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SQL Server Spotlight on Eric Lee

By Steve Jones,

Welcome to the Spotlight Series, 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 Microsoft's products.

We caught up with Eric Lee, heading up the Team Foundation Server. Not quite SQL Server, but an important tool that many DBAs will be exposed to and SQL Server developers will use. If you catch up with Eric at the local pub or the PASS Summit and want to buy him a drink, his favorite beverage is listed at the bottom :)


SSC : What's your official title and responsibility at Microsoft?

Eric : I am a Senior Product Manager on the Visual Studio Team System and my main focus is on Team Foundation Server.

SSC : How long have you been working on Team Foundation Server?

Eric : I've been working on Team Foundation Server for about a year and a half.

SSC : What part of TFS do you think is the most valuable for developers?

Eric : I don't want to make this sound like a marketing pitch, but in all honesty, I think the way TFS integrates test results, check-ins and work item tracking together is the most valuable thing for developers. I've been a tester, developer and program manager at Microsoft and having something like TFS would have been really helpful back then. When I was a tester, it was always a struggle to include a repro case with a bug.

Developers at Microsoft typically don't run the same testing frameworks as the testers, so you would have to extract out the repro case code and package it up nicely as an executable; then you would have to pieces of code to maintain, your test case as well as this repro case. With TFS, a tester can just attach their exact test case and the developer can run it because testing functionality is finally part of VS. When I was a developer, there was a ton of manual process to do before you could check-in a change. The bug tool we used just had a multi-line description field so you couldn't really gather structured data - so our program managers contrived these text templates you had to fill out.

There were endless web-based forms to fill out as well. What you ended up doing was cutting and pasting your check-in comments into about 5 different tools. With TFS you can associate a check-in with a work item, use check-in policy and use check-in notes to accomplish the same thing with one tool. Finally, when I was a program manager, a big part of my job was creating and sending out status reports. I had to hound my team to see what they were working on, how far along they were and when they thought they would be done. And after all that, all I really had was a bulleted list. With TFS, a bunch of reports are automatically created, and SQL Server has a lot of easy ways of creating your own reports. At the end of the day, all of this stuff makes a developer's job easier - more time to worry about writing code, and less time doing paperwork.

SSC : What part of TFS was the hardest to build and get working the way your team wanted it?

Eric : The data warehouse was probably the hardest to build and get working. The warehouse we build in TFS pulls in data from version control, testing, build and work items, and builds associations between them. As those things changes, the warehouse would have to change along with it. That's probably way it took the longest to finish up.

SSC : Is there a 64-bit version coming?

Eric : Yup - it's not that we don't support 64-bit, we just weren't able to fully test all the various configurations. We were able to test and confirm our database layer running on 64-bit though. Hopefully we'll get our 64-bit support nailed down in a service pack.

SSC : What's the largest team size that you tested TFS against?

Eric : We stressed TFS in a number of ways in our testing. One way is team size, so we simulate about 10K users in our testing. In the real world, the largest team I've heard of is a customer we have in Brazil; they have about 5000 developers using TFS. We also stress in terms of repository size and usage patterns - our internal deployment is only about 600 users, but we have 19 million files and about 100K work items. That installation of TFS processes 250K work item queries and 4K check-ins a week.

SSC : How often did you talk to the SQL Server team in working on TFS?

Eric : Quite a bit - SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 were all launched together as the Application Platform, so there was a lot of coordination between the various teams responsible for these products.

After we launched the Application Platform in the United States, I traveled with a team that included Roger Wolter from SQL Server and we helped launch the Application Platform in South Africa. A lot of my colleagues did similar things elsewhere in the world, so we built some good camaraderie between the teams.

SSC : What was your favorite launch event?

Eric : SF was my overall favorite because it was the first, and we worked really hard getting the SteveB keynote demo nailed down.

SSC : Who's more fun to work with, the SQL Server team or the Visual Studio folks?

Eric : They're both fun of course :)

I enjoy working with each team for different reasons. Visual Studio was my first group, and will always feel like home to me. I joined in 1998 and many of the people I worked with then are still with Visual Studio. It's been fun and interesting to see all the life changes that have happened to us over the years. There is a sense of continuity with Visual Studio that I enjoy being part of.

SQL Server is a fun team to work with because they represent such a wide range of technology; some of it, like their programming model teams are very similar to Visual Studio, while other things are totally rocket science. A friend of mine from Visual Studio, Bogdan Crivat, works on the SQL Server data mining team, and the stuff they produce is just mind-boggling.

SSC : Give us a little background on yourself, how did you get into computers?

Eric : Computers were always kind of a family business; both my dad and my older brother were into computers, so I followed in their footsteps. I was always around computers - my brother's Commodore 64 and my dad's XT - but I didn't do any programming until probably my first year of high school.

SSC : Where did you attend college and what was your degree/major/concentration?

Eric : I attended the University of Western Ontario in Canada and I majored in Computer Science.

SSC : Did you see yourself as a programmer/developer when you were growing up?

Eric : Not really, I always just wanted to design and make stuff when I was growing up.

When I was a kid and I was into GI Joe, I used to send Hasbro ideas for GI Joe toys that I thought they should make. When I got older, I used to send Nike and Reebok drawings of athletic shoes I thought they should make.

All along, I really wanted to be the one designing and making this stuff, but since the raw material (plastic, shoe leather, etc) isn't very accessible to a 10 year old, all I could do was send in my ideas. Surprisingly many of those companies responded very politely - I always thought that was pretty cool.

I think I got into programming because it allowed me to design and make stuff with a readily available and inexhaustible raw material - source code. Programming is something that I think I'll always enjoy doing; even now that I'm in marketing; I still enjoy writing code whenever I have a chance.

SSC : I'm quite familiar with GI Joe as my seven year old son loves GI Joe as well. We call him "Duke" as a nickname. What was your favorite character?

Eric : Probably Snake-eyes :)

SSC : How do you like living in Redmond?

Eric : I actually live in Seattle and commute to Redmond for work. I've come to really enjoy living in Seattle. I think of cities like NYC, SF, LA or Las Vegas as 'immediate' cities. When most people think about those cities, they immediately associate some perceptions and benefits - like everything happens in NYC; SF has great food and culture, LA is glamorous and Las Vegas is all about fun.

Seattle's benefits are a little less immediate. It's a relatively small city with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. The night life is much, much more laid back than NYC or LA, but can still be a lot of fun. I've been here for 8 years now and still enjoy it.

SSC : Who's the most fun to work with at Microsoft?

Eric : I'm having a great time working with my team right now. Most of us live within a couple of blocks of each other so we hang out quite a bit. There are a couple of Australians in the group, so they keep things pretty interesting :)

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?

Eric : When I first joined, I saw a car pull out of the parking lot with a license plate that said 'TETRIS'. I looked up 'Alexey Pajitnov' in our global address list and found his name; I found it really surprising that the guy who invented Tetris worked for Microsoft :)

SSC : What's your current favorite tech gadget?

Eric : It's funny, even though I work in technology I'm kind of a laggard when it comes to gadgets. I like to wait till things settle down a bit :)

SSC : What does Eric like to do when he's not working on SQL Server?

Eric : I'm a feast or famine hobbyist - at one point or another I've dabbled in woodworking, skiing, inline hockey, baseball, creative writing, video game development and boxing.

Right now, I'm just keeping things pretty simple. I tend to hang out at my local pub or with my girlfriend when I'm not working.

SSC : What's your current hobby?

Eric : I'm learning to play tennis, that's probably the closest thing to a hobby I have right now.

SSC : Ever been to Bill Gates' House?

Eric : Nope, still waiting for an invitation :)

SSC : Will we see you at the PASS Summit this November?

Eric : Yup!

SSC : Favorite cocktail (for all your admirers out there)?

Eric : Vodka and cranberry!

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