Welcome to the Spotlight Behind SQL Server, a new series from SQLServerCentral.com. As we've grown and spent more time covering SQL Server, we've slowly gained a number of contacts inside Microsoft, including those that develop the product. And we decided to try and interview the SQL Server people inside Microsoft. There are lots of people working on SQL Server 2005 and our goal to is to eventually get to them all.
We know that there are lots of technical things we could ask, and lots of easy marketing questions we could get from them, but you probably read most of those questions elsewhere. So we thought we'd make them think a bit more and get some interviews that showcased the people behind SQL Server. To that end, these interviews will be a little bit different and give you a look at the amazing team that builds SQL Server.
After a break following the release of SQL Server 2005, I finally got back to the team. Dan Jones agreed to take a few minutes and answer a few queries.
Dan Jones and Jim Gray
SSC : What's your official title and responsibility at Microsoft?
Dan : Officially I don’t like official titles. Seriously, my title is Lead Program Manager for the SQL Server Manageability Platform. Isn’t that a mouthful? After we shipped SQL Server 2005 we split up the team who built many of the new GUI tools into two separate teams. One team is devoted to building an extensible manageability platform. This includes Management Studio, SMO, SQL Agent, and a few other technologies. The other team is responsible for manageability of the relational engine. They’ll build on top of the manageability platform exposing features and functionality specific to the relational engine. The BI teams will also build on top of the same platform for their manageability features.
SSC : What's the best new thing you worked on in SQL Server 2005?
Dan : During SQL Server 2005 I was the lead PM on the setup team. It was one of the hardest positions I’ve ever held. Basically everyone needs a piece of you. Setup is one of the last things the dev team thinks about and the first thing customers interact with. We really pushed the envelop of setup technology with SQL Server 2005; I think we have the most complex setup requirements of any Microsoft product.
SSC : Is the 64-bit version of setup different than the 32-bit? Or is it just porting things over
Dan : The core setup is essentially the same (there are a few subtle difference to work around platform specific issues) – just compiled with the correct tool set. There are a few differences with what is installed. For example, the 32-bit setup includes both the 32-bit and 64-bit MSIs (Windows Installer Packages) for some components (MS XML, SQL XML, SQL Native Client, SQL Writer, and the Backwards Compatible components). Remember, on x64 we support installing the 64-bit and 32-bit editions of SQL Server side-by-side. A 32-bit MSI cannot install components to the 64-bit space, but a 64-bit component can install to the 32-bit space. We needed to ensure what’s installed supports both 32-bit and 64-bit. Also we had to be sure that everything was ref counted properly so that uninstall wouldn’t break components. Therefore, when installing a 32-bit edition on x64 we call on the 64-bit MSI to install the necessary 64-bit and 32-bit files and registry settings. Getting all of this to work properly was incredibly challenging.
SSC : Give us a little background on yourself, how did you get into computers?
Dan : When I was in third grade a friend of mine had an Apple II. He didn’t even have a floppy drive; all of the data was persisted to cassette tape. But I was awestruck with what it could do. About a year later I convinced my dad to purchase an Apple II Plus. There weren’t many books out on programming Apple DOS so I taught myself how to convert programs for the IBM PC to run on my Apple. I also taught myself DBase III, we’ve come along way since those days.
SSC : Where did you attend college and what was your degree/major/concentration?
Dan : I received my undergraduate degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California. My degree is a BS in Business Administration (concentration in Information Systems) and a minor in Computer Science (concentration in relational databases). While I love writing code, I truly love using technology to solve business problems, hence the business degree rather than a pure CS degree. I also have an MBA from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California.
SSC : Did you see yourself as a programmer/developer when you were growing up?
Dan : Absolutely, my two addictions growing up were the computer and television. I loved writing my own programs (in hindsight, none of them did anything overly interesting) and playing computer games.
SSC : So which program that you wrote as a kid comes to mind?
Dan : I wrote a slot machine game – it was incredibly simple. I was never able to get the dials animated correctly – to look like they were spinning - so instead I had to opt for them to flash as they changed. I wrote it in Apple Basic. I don’t remember how many lines of code it turned out to be, but I’m sure it was several hundred.
SSC : What was your first computer?
Dan : It was an Apple II Plus with 48KB RAM, no hard drive, and dual 5.25” floppy drives. I had a monochrome CRT and an Epson dot matrix printer. I think it’s still somewhere at my mom’s house.
SSC : How do you like living in Redmond?
Dan : I live in Sammamish which is about 8 miles from the Microsoft campus. My family and I love it. Moving from California we were a bit concerned how we’d like the weather, but it’s been awesome. Yes, it rains a bit, but everything stays so green, lush and beautiful. I was down in CA last summer and just couldn’t handle how brown everything was. It was so depressing. Since we moved, roughly two years ago, I think California has received more rain than Washington.
SSC : Who's the most fun to work with at Microsoft?
Dan : That’s a really tough question. There are two people, one I work with each and every day, and the other I don’t get to work with enough anymore. The first is Bruce Prang. I report to Bruce, by choice. He is very energetic and infectious. He constantly challenges me and our team to do our best each an every day. The second person is James Hamilton. James is now a GM over in the Exchange group but when I joined MS he was on the SQL Server team. James is nothing short of brilliant. Loves life, loves technology, and exudes an incredible sense of commitment, dedication and pure excellence.
SSC : We've all heard stories of some characters at Microsoft. Any interesting ones that stunned you or surprised you when you first went to work in Redmond?
Dan : Having grown up in Los Angeles it takes a lot to stun me, though I’d have to say that Peter Spiro surprised me the most. Before coming to MS I knew the name but had never met him. He’s quit a character – speaks his mind with very limited filtering and really doesn’t dress up for anyone. I’ve never seen him in anything other than shorts and a t-shirt. But that’s really what MS is all about – hiring talented people to create amazing products; we don’t care much about your appearance.
SSC : So what's your daily dress code?
Dan : Jeans (shorts in the spring and summer), tennis shoes, and a t-shirt. Sometimes I’ll put on a collared shirt if the mood hits me.
SSC : What's the story with you and Jim Gray?
Dan : Jim and I originally met over the phone back in early 2005. He was trying to install the latest CTP of SQL2K5 and was running into problems. He sent a mail to the setup team and I picked it up to help him. He ran into a problem we had never seen before – after several attempts we worked around the problem and got it installed on his tablet. The picture was taken at a recent Microsoft dinner hosted for him. A good friend of mine is part of a group of technical leaders here at Microsoft. He was allowed to bring one guest to the dinner and when he saw that Jim was the host he knew he had to invite me. It was a very small group of probably 12 people. When I met him at the dinner I reminded him of our phone meeting a year earlier – he gave me a great big hug and thanked me.
SSC : What's your current favorite tech gadget?
Dan : My favorite gadget has held the honor for a couple of years now, my Tivo. It totally changed my life. Eventually I’ll switch over to Media Center, but for now I’m sticking with the Tivo.
SSC : What does Dan like to do when he's not working on SQL Server?
Dan : My hobbies include music (I play the drums), not-so-reality TV, and brewing my own beer.
SSC : Neal Peart, John Bonham, or someone else?
Dan : That’s a really tough question. I’ve always had a fondness for Neil Peart. There’s a certain elegance to his style that very few drummers can replicate. I love John Bonham for his power and presence (no pun intended). Another of my favorites is Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Chad can take a really simple beat, add a few spices and turn it into a completely new dish that when you taste it you say “Hmm, now that’s familiar but much better than when I make it.”
SSC : Ever been to Bill Gates' house?
Dan : Only using local.live.com - http://local.live.com/?v=2&sp=aN.47.628991_-122.240844_Gates_
SSC : Will we see you at the PASS Summit in November?
Dan : I’m sure I’ll attend. Since it’s in Seattle I really don’t have any excuse not to be there.