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.
I cornered Len Wyatt after at the 2007 Microsoft BI Conference after a great seminar on Project REAL. He agreed to give us an insight into the BI world at Microsoft.
SSC : What's your official title and responsibility at Microsoft?
Len : The address book says I am a Principle Program Manager. In practice, that doesn't mean anything. I am part of the SQL Server performance team, focusing on the performance of our BI products. That's a pretty new role before that I was part of the BI Practices team that did Project REAL.
SSC : What part of SQL Server 2005 did you enjoy working on?
Len : There were lots of new BI features in SQL Server 2005. If I had to choose one though, I'd say SSIS. As a kid I built things out of Legos, and with my kids I did too. With SSIS, I can snap together all kinds of different data manipulations without writing any code. If you came to the BI Power Hour at the recent Microsoft BI Conference, you saw an example where I used SSIS for something the developers surely never intended!
SSC : What are the big changes (in your opinion) in SS2K5 that people will really find useful?
Len : We already talked about SSIS. On the AS front, I'd have to say that attribute analysis in OLAP opens lots of new possibilities. It's lots easier to connect RS reports to cube data sources now. And data mining grew up into a powerful tool in SS2K5 more people should take a look at that.
SSC : SSIS or SSAS, which one do you enjoy more?
Len : That's like asking which of my children I prefer. Not fair. They are both unique and special.
SSC : How did Project REAL get started?
Len : We needed a way to discover what "best practices" for BI would be in SS2K5. Some were clearly going to be different than in SS2K. It seemed to me that the best way to discover and prove out those practices would be to do a REAL Project. Pretty soon we had the BI Practices team committed to the work, we had partners engaging with us, and we had equipment contributed for the project.
SSC : What portion of your time was spent on Project REAL outside of strict development work for SS2K5?
Len : As part of the BI Practices team, all my time went into Project REAL and other practices-related work.
SSC : Did the information coming out of Project REAL help develop SS2K5 and is the information being used in Katmai?
Len : Yes, some of the bigger issues we found in Project REAL got fixed so you didn't see them. Some took a while in SP1 and SP2, issues found in Project REAL were still being addressed. And yes, that information is rolling into Katmai as well. Internally it's helpful to think of Project REAL as representative of something any large customer would do. If we see a problem, customers probably will too.
SSC : Is there going to be a new Project REAL for Katmai?
Len : That is a topic of discussion right now. I'd like people's input on how useful Project REAL has been to them, what they would like to see updated and what should be done differently. To get people’s feedback, we have created an alias GetREAL@Microsoft.com. For a few weeks we’ll listen to what comes in there and then try to figure out what comes next. No promises, though!
SSC : How long have you been working on SQL Server?
Len : I joined the AS team in time to work on "OLAP Services" in the 7.0 release.
SSC : What's BI? I've seen a lot of press and talks about BI, but I rarely see a good definition.
Len : I won't give you a good definition either. Business Intelligence is about making data useful to people. Generally it means bringing together lots of information from various operational systems, integrating it into a consistent useful form, analyzing it to find useful trends in the data, and reporting it in ways that are useful to a non-technical audience. Operational systems can answer questions like "What is the expected ship date for order XYZZY?" But what if the question is "What has been my most profitable product over the last year, and what has been the inventory of that product by month?" That takes integration and analysis. And to deliver that to a wide audience takes some form of reporting.
SSC : Give us a little background on yourself, how did you get into computers?
Len : I've been interested in computers since high school, when I did BASIC programming on an old HP timesharing system. I also built an Altair 680b in high school. That's the OTHER Altair, not the 8800. It used the chip that actually had an architecture. I still have a copy of BASIC on paper tape. Hmm... What company did that? I did everything a hobbyist did in those days, including writing an implementation of Conway's Game of Life.
SSC : Did you see yourself as a programmer/developer when you were growing up?
Len : Totally. I was mad about it. The funny thing is, I don't so much now. Now I'm much more interested in what we can do with computers than in programming them. And sometimes I think about what we should do with computers, as opposed to what we can.
SSC : What's your educational background?
Len : In college I tried to double-major in CS and physics, but the courses kept having time conflicts to I had to start choosing one, and chose CS. Ended up with a math minor, though. I went to Purdue and got a Masters in CS. Loved Peter Denning's operating systems course.
SSC : How do you like living in Redmond?
Len : I live in Bellevue. It's suburbia, what can I say? If I could telecommute more I would live in the mountains, or maybe by the ocean, but definitely away from the city.
SSC : Is there much of an opportunity for you to telecommute in your job or is it important to be in the office with your team?
Len : In my current role there isn't a lot of opportunity to telecommute. There's a lot of meeting with people and staying on top of situations. Plus, some companies deal with telecommuting better than others. With some exceptions, the development organizations at Microsoft don't accept telecommuting very much.
SSC : Who's the most fun to work with at Microsoft?
Len : Sorry, I can't tell that one in public.
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?
Len : I worked in Exchange for a while. Those folks threw a mean party. When it was time for a ship party, security came and took all the art work out of the building first.
SSC : Have you ever met Bill Gates?
Len : A few years ago Microsoft held this big to-do called Scalability Day in New York. As PM for one of the big on-stage demos, I was in the green room with Bill and all the speakers. I know this has been said many times, but he's a really down-to-earth guy.
SSC : What's your current favorite tech gadget?
Len : I am amazed by global positioning systems. Think about those satellites whizzing around in orbit, and a little hand device that picks up their signals to tell me where I am within a few feet. I have a USB GPS device that works with Streets and Trips, one of my favorite programs. Extraordinary!
SSC : What does Len like to do when he's not working on SQL Server?
Len : Len likes to be active outside. Running, canoeing, XC Skiing, bicycling, sea kayaking If I had time to do it justice, I'd have a sailboat.
SSC : Where the best place you've been to do something active outside? Any great memories of an adventure?
Len : Along the Oregon coast are various headlands, and a number of them have sea caves. If you know what you are doing (I was with people who did!) you can kayak into these. As the waves roll in, you surge up and down next to the cave walls. When the waves trap air pockets at the back of the cave, the air explodes out with a thunderous roar. It's amazing, exhilarating, and yes, dangerous. Do not try this unless you're with an expert.
SSC : Where can people see you speak next?
Len : I've submitted an abstract for PASS. PASS is my favorite conference, so I hope it gets selected!