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.
We caught up with John Gallardo, one of the amazing individuals that brought us Reporting Services and lots of XML functionality.
What's your official title and responsibility at Microsoft?
John : I am a Software Development Engineer in the SQL Server Reporting Services team. I work on the server component of SSRS which includes things like managing the SSRS catalog database, session management, and otherwise acting as the "glue" which holds many of the other components together.
SSC : How long have you been working on SQL Server?
John : I started full time at Microsoft working on SQL Server about 3 and a half years ago working in the relational engine team. Before that, I interned for 3 summers for various groups in the SQL organization, including Management Studio and Reporting Services.
SSC : What feature(s) of SQL Server 2005 did you really enjoy working on?
John : My responsibilities in the relational engine team were around testing the new XML datatype features. It was an interesting challenge because
it was for the most part completely new functionality. The most
exciting part though was working with a team that was so passionate about shipping the right set of features with a maximum level of quality. We didn't manage to implement the entire set of XQuery functionality, but I think we did a good job of tackling the features that really matter to database developers.
SSC : We see XML being implemented more and more, but still in a minority of applications. Do you think it will ever become the dominant way to transfer data?
John : It is hard to say. There are plenty of existing applications out there that don't use XML today, and it probably doesn't make much sense to upgrade them unless you can actually extract some real business value out of migrating them. There are also lots of applications being written today which don't use XML and for good reason. A general purpose XML stack will always perform worse than a well tuned communications protocol.
There are generally a couple of places where I see XML really taking off. One is in the use of XML for domain specific languages. It is a lot easier to use an XML parser to get data into your application than parsing plain text. A good example of this are things like XMLA and RDL. The other area is the whole SOA movement. Again, I believe that the success here hasn't really been so much the success of XML, but really the success of the toolset that has arose around XML.
To answer your question directly, I think if the toolset around XML (parsers, query languages, transformations, editors, etc...) continues to expand, become easier to use and perform better, we will see XML become a more integral part of a broader set of applications.
SSC : What's the most interesting use of XML you've seen?
John : I think the more compelling question is "what XML based applications have become the most interesting?" For me, I think RSS-based applications are interesting. It is a pretty direct application of XML based technologies so in that regard some people may consider it boring or trivial. However, it has grown to be a pretty dominant syndication technology that is friendly enough to enable a pretty large ecosystem of applications that appeal to all sorts of users.
SSC : What's the craziest report you've worked on or the feature request that really struck you as strange?
John : I don't know that I have had enough time in the SSRS group to see any really strange or esoteric feature requests. I have seen some great demos of SSRS rollouts though. There are some folks out there building some really great solutions on top of SSRS. It is great to see, because it shows that SSRS can really be used as a platform for building some great custom solutions.
SSC : How does the relational team compare to the Reporting Services/BI team?
John : The relational engine team is certainly bigger :) At the end of the day, both teams are producing software which means that 95% of the job is the same. In terms of technology, the relational engine is certainly a much more "general purpose" piece of technology so you have to consider many different types of customers. Reporting, on the other hand, is much more special purpose. People generally want their reports, and they want them now :) This means we get to spend a lot more time optimizing (both in terms of performance, and the features we expose) for specific use cases and scenarios rather than more general cases. I think both teams come with their own individual set of challenges.
SSC : Do you like working on SSRS and SQL Server or will we see you move on to another area of Microsoft?
John : I think the SQL organization has some of the best people in Microsoft working in it. From that perspective, I can't imagine working anywhere else.
SSC : Give us a little background on yourself, how did you get into computers?
John : I grew up in Fairfield, California, which is a medium-sized town in Northern California just east of the Bay Area. My parents bought a computer when I was around 12 or 13 (a 386 DOS box). I guess they thought it would be a good thing for me to get homework done. I started programming a little bit by teaching myself some BASIC and Pascal, but I honestly wasn't really serious about programming until later in high school, and even then I never even touched C++ until my freshman year in college.
SSC : What was the first program you wrote that sticks in your mind?
John : In High School I took a "Computer Science" course which was really a BASIC programming class. For our final project, we got to write basically whatever we wanted, but it had to be of a certain length and use all of the stuff we learned in the class. I decided to write a multiplayer "Star Wars" trivia game. It doesn't sound like much, but it had some text based animations, a music score and some other cool stuff.
SSC : Where did you attend college and what was your degree/major/concentration?
John : I graduated from UCLA in 2003 with a B.S. in Computer Science.
SSC : Did you see yourself as a programmer/developer when you were growing up?
John : I don't really remember making a conscious decision along the lines of "I want to be a computer programmer." At least there wasn't any kind of "A ha! I know what I want to do!" moment. I more or less followed what I enjoyed doing, which was working with computers.
SSC : How do you like living in Redmond?
John : I actually live in Woodinville, which is just a bit north of Redmond. I really love the entire area. The Summers are great, and the Winters provide ample opportunity to hang out with friends over a beer!
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?
John : Peter Spiro. About a year after I started working at Microsoft he gave a talk about how he ended up working at Microsoft on SQL Server. It was a great and entertaining talk that managed to be equal parts "slice of life" and "SQL Server history."
SSC : What's your current favorite tech gadget?
John : At my house, my XBox 360 (my gamertag is CrazyLlama). On the road, my Audiovox 5600 smartphone.
SSC : What's your current favorite XBOX game?
John : I've been playing a lot of Oblivion lately, which is an RPG for Xbox 360. Some of my other favorites are Halo 2 and Geometry Wars.
SSC : What does John like to do when he's not working on SQL Server?
John : My wife and I just bought a new house, so I have been spending quite a bit of time on the weekends trying to keep the yard in shape and settling in. When I get some free time I like watching movies, playing video games. You know, the usual stuff.
SSC : Favorite beer? (so someone can get you one at PASS)
John : Red Hook ESB. The brewery is actually right around the corner from my house, which is very convenient ;)
SSC : Ever been to Bill Gates' House?
John : Yeah, actually I have been there twice. When I was an intern, he would have these barbeque parties at his house. I am not certain if he still does them, but I was lucky enough to go twice. Bill is always there hanging out and talking to the interns. It was pretty interesting having just an open Q&A with Bill in his backyard. I remember being quite impressed with his ability to converse on such a wide variety of computing related topics.
SSC : Will we see you at the PASS Summit this November?
John : We'll see, I haven't made any specific plans yet.