, Rashmi Mohan hosts ACM Fellow Margo Seltzer, co-recipient of the 2020 ACM Software System Award (shared with Mike Olson of Cloudera and Keith Bostic of MongoDB). She is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Computer Systems and the Cheriton Family Chair in Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. Previously, Seltzer was the Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Director at the Center for Research on Computation and Society. She is especially renowned for her work on log-structured file systems, databases, and wide-scale caching. Seltzer was previously CTO of Sleepycat Software, developers of the BerkeleyDB embedded database, later acquired by Oracle Corporation. Among her many honors, she is the recipient of the 2020 SIGMOD Systems Award and was recently named one of the “Top 20 Canadian Women in Cyber Security” by IT World Canada.

In the wide-ranging interview, Margo discusses her early years growing up in a high-achieving family and later studying applied mathematics at Harvard (before they had a CS major). She also recalls the amazing time in grad school studying under four legendary professors (including her advisor, Michael Stonebraker), and the origins of BerkeleyDB, which started as a graduate student open-source project and later became Sleepycat Software. Margo emphasizes the importance of taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone (and comfort research area) and inter-disciplinary collaboration, something she encourages in mentoring her students and junior colleagues. She also stresses the responsibility that comes with success and the value of mentoring students and providing guidance for impactful roles in service as well as research.

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