In addition to the many people that work hard on SQL Server at Microsoft, there are a number of others around the world that have made outstanding contributions to the SQL Server community. So in addition to the Spotlight series on the development team, I'm also working on some profiles of those incredible MVPs that donate their time and knowledge to helping the rest of us out in newsgroups, with articles, blog posts, and even personal responses to emails at times.
I've taken some of Simon Sabin's time away from his little one and his excellent blog. In between changing diapers and midnight feedings, and around the rest of his schedule, I caught up with Simon to find out more about those SQL Server pros outside of Microsoft.
SSC : What's your official title and responsibility on a daily basis?
Simon : I am responsible for the data and systems that manage the data for TotalJobs Group. We are the largest Internet based Job board in the UK.
SSC : What's the biggest database you've worked on? Size or transactions/sec?
Any interesting challenges in working there?
Simon : I've not generally worked on large systems, more on interesting systems.
My current place has some real interesting challenges, we perform almost a million full text searches a day, and we all know FTS isn't the greatest in SQL 2000, we've done a lot of tricks to get the performance we need. We are currently working on 2005 migration and the results look promising, even if it's only that standard edition can use all the memory of the OS.
Search is my big thing at the moment, as that's what drives the sites. How do you translate a jobseekers single keyword to find the most relevant job. We are working on some really interesting techniques on making searching for a job much easier for an individual.
SSC : Give us a little background on yourself, how did you get into computers?
Simon : I was interested in computers from an early age, I have always been practical having been given a toolkit as one of my first presents.
My primary school had BBC Micros and having teachers as parents was introduced to computers early, my Dad bringing home a commodore Pet.
I was given an Acorn Electron and was hooked on programming
10 PRINT 'Simon is Great 20 Goto 10
SSC : Where did you attend college and what was your degree/major/concentration?
Simon : I went to Nottingham University and studied for a joint Honours in Electronic Engineering and Maths. Getting a 2-1. I got very disillusioned with degree level maths. I just wanted to solve problems, not prove that 1+0 = 0.
SSC : Did you see yourself as a programmer/developer when you were growing up?
Simon : I saw myself as a problem solver, always loved puzzles. The logical step is into programming.
SSC : What type of puzzles do you like? Are you on the Sudoku craze?
Simon : Itzik's puzzles are great. Sudoku is great. I always try and look at the generic way of solving the problem. I recently wrote a windows app to create Soduko boards and solve them; it's great working out the algorithms.
SSC : How does it feel to be am MVP? Has it changed your life at all?
Simon : It's a great reward, as it's meant to be. Last year was quite mental, started blogging, was really active on the forums and felt a real part of the SQL2005 launch.
Now I'm an MVP there is a certain amount of pressure (self imposed) to keep it all going. I wouldn't say its changed by life (just yet).
SSC : Where are you living now? How do you like it?
Simon : I live with my wife and 3 month old boy Charlie in Hertfordshire England having moved from London 2 years ago. Its great. Its close enough to London to commute but far away enough to not have the traffic and have plenty of trees and fields.
SSC : What's your favorite part/feature of SQL Server 2005?
Simon : There really are too many, CLR is great being able to use regex, formatting (you try implementing a number format function in TSQL that pads decimal numbers, its 1 line in CLR)
SSIS is just great. There is lots of guys moaning that it doesn't do x of y out of the box, this is really annoying because SSIS is so flexible and extensible getting it to do what you want is very easy. I am preparing a presentation on parsing unstructured error logs produced by Exception Application block (http://sqlserverfaq.com/?eid=77) But the best has to be the new TSQL extensions, CTEs, TRY CATCH, but my favourite is the windowing functions that allow you to perform aggregates over different groups to those that the result set is grouped.
i.e. you want to find the sales of a product by region, and include a % of total sales.
SELECT Product ,Region ,SUM(Amount) RegionalTotal ,SUM(Amount)/SUM(SUM(Amount)) OVER (PARTITION BY Product) PercOfTotalSales FROM Sales GROUP BY Product, Region
SSC : Do you see SQL Server as becoming more prevelant as a platform for applications or a persistent data store?
Simon : I was asked a similar question recently and thought about it. To be honest the fact that a database can store is now irrelevant, they can all do it and way beyond what most people need. What is the differentiating factor is how can you solve your business problems, like our searching above. SQL now provides so many options that I am rarely finding myself getting stuck because SQL can't do something.
As for SQL Server as an application layer, its an interesting concept, for any data centric application it just makes sense. Why move data through n tiers when you don't need to.
I found this article on how amazon works in discreet chunks, SQL would fit into this really well. http://sqlblogcasts.com/blogs/simons/archive/2006/06/07/are_you_running_a_high_volume_website.aspx
SSC : What's your area of specialty with SQL Server 2005? Anything you've become much better at?
Simon : Performance tuning. If anything with SQL 2005 you immediately become worse when it is released because many of the things you new inside out have changed. This is the biggest challenge for us, it happens at every release.
For 7 years at LogicaCMG I was a generalist specialising in SQL Server, I would know say I am a hard core SQL guy working deep with it every day. I am getting better at the BI side, Analysis Services and MDX is just another world 🙂
SSC : We've all heard stories of some characters at Microsoft. Any interesting ones that stunned you or surprised you in your dealings with Microsoft?
Simon : Only I am sad Euan Garden has moved teams although it will mean that the Yukon shirt he wore to every Usergroup meeting for 4 years can now be replaced by a VS one.
SSC : What's your current favorite tech gadget?
Simon : My phone, I have an Orange SPV M600. I previously had an M2000 which was just too big. The M600 is great, it has mobile 5.0, 2 megapixel camera, Wifi and GPRS so I can use it with my laptop. What's more I've just but a 2Gb SD card in it for £40, if there is one thing that astounds me today is the storage capacity of flash memory.
SSC : What does Simon like to do when he's not working on SQL Server?
Simon and family
Simon : What do you mean, SQL Server is the only thing in the world 🙂 My main past times are DIY and Archery, however they both taken a back seat since Charlie arrived in the world.
SSC : You seem to write quite a few blog posts every week. Do you enjoy writing casually for yourself over articles or books?
Simon : I'm a techie so writing isn't my favoured past time. A blog is great because its short manageable chunks, although I have a mate that ribs me every time I see him about my spelling.
What I really enjoy is passing on my knowledge. I've always found that I find something out and invariably need it months later but can't remember where I found it, I use my blog as a means of storing these thoughts and findings.
I did write a chapter for SQL Server XML Distilled, it took much more time than I thought and gave me a great insight into how and why you need an editor. Then Peer publishing went bust and it all went down the pan.
Probably do it again, still nice reading the review that explicitly mentions my chapter.
SSC : Any interest in joining the development team and moving to Redmond?
Simon : I'm more of a user/implementer than a hard core developer. There are some really good initiatives going one which can be seen by the moving of bods in the teams. I'm just glad to be a user.
SSC : Will we see you at the PASS Summit in Dallas?
Simon : Yep plan on being there, was thinking about a session but not sure I've got the time.