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An interview with Sarah Romkey – The Archivist part of the Maintainers

Sarah has been with Artefactual since 2014, doing everything from client support to software management over the years. As the Archivematica Program Manager, she led the Archivematica open-source project, focusing on product roadmap and backlog management, release management and community engagement. In her current role, she is working closely with the Maintainers team. Sarah lives in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which is in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.

Tell us about the evolution of the Maintainers team

It’s a brand new team for Artefactual. We’ve had various teams and configurations before to do the care and feeding for Archivematica and AtoM but often times felt ourselves stretched in a lot of different directions for client projects, for ideas that come through the community and other venues, and so on. So what we really wanted to do at Artefactual was to give AtoM and Archivematica the attention that they need to be maintained so that they can be reliable pieces of software for our clients and the community.

Lots of folks at Artefactual have been reading this book called Team Topologies. It’s a really fantastic book, I’d recommend it for anyone who is thinking about their team structure, particularly teams who build technology. The book talks about different styles of teams and different ways of working, and ways of structuring teams so that they have the greatest amount of autonomy and clarity in terms of their mission and how they collaborate with each other. What we realized in reading the book is that what we have in AtoM and Archivematica are two fairly complex pieces of software. They have long histories and they really need focused attention. In Team Topologies, it’s referred to as a complex subsystem team. When we started to write out the job descriptions for the role that would fill the team, we realized that it was really focused on maintenance. We think maintenance is really important, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel as shiny and new and interesting. We really felt like maintenance was something that we needed to appreciate and highlight and put effort towards.

When you were hiring into this team, what kinds of features were you looking for in the people you wanted to bring onto the team?

Whenever we hire at Artefactual, we’re always looking for a good fit with our company values and our company philosophy. We needed to hire developers into the roles, it’s development work – you need to know your way around code, to be able to make changes. Reading the code is almost as important as writing the code, in some respects. Many developers are, understandably, interested in building new things. We needed people who had an appreciation for maintaining what’s good and making it better, so that’s what we interviewed for. We wanted to be upfront and honest with the people filling the positions that this was a maintenance role, about maintaining the code and making it stable, making sure that it works in up-to-date environments, keeping it relevant.

Now that you have your team together, what are the biggest challenges you foresee for the team?

I see two categories of challenges. The first is technical – the way that Archivematica and AtoM have evolved over time has meant that there have been a number of different developers on them. Sometimes we did projects or made changes in the code that were limited by resources and as a result sometimes things are a bit mysterious or a bit messy. It’s a lot to wrap a person’s head around. We do have one Maintainer, Douglas, who was already a staff member at Artefactual with extensive experience with Archivematica, which has really given us a boost in terms of overall knowledge, but the rest of the Maintainers are new to the company and new to the software. There is a lot to learn!

The other challenge is more of a non-technical challenge – and it’s one they’ve already overcome, and I’m quite proud of them for doing this. Coming together as a team and really having trust in each other and learning to work together and all of that stuff – in some ways, it’s easier to do in an office environment where you’re able to socialize. It’s just different on zoom, it really is. So it’s a challenge for onboarding and becoming comfortable with each other and knowing who to ask questions to and how, but that’s really been going very well. It’s something I anticipated as a challenge but I’m very happy with how it’s gone.

What excites you about the future for Archivematica/AtoM?

AtoM and Archivematica continue to excite me in the same way that they did when I was a young archivist using them myself. I think they hold so much promise in allowing archivists to do their work better and more efficiently. We just want to increase that – we want to see more people using them. We’re very happy with the adoption that we’ve seen in the years that we’ve been offering these pieces of software but we’d always love to see more. It’s really gratifying to have a team of maintainers giving them the attention that they need. Just today we did a point release of AtoM and I think I can say with confidence that folks with the community are going to be impressed with how many releases and upgrades we see in the near future. Hopefully I didn’t just write a check that I can’t cash!

We’ve already had a few people write in so happy to see a roadmap!

It’s the little things, like telling people what we’re going to do!

Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I love to sing – but I’m awful at it. Cannot carry a tune to save my life. But I just love singing. I recently came to the realization that hobbies shouldn’t be about achieving perfection, hobbies are just something you do for fun. Unfortunately, you can’t really sing poorly in front of other people as a hobby, so I keep it confined to the shower and the car. I’m so bad that, when I was in my undergraduate – I studied music in my undergrad – my friends literally signed me up for singing lessons. I’m a hopeless case.

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