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 Kirk Haseldon at PASS and he agreed to the interview, so we bombarded him with a few questions.
SSC : What's your official title and responsibility at Microsoft?
Kirk : I’m the Development Manager for SQL Server Integration Services, which means I’m responsible for ensuring our engineers are happy and busy, while removing obstacles that keep them from doing their job well. I also get to design parts of the product now and then, make sure we hit our dates, ensure that we’re putting out a quality product and talk to customers once in a while.
SSC : What's the best part of SQL Server Integration Services vs. DTS?
Kirk : Hmmm, where to start. You know, DTS is a cool product. Given the resources the DTS team had, they did great work. Comparing the two is difficult, but I’d have to say the dataflow task and looping is the main difference. The dataflow task is truly an amazing piece of technology and Mike Blazsczak, Jim Howey, Ted Lee, Matt David and the rest of the folks that contributed to that effort should really feel proud of what they’ve managed to pull off. Just a while back, the Barnes & Noble team came in and showed us some of the packages they have for their ETL process. Truly amazing. One of their dataflow tasks contained over 100 transforms pushing hundreds of thousands of rows through. The other part I like is the ForEach loop. While it’s not such a technological wonder as the dataflow task, it’s extremely useful and practical. Almost every package has one for some reason or another.
SSC : What's the most data you've seen pumped through one package?
Kirk : Mmmmm, I don’t know for sure. I’ve physically witnessed ~650 megabytes go through a dataflow. I’ve heard from our customers about multi-terabyte dataflows. Ashvini Sharma built a package with two script transforms that simulates real data by generating it in the source and consuming it in the destination transform. He has a bitmap on his office door of the package as it’s running with something like 1,834,405,400,323 rows. That’s certainly a chunk of data.
SSC : I've seen quite a few demos and white papers that show the performance has improved dramatically. Is there any reason for a SQL Server based application to purchase another ETL tool?
Kirk : No. SQL Server Integration Services is a true enterprise platform. In fact, we’re constantly going in against pure play ETL vendors and winning big. Our customers are eating SSIS up like candy and they all seem to like the fact that we include a DBMS with our platform.
SSC : Give us a little background on yourself, how did you get into computers?
Kirk : I started working with computers as a sophomore in high school, when I took an introduction to computer programming class. We had a PDP something or other, PDP 8 was it? It was a shared machine for the entire school district. We dialed in on dumb terminals over handset coupling modems. We programmed in basic with the line numbers and such. I barely passed because while everyone else was doing the exercises, I was trying to write a board game. I thought I was going to fail when my teacher lost to the game. As it turned out, that was the only way I salvaged a passing grade. Toward the end of the year we got one of those newfangled home computers with the color monitor. I think they called it an “Orange”, “Banana” or “Apple” or something. I was a closet computer geek though. I was a jock at school - football, wrestling, track - but I’d go home and hack around on my parents computer whenever I could.
SSC : Where did you attend college and what was your degree/major/concentration?
Kirk : I started at a small Junior College in Kansas on a football scholarship. After going home with severe head aches every night of the season, I decided that my football career had ended. That’s also where I learned the lesson that, no matter how big you are, there’s always someone bigger. The college was a feeder school for the Big 8 colleges like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana and such. Can you say six foot eight, 325 lbs and dumb as nails? That’s what I was up against and I played center. I decided it was time to start thinking about a life change.
I went home and served a LDS mission to Nagoya, Japan. When I returned, I attended the University of Utah and received a business degree in accounting, which I hated. I wanted to go into computers, but people told me there wasn’t any money in it. He he. On the night of my mergers and acquisitions accounting final, I was putting the finishing touches on a hex editor I was writing in assembly. When I graduated, I finally realized that software was for me and I interviewed at a small educational software company in Utah called Wasatch Education Systems. They asked me if I could write C code and I said “sure,” but they didn’t ask me to write any code, so I got the job. That night I bought a C book and crammed all night. I’d never written a line of C code in my life.
SSC : Did you end up working a lot in C?
Kirk : Yes, and there were some very talented developers there who’s code I emulated and learned from immensely. It was a great experience for me because I was constantly asking the developers questions. Why did you use this approach vs. another? Why are you using this particular idiom? They got sick of me I’m sure, but I learned tons.
SSC : What language do you mostly work in these days?
Kirk : I mostly use the English language. Folks on my team like to give me a hard time about the amount of time I spend reading and drafting email. When I do write some code, it’s in C++ or C#.
SSC : How do you compare C to VB.NET or C#.NET?
Kirk : Well, the .Net languages are definitely more modern. A lot of what’s improved has little to do with the language and everything to do with the tools. For example, the type system in C# simply rocks. Trying to traverse the typelibrary interfaces for COM objects wasn’t much fun, but that was the only way to dynamically discover objects in COM. .Net makes it much simpler to discover and build around the type system. C is close to the metal and was obviously created at a time when security wasn’t such an issue and there were a lot fewer developers in the world. I’ve never really thought about comparing C to .Net though. Usually I hear comparisons between C++ and C#, since those are the two languages we use. If C was the telegraph, .Net would be a broadband connection.
SSC : Did you see yourself as a programmer/developer when you were growing up?
Kirk : Early on, I never saw myself as a programmer. I wanted to be an inventor, body builder or a professional football player. My heroes were Westinghouse, Johnny Unitas, Benjamin Franklin, Walter Payton, Lynn Swan, A.G. Bell and Thomas Edison. Microsoft gives out cubes made of granite to those who contribute to the patent effort. It was a proud day of my life when I was able to complete my patent cube pyramid. Obviously, becoming a body builder or professional football player didn’t work out, but getting patents in my name was a dream come true.
SSC : What patents have you worked on?
Kirk : Quite a few actually. I can’t remember all of them, but here are a few. The very first one was the one I did with Brian Hartman who is now working on SQL Server Reporting Services. It was the “Extensible Breakpoints on an Object Model” patent. Sergei Ivanov and I worked on one for “Package Obfuscation using Compiling”, as well as the foreach loop and enumerators ones. I also worked on the “Variable Scope in an Object Model” and “Variable Namespaces in an Object Model” patents.
SSC : What was your first computer?
Kirk : My parents had an old 8080. My first one I bought in college was an IBM 286 with a 20MB hard drive and 640K of RAM.
SSC : How do you like living in Redmond?
Kirk : I actually live south of Redmond in a little suburb called Issaquah. Well, now it’s called Sammamish, but both are equally difficult when trying to order something over the phone. We enjoy it because we live right by a lake, wakeboard in the summer, and my kids love their school and friends. Washington is an extremely diverse place by way of the people and geography. People complain about the rain in Seattle, but frankly, it’s just my kind of place and I barely notice the rain anymore. I still wear my customary shorts, sandals and Hawaiian shirts all year long – people know it is winter if I’m wearing socks.
SSC : Why doesn't anyone who works at Microsoft live in Redmond?
Kirk : I know a lot of folks that live in Redmond and work at Microsoft, but more to the point, Redmond is really quite small and is surrounded by a number of other small towns like Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, and Bothel. And then there’s Seattle of course. Microsoft also has an office in Sammamish where much of the internal management functions live, such as the IT infrastructure and team websites, etc. Microsoft also has offices in other locations such as “Silly Cone” Valley and Texas.
SSC : Who's the most fun to work with at Microsoft?
Kirk : That’s a tough one. I hate to point out any one person because my whole team is a blast. They’re extremely professional, yet ready to crack a joke at the tip of a hat. Kamal Hathi who just left our team to head up the Analysis Services team was perhaps the best manager I’ve ever had and since he’s not my manager anymore, I don’t even get any brownie points for that comment. Sergei Ivanov and I have worked together for about five years and he’s very fun to work with because he’s always discussing cool ways to do stuff in a collaborative and exciting way. I’ve worked with Mark Durley for over seven years and he’s endured more jokes about his beloved country of origin than anyone should, but he takes it all in stride and occasionally deals out his own little treasures. The list is too long, but those are a few.
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?
Kirk : This one is easy. The very first day I came to Microsoft, I was rooming with “Joe.” Joe liked to sew and he designed his own ladies wear. He didn’t wear it, but he did have some of his friends model the clothes he sewed and then made a screen saver out of it. He also had a habit of turning his phone ringer up to its highest volume setting, while setting his computer sounds to play various songs for approximately 15 seconds for every notification. He also brewed his own beer, which meant 10-15 empty beer bottles were always present in our room. To top it off, Joe liked to listen to satanic ritual music. The day before we were to ship our product, we found a string he had placed in the resources - “Hedonism rules.” Yeah, he was interesting.
SSC : What's your current favorite tech gadget?
Kirk : I just bought a communication system for my motorcycle. Now, my wife and I can actually communicate as we’re riding. It makes the ride a lot more enjoyable because we can both listen to music at the same time, but then the music will mute when one of us talks. My next purchase will be the TomTom Rider, which is a navigation information portal for motorcycles.
SSC : I had an old Suzuki 500 when I lived in San Diego and used to love riding out to Mt. Palomar and see the telescope as well as out to the Joshua Tree. Where's the best motorcycle ride?
Kirk : Around here the best one I’ve found is about a mile away from my house. It’s extremely twisty and it has the virtue of being devoid of cars most of the time. Smile. A little further away is a ride I’ve yet to take, but have seen pictures. It’s the stretch of road between Kooskia and Missoula on highway 12. Nothing but twisties for miles. Highway 4 in Northern California, just north of Yosemite is a spectacular ride. Then there’s the granddaddy of all rides I’d like to make someday over in North Carolina called Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap.
SSC : What does Kirk like to do when he's not working on SQL Server?
Kirk : I have a large family, so we like to spend time together, especially outdoors. This includes wakeboarding, snow skiing, and boating on the sound and on Lake Sammamish. I also play the cello with my children who are all much smarter and more talented than I could ever hope to be. I recently purchased a Yamaha FJR 1300 motorcycle after a 13 year cycling hiatus and I’m presently trying to make up those lost years of cycling enjoyment. And I’m a photographer and enjoy nature, landscape and portrait photography. I’m also writing a book about SQL Server Integration Services - it’s fun but grueling. You truly get a feel for just how big SQL Server Integration Services is when you try to write a comprehensive reference for it.
SSC : Ever been to Bill Gates' house?
Kirk : Yes, but I signed a non-disclosure agreement before going in, so I can’t really talk about what I saw. When I worked in the eHome group, we merged with Rich Hasha and his folks that did all the work to automate the home and otherwise install some pretty bleeding edge technology. It was all very cool stuff that we’d hoped to be able to somehow use in a productized version for the average home user.
It’s funny you ask this. Every family member or friend that visits us from out of town wants us to show them Bill’s house. We go out on Lake Washington in the boat and drive over to his house about a hundred yards from shore and my visitors invariably ask “Is that it?” It doesn’t look all that big or impressive relative to the other houses there. Looks can be deceiving. Somewhere, in the databanks of the Gates residence security team, there are multiple pictures of me in my boat and friends/family with disappointed looks on their faces.