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Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec, Amazon Web Services director. (Annie Laurie Malarkey photo)

Some people tell great stories about camping out for the latest gadgets, but when your life experience includes time in the Peace Corps in West Africa, your strongest memories of waiting in line are very different. That’s just one of the characteristics that distinguishes our latest Geek of the Week.

Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec grew up in Asia and the former Soviet Republic, in the family of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. (Her dad just published a book based on his Afghanistan experiences.) A Microsoft veteran who is now an Amazon Web Services director, she worked at companies including Qpass and Digeo Broadband in their early years.

Married with three boys (ages 5, 7 and 9) she loves to cook (and eat). And in her spare time, she’s a recreational boxer — which explains her favorite hangout. Continue reading for details on that, and many other gems, in her answers to our questionnaire below.

Name: Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec

Job, hobby and/or other geeky pursuit: Engineering Manager at Amazon by day, spouse and mom at night.

Coolest thing about what you do: I believe that we are creating a revolution with pay-as-you-go cloud computing.

What does it mean to you to be a geek? Being unafraid of get your hands dirty when you want to understand how it works.

Geekiest thing(s) you’ve ever done, built, or worn: The distributed system platform we’re building at Amazon blows my mind with the scale we see. I have gotten a crash course in partitioning, degraded ops mode, and other practical details in distributed computing. Super cool.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life: Establish boundaries and keep them. You may have large territories or small spaces within those boundaries. That’s your choice. Once you define how much time and energy you want to spend on that territory, respect its boundaries. No one else will. The boundaries are your responsibility and your control lever for separating how much time/energy you spend on work, yourself, and your home life.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac for home, Linux for work and Windows for my parents.

Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who could probably kick the collective butts of all four.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter so I could go anywhere meeting new people and seeing new things.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … create a cost-effective way for local community groups to share requests for micro-funding across a broad base of international non-profit organizations. International non-profits could search by micro-fund grant amounts and match with local community groups. It might get implemented as an auction or reverse auction, which would maximize the benefit for both parties. I would start in the US and expand internationally, with large organization sponsorship.

I once waited in line for … gamma globulin shots while working in Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa. The only thing worse than standing in line in 110 degrees is knowing that you are waiting for a shot that will make you limp for two days.

Your role models: Warren Buffet because he keeps it real, my parents for helping me realize how to parent, and Raymond Carver for being a master at his craft.

Greatest Game In History: Backgammon. You can walk into coffee or tea houses the world over and find people with their heads down over a backgammon board. It’s a game that combines strategy, fun and social networking in one highly portable board game.

Best Gadget Ever: Digital camera for enabling a stream of images from professional and non-professional sources.

First computer: A Toshiba laptop that weighed 1/6th of my body weight.

Current phone: iPhone

Favorite app: “One Bus Away” which tells me when the next bus is coming. I am not very good at waiting.

Favorite hangout: Cappy’s Boxing Gym on 22nd and Union in Seattle’s Central District.

Favorite cause: Autism Awareness

Most important technology of 2011: Amazon Web Services’ cloud computing

Most important technology of 2015: Solar cells integrated into public utility power grids.

Words of advice for your fellow geeks: Take more smart risks.


Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.

Does someone you know deserve this distinguished honor? Send nominations to [email protected]

[Geek of the Week photography by Annie Laurie Malarkey,[email protected]]

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